There was a collective sigh of relief from agriculture and food industry groups when the Department of Homeland Security deemed agriculture to be a critical industry, allowing businesses to keep operating despite the spread of COVID-19. But a few barriers are still surfacing as localities impose stay-at-home orders.

“Unfortunately, the federal government does not have the right to override state and local governments,” said Clay Detlefsen of the National Milk Producers Federation who’s the private sector chair of the Food and Agricultural Sector Coordinating Council. That group is working to identify and solve COVID-19 related challenges in the food supply chain.

Keep in mind: Several groups have been encouraging broader adoption of the DHS guidance. On Tuesday, more than 40 ag groups sent letters to governors, urging adoption of the DHS guidance to “ensure a consistent approach across all 50 states and local governments.”

Austin, Texas, issued a state-at-home order Tuesday that specifically cites the DHS guidance, but Denver posted its own list of essential businesses. (They include licensed marijuana and liquor stores.)

The industry also has been working with the FDA on how to handle food industry employees who test positive for COVID-19. The agency posted guidance and a  Q & A that clarifies that it’s not a food-borne illness, so there is no need to recall or put product on hold. “Basically, they recommend focusing on the employee and do a cleanup of the area of the plant where that worker may have been,” Defletsen tells Agri-Pulse.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been cooperative in making changes but more are needed, Defletsen said. Some truckers who drive across state lines are running into problems with their requirements for periodic medical exams. “That’s a bit hard because the medical community doesn’t want you in their office for routine exams.”

“We have problems popping up all over the place, but people are really working hard together – in government and in the private sector – to solve them,” Defletsen said.

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