Legislation that would provide relief to livestock and poultry producers amid the coronavirus pandemic has been introduced in the United States Senate.

Senate Bill 4156, the Responding to Epidemic Losses and Investing in the Economic Future (RELIEF) for Producers Act of 2020, was introduced June 2 by Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa;  Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, and Richard Burr, R-North Carolina.

The bill would support producers that are faced with euthanizing their animals due to COVID-19, provide resources for animal health laboratories as they develop solutions to defend against emerging animal disease spread and give additional authority to the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary through the existing Commodity Credit Corporation charter to deal with removal and disposal of livestock for any public health emergency moving forward. 

“Farmers and ranchers across the country are working to operate in these unprecedented times,” said Inhofe. “When I spoke with members of the Oklahoma Pork Council in May, we discussed the strain COVID-19 has put on their production cycles and their need for relief moving forward. That is why I am glad to introduce the Relief for Producers Act to provide a framework for producers and ease some of the burden brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation will help livestock and poultry farmers more easily and efficiently navigate a path forward as we battle this crisis.”

“North Carolina’s pork and poultry industry is one of the largest in the nation,” said Burr. “That’s why it’s important we help support the industry’s critical supply chain as it faces interruptions and uncertainty during an unprecedented public health emergency. I am proud to work with my colleagues on this legislation to bring emergency financial relief to producers and improve animal health surveillance as we continue to fight this pandemic.”

COVID-19 impact on livestock and poultry producers

COVID-19 has caused substantial disruptions in demand for products and forced many processing facilities across the country to reduce or suspend production. These complications in the supply chain have negatively impacted livestock and poultry producers across the United States. To ensure animal welfare and protect the integrity of their product, producers cannot hold onto market-ready animals due to their fast growth rate – forcing them to euthanize animals that they cannot get to processing facilities, a press release from Inhofe’s office said.

While many of these facilities have been able to normalize processing capacity, producers are still faced with making decisions on how to move forward that reflect the current state of markets as we know them. Many of these farmers and ranchers have experienced, and continue to struggle with, longer waiting periods, receiving fewer animals to raise and in some cases have been forced to depopulate their healthy livestock. As a result of these circumstances, producers have suffered substantial losses in revenues and continue to face changing and uncertain demand, the press release stated.

Emergency assistance for livestock and poultry loss, according to Inhofe, would provide assistance to producers who had to euthanize livestock due to lack of access to processing facilities.

Under the proposed legislation, livestock value would be calculated based on the national average market value between March 1 and the date of enactment. Reimbursements would be calculated for a 30-day period beginning with the date of initial depopulation, producers will get 85 percent of the value of losses. Each 30 day period after that, the value of losses would be reduced by 10 percent.

Animal disease prevention and preparedness

Animal health networks have been working to assist and share resources with their public health partners to supplement testing capabilities during the current public health emergency.  This has resulted in reduction in capacity for animal agriculture to respond to a foreign animal disease.

A provision of this legislation would provide $300 million to support improved animal health surveillance and laboratories as they supplement testing capabilities of public health laboratories during the current public health emergency.

Emergency authorities for the Commodity Credit Corporation

The proposed bill would amend the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act to add authority for the Secretary to deal with removal and disposal of livestock and poultry due to supply chain interruption during a public health emergency.

It would add the authority to provide assistance to agricultural processing plants in the event of a public health emergency in order to assure the continuation of markets for agricultural commodities, according to the bill’s sponsors.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.