This week, 60 food industry associations penned a letter to federal, state, and local elected officials, urging them to clarify which businesses are exempt from local gathering bans and curfews--nationwide measures suggested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

On March 15th, CDC recommended that gatherings be limited to no more than 50 people, but that businesses were exempt. Whether or not to follow that recommendation is up to state and local governments. According to the letter, some state and local officials have clearly exempted food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods manufacturing facilities, but others have not.

“This lack of uniformity is leading to significant confusion and could further deteriorate if a level of consistency across states and municipalities is not achieved quickly.”

The groups are asking that federal, state, and local governments exempt consumer packaged goods, including food, beverage, health, hygiene and sterilization products, and other essential manufacturing facilities like pet food, from curfew and gathering restrictions, provided that they follow worker safety guidelines put forward by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Furthermore, the groups are asking that the manufacturing and transportation of ingredients, packaging, warehouses, distribution centers and other indispensable parts of the supply chain be considered equally critical. As part of this critical infrastructure designation, they emphasize the importance of including retail stores related to the purchase of human and pet food, beverages, and consumer packaged goods, as part of the critical infrastructure definition. 

The letter specifically asks for:

  1. That federal and state governments act expeditiously to coordinate a unified, clear, and public framework that clearly explains that food (for human and animal consumption), beverage, and consumer packaged goods manufacturers are exempted from the gathering and curfew bans that are starting to take effect. Moreover, that the employees working at these facilities should be clearly exempted and encouraged to continue to work while healthy. This would include considering all food transportation as “food for emergency restocking of stores” under the Department of Transportation’s Emergency Declaration waiving Hours of Service limitations;” and, 
  2. If necessary, that a federal exemption from gathering bans and curfew be granted for human, animal and pet food manufacturing facilities, as well as facilities that produce essential consumer goods critical to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, so that we can ensure the continued supply of food, essential items, while also ensuring worker safety. If authority for this action is not clear under existing federal law, then we respectfully request that the Trump Administration work with Congress to achieve the exemption legislatively as soon as possible. 

Groups that signed the letter include the American Frozen Food Institute, the Consumer Brands Association, the National Restaurant Association, the North American Meat Institute, the Pet Food Institute, United Egg Producers, the United Fresh Produce Association, and more.