Coons seeks support for chicken farmers, plants

Senator asks for funding for growers, worker safety
May 11, 2020

As Delaware’s poultry industry struggles under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons is calling on the Trump Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide financial and equipment support to poultry growers and processing plants.

Coons, co-chair of the Senate Chicken Caucus with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue asking to allocate a portion of $16 billion allocated in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to growers. 

USDA has not yet decided how it plans to allocate those funds.

“The poultry industry in Sussex County has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19. As state and federal health officials work with our processing facilities to contain the spread of the virus and protect workers, chicken growers face an uncertain future,” Coons said, calling for direct assistance to chicken growers and additional support– such as testing and PPE – to ensure the safest working conditions possible. “The poultry industry is vital to Delaware’s economy, and our chicken farmers deserve our continued support,” Coons said.

Coons said support for chicken farmers is particularly important in the wake of Allen Harim, which has a processing plant in Harbeson, ordering farmers to depopulate their flocks. The company ordered 2 million chickens to be killed because the company does not have enough working capacity to process that many birds. 

While Sussex County-based poultry processors have reported on three positive cases - two at Perdue Farms’s Milford plant and one at Mountaire’s Selbyville plant - the threat of contracting COVID-19 has led to fewer workers coming in to work.

“These growers need assistance to overcome unprecedented disruptions in demand, and processing facilities require resources in order to continue feeding our nation and providing the safest possible working conditions for their employees,” Coons said.

The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 16 senators, including Delaware Sen. Tom Carper; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland; and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, all states with substantial poultry industries.

“The impacts of COVID-19 on the chicken industry are becoming more serious and visible as the disease continues to spread throughout the United States. As an industry essential to American food security, we urge you to provide necessary support for chicken farmers and processing facilities,” the letter said.

The senators’ requests come on the heels of President Donald Trump’s executive order keeping meat and poultry plants open, leaving administration of the order up to the USDA. 

On May 5, Secretary Perdue sent a letter to state governors advising them to follow safety guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which include social distancing measures, physical barriers between workers, adequate ventilation, hand washing or sanitizer stations, staggered arrival and departure times for workers, cloth face coverings and no-penalty sick leave.

In a statement, Perdue said, “USDA expects state and local officials to work with these critical meat processing facilities to maintain operational status while protecting the health of their employees. Meat processing facilities are critical infrastructure and are essential to the national security of our nation. Keeping these facilities operational is critical to the food supply chain.”

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