During these times of rapid change and uncertainty in the produce industry, and throughout the world, the Produce Marketing Association has been working to help alleviate some of the issues and provide updates on what is happening in the industry. Here is the latest information released by the PMA, and resources related to trade and labor.
Importing and border
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports that all normal, regular services are in operation. However, effective March 24, all offices will be closed to visitors. APHIS will be looking for additional ways to provide services electronically, as with ePermits. Reports from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is that there are no changes at ports of entry, other than incoming volume.
Designation of 'essential infrastructure business'
The Department of Homeland Security has designated the food, agriculture, transportation and logistics industries as part of the 16 'critical industries' by the U.S. government during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to validating what the industry does as core to the U.S. economy, this ensures the continuity of delivery of fresh produce to the nation's supermarkets.
H2-A and labor availability
This is an area of concern and active involvement by PMA. The Department of State reversed its previous decision and is now processing seasonal worker visa applications. The priority is on processing returning applicants. Reports from several U.S. consulates in Mexico is that services are reduced but that hundreds of interviews are still scheduled. 92% of visa applications come from Mexico.
Funding for coronavirus and surface sanitation
PMA formed a coalition with other trade associations representing fresh and frozen foods to urge domestic research agencies (USDA and NIH) to allocate funds to investigate survival of the novel coronavirus on contact surface and identify effective measures for surface sanitation. This research is much needed as the public is currently bombarded with misinformation and data obtained using surrogates to conjure up worse case scenarios of the pathogen transfer.
Congressional and administrative actions/letters
PMA has been active in supporting requests to alter current Administrative and/or Congressional policies to help advance the fresh produce and floral industries adjustment to COVID-19. All letters can be found at the PMA website under Trade and Labor resources. Some of the acts PMA has been taking include:
- Urging USDA to take swift action in purchasing stagnant product currently sitting in the supply chain and utilize through the food purchase and distribution programs of the U.S. government.
- Requesting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide labeling flexibility to the food industry. Link to Letter Here
- Asking Congress to expand and replenish USDA's borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). This will provide additional program funds and loans to the farm sector to deal with the financial impacts of COVID-19. Link to Letter Here