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Industry Reaches Out to Federal Government for Help

List of requests includes relaxing some child labor regulations and authorizing the National Guard to deliver food
Photograph: Shutterstock

U.S. food leaders are preparing a wide-ranging list of requests for the federal government to help address the coronavirus crisis, including relaxing some child labor regulations, authorizing the National Guard to deliver food in emergencies and providing protective gear such as face masks for food workers.

About 60 industry associations, including FMI, the National Grocers Association (NGA) and the Consumer Brands Association (CBA), sent a letter to elected officials at all levels of the government to address the concerns that have arisen from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that gatherings be limited to 50 or fewer people, with exemptions for businesses. The issue about who makes the decisions arose earlier this week when the recommendation came out.

But further clarification was requested in the letter, which contained the immediate ask that federal and state governments quickly create a framework that exempts food (for human and animal consumption), beverage and consumer packaged goods manufacturers, along with ingredient transportation, warehouse, distribution centers and retail stores, from the gathering and curfew bans that are beginning to be implemented across the country; this should include employees who will continue to work while healthy and all food transportation to keep store shelves stocked. The letter went on to request that such exceptions be made into law to avoid the current situation in future crises.

“Gathering restrictions and curfews are critical for protecting Americans and helping to flatten the curve, but the unintended consequences of those efforts could be detrimental to the production of essential goods for our fellow Americans,” said CBA President and CEO Geoff Freeman. “Our industry is working around the clock to manufacture the products Americans need now more than ever. Our supply chain and production capabilities are strong and they will remain strong so long as we are permitted to operate at full capacity.”

In addition to the initial letter that was sent to government officials, the NGA, FMI and local associations are working on a list of federal recommendations for the grocery industry. The working list to date (the final list to be sent to the government will be finalized within the next day or so), found in a Wisconsin Grocers Association’s newsletter, includes the following requests:

  1. An executive order to temporarily waive state truck weight restrictions or increase the allowable weight to 90,000 pounds in response to an emergency. For example, Wisconsin has increased its limit to 88,000 for grocers during this emergency.
  2. An executive order to temporarily suspend all delivery time restrictions and noise restrictions for efforts in response to the emergency.
  3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow product substitutions and suspend fines and penalties for out-of-stock products and compliance buys for WIC products.
  4. The U.S. Department of Labor to lift child labor rules temporarily to allow teenagers out of school to work in support of the emergency efforts.
  5. In the event driver shortages are experienced, make available National Guard and/or other military service members with commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) to support the delivery of goods. 
  6. An executive order to waive or relax state pharmacy board and plan sponsor requirements on retail pharmacies that would otherwise discourage them from offering mail, home or curbside delivery services for nonscheduled and Schedule V prescription drugs.
  7. A waiver to allow any foodservice distributor in good standing with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to be a common carrier to support this emergency.
  8. A temporary moratorium on state bottle and can collection to free up essential resources at retail.
  9. Make personal protective equipment available to store personnel with direct contact with the public.
  10. Seek consistent national protocol on closing and opening manufacturing facilities, food distribution centers and food retail locations.
  11. Federal clarity that would permit hot foods sold in grocery stores to be allowed for takeout.
  12. A wavier on labeling regulations to allow for foodservice items to be sold in grocery stores due to extra supply in foodservice sector and shortages in retail.

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