Wyden, Merkley Urge Trump Administration to Protect Food Supply, Essential Workers During COVID-19 Crisis

Washington, DC – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today urged Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump Administration to take action that would help ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply and protect essential workers in the food supply chain.

“It is vital that we do everything we can to protect food supply workers,” Wyden and Merkley wrote in a letter along with more than 30 Senate colleagues. “Breakdowns in the food supply chain could have significant economic impacts for both consumers and agricultural producers. It is also imperative that precautions are taken to ensure the stability and safety of our food supply.”

There have been numerous reports of essential workers in meatpacking plants, processing facilities, farms, grocery stores, and markets falling ill from COVID-19. Some workers have reportedly felt pressured to go to work even when feeling sick. There are also serious concerns about the health of farmworkers who often work, live, and travel in close proximity, making social distancing very difficult.

“The severe shortages of adequate COVID-19 testing capability and personal protective equipment are exacerbating these problems,” the senators wrote. “Lack of access to tests and personal protective equipment leaves essential food supply workers at even higher risk and makes the virus more likely to spread, harming more workers and further damaging our food supply chain.”

The senators urged the White House and federal agencies to coordinate with state and local governments and the private sector to take aggressive action to protect essential workers and the food supply from further damage. The senators also asked a series of questions about the actions being taken and the need for coordination with the food industry.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the letter led by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), also was signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Robert Casey (D-Penn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.).

The full text of the letter to Vice President Pence, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Food and Drug Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf is here.

A web version of this release is here.