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RALEIGH — North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and N.C. Farm Bureau President Shawn Harding met Wednesday to discuss the importance of agriculture and agribusiness, President Trump’s executive order of the Defense Production Act for meat processors, the food supply and North Carolina’s important role in meeting consumer demand in the face of COVID-19.

“Agriculture, agribusiness and their workers are essential to our well-being as a nation,” Troxler said during a news conference. “This industry is our food supply. The workers in the field, those working in processing plants, driving trucks and at grocery stores and farmers markets are on the front line and play a critical role.”

COVID-19 has created challenges across agriculture as it has for all sectors of the economy.

Dairy producers have had to dump milk, wholesale vendors to restaurants have had to completely change their business model, and food processors are working with staff shortages, PPE supply issues and delivery challenges.

“This is unusual and unprecedented times,” Harding said. “We appreciate our farmers, plant workers and grocery store workers for continuing to do their job. We also appreciate President Trump’s executive order of the Defense Production Act for meat processors.”

Three key take-aways from Wednesday’s news conference:

Meat-processing facilities are critical

Shutting down or slowing production at meat processing plants would create a backlog all the way to the farm. It would be devastating to the farm economy and could lead to disruptions in the food supply. At this point, no North Carolina food processing facilities are closed. The N.C. Department of Agriculture has been actively engaged with Emergency Management, Public Health, the CDC and other agencies to help develop guidance for meat processing facilities to ensure the safety of workers. These guidelines were distributed to 3,200 food manufacturing facilities across the state.

The food supply is safe

COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness. According to the CDC, coronaviruses are generally spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. This includes people who are in close contact with each other. There is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Consumers can remain confident in our food supply. Federal and state meat and poultry inspectors remain in processing plants and continue to ensure safe meat handling practices. Produce farmers are taking proactive steps on their farms to protect the public and their workers. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has worked with farmers, grocers and processing facilities to help get food products direct to consumers, an example of this assistance includes truckload sales of bulk chicken products.

There is not a food shortage

Consumers could continue to see a shortage in selection of products at the grocery stores. For example, the stores could have more whole chickens instead of more highly processed cut-up or boneless chicken. Local farmers and farmers markets are other sources of meat products.

“Farmers are working hard to keep the public fed,” Troxler said. “We need them to continue to produce. Let’s do our part by supporting our growers, by buying local and by sharing the message our food supply is safe.”

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