Congress seeks FEMA aid for livestock depopulation

Congress seeks FEMA aid for livestock depopulation

Chayakorn Lotongkum |

In a letter to Trump, lawmakers say states need federal aid to help depopulate and dispose of animals during COVID-19 pandemic

Several members of Congress have asked President Donald Trump to provide guidance on how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can help farmers depopulate and dispose of livestock as meat processing plants have closed during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a letter sent to Trump on May 8, Chair of the House Agriculture Committee Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) House Agriculture Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jim Costa (D-California), and 13 lawmakers representing Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota said America’s livestock and poultry producers are “facing unprecedented processing challenges” during the pandemic.

The letter asks the Trump administration to “immediately provide national guidance allowing livestock depopulation and disposal expenses to be reimbursed under Category B of the FEMA Public Assistance program.”

The letter points out that, in the past, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been valued partners in responding to animal losses due to natural disasters, and that COVID-19 should not be treated differently. It says states have helped farmers with livestock disposal in recent weeks but that they need additional help from the federal government.

Farmers forced to cull animals

As meat processing and packing plants across the U.S. have temporarily closed or slowed lines during the pandemic, animals have started to back up on farms because producers are unable to bring them to market on time. Many producers have had to cull their animals as a result.

“For example, in Minnesota at least 10,000 pigs are being depopulated daily as plant closures have left farmers with no other option,” the letter said. “Even as plants begin to reopen, meat and poultry plants are expected to operate below maximum capacity for the foreseeable future in order to maintain appropriate public health and worker safety precautions meaning that, unfortunately, depopulation will continue.”

While Tyson Foods, the largest broiler company in the U.S., said on May 4 that none of its flocks have had to be depopulated, Allen Harim – the country’s 19th largest broiler company – reportedly began depopulating nearly 2 million birds on April 10.