Food, agriculture are “critical infrastructure”

March 26, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a guidance document on the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.” The list comprises industries and workers that need to remain operational even during protective measures against COVID-19. The agriculture and food sector is a major category in DHS’s list, which is advisory, but likely to be influential among state and local authorities enforcing various protective orders. The complete list is below; note especially the items in red.

  • Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores and other retail that sells human food, animal/pet food, and beverage products
  • Restaurant carry-out and quick-serve food operations - Carry-out and delivery food employees
  • Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees—to include those employed in food processing (packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.) facilities; livestock, poultry, pet and animal feed processing facilities; human food facilities producing by-products for animal food; beverage production facilities; and the production of food packaging
  • Farm workers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm labor needed to produce our food supply domestically
  • Farm workers and support service workers to include those who field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs
  • Employees and firms supporting food, feed, and beverage distribution, including warehouse workers, vendor-managed inventory controllers and blockchain managers
  • Workers supporting the sanitation of all food manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail
  • Company cafeterias - in-plant cafeterias used to feed employees
  • Workers in food testing labs in private industries and in institutions of higher education
  • Workers essential for assistance programs and government payments
  • Employees of companies engaged in the production, storage, transport, and distribution of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids
  • Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health; manufacturing and distribution of animal medical materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, etc.; transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants, renderers, and associated regulatory and government workforce
  • Workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products, including, but not limited to timber, paper, and other wood products
  • Employees engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment and other infrastructure necessary to agricultural production and distribution

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a letter “U.S. Department of Agriculture Operations Allowed to Operate During Shelter in Residence,” identifying a number of functions that are essential to the food supply, consistent with recent guidance from the Department of Homeland Security. These functions include commodity grading and inspection among numerous others. The letter may be helpful to producers dealing with questions on the local level about whether their workforce, or their USDA resident graders or inspectors, can travel back and forth to work.