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Food and Ag Policy Briefing March 2020

31 March 2020 Peter Rixon

France looks to recruit "land army", US reduces inspections

Also, Poland considers lifting Sunday shopping ban, Spanish farmers ask why they're not seeing oil price drop in diesel prices and US industries look to Congress for financial relief.

Lockdowns grew as COVID-19 swept through Europe and the US last week, leading French Agriculture Minister, Didier Guillaume, to appeal to " the army in the shadows" to come out and help with food production.

The army of people he was referring to were the women and men who have lost their jobs as hairdressers, restaurant employees and many other occupations which have been hit by business closures to enable social distancing during the COVID crisis.

"Could a hairdresser who no longer has any work not go to work in the fields, pick fruit, strawberries, help an agri-food company put yogurts in boxes? We must envisage new forms of solidarity," Guillaume said.

Across the EU, the food supply chain was facing major challenges as stockpiling and panic buying by consumers led to temporary shortages on supermarket shelves, requiring extra capacity on deliveries to keep up with the higher demand.

Problems reported by the logistics sector include finding enough truck drivers, restrictions imposed on seafarers, and a lack of air freight.

In Spain, farmers were asking why the oil price drop caused by COVID shock was not being seen in the price of agricultural diesel.

"We do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or withdrawn from the market for reasons related to the outbreak" - US FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas.

"It is time to pitch in, but everyone [must do it]. We cannot always pay the cost," farmers' association, Unión de Uniones, said adding that farms continue to work. "But we believe it is not fair that when prices go down we do not receive a proportional price adjustment".

In Poland, the government announced it was considering temporarily suspending the country's Sunday shopping ban as part of its legislative package designed to mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the country's economy.

Since its introduction, a number of employers' and industry associations have spoken against the Sunday shopping ban, claiming that it could cost the Polish economy up to 100,000 jobs in the long-term.

In the US, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas, told the public on March 24 that the agency is overseeing food safety during the pandemic and would continue "for-cause" inspections while suspending routine US and foreign inspections.

He made clear "we do not anticipate that food products would need to be recalled or withdrawn from the market for reasons related to the outbreak, even if a person who works in a human or animal food facility (e.g. a food packager) is confirmed to be positive for the COVID-19 virus."

Yiannas said he is part of a White House-level coordinating committee on the supply chain that is closely monitoring the supply of human and animal foods.

Financial support

Various US industries looked to Government during last week for support in the face of a hammering from COVID.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) said it was looking to the USDA to help stabilize prices and provide aid to struggling farmers.

NMPF sent a letter on March 24 to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking for assistance, warning that the pandemic is harming the dairy sector all along the supply chain, from the farm to the consumer.

The dairy group said it is "particularly concerned about the sharp decline in both cash prices for dairy commodities and in dairy futures markets."

Also, a bipartisan group of more than two dozen lawmakers is urging USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide financial support and loosen regulations to help the specialty crop industry cope with the financial blow from the ongoing pandemic.

The coalition of 27 House members sent Perdue a letter on Monday (March 23) warning that the global COVID-19 outbreak poses an "unprecedented threat to the fresh fruit and vegetable industries."

The letter asks for "targeted relief" for the specialty crop industry to "not only help producers who are facing significant financial challenges but also support efforts to provide food and nutrition assistance to the most vulnerable members of our communities."

Posted 31 March 2020 by Peter Rixon, Managing Editor, EU Food Law and Eurofood Monitor



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