WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) wrote a bipartisan letter signed by 14 senators that urged congressional leadership to support US Department of Agriculture aid for pork producers forced to depopulate pig herds as processing plants have been forced to cut back production or temporarily close due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The pork indemnity plan would be part of the next COVID-19 relief bill taken up by Congress. The letter said that the crisis is immediate as pork producers were accustomed to sending two million pigs to processing plants each week before the pandemic.

“If 20% of processing is idle, that means somewhere around 400,000 animals per week must be disposed of in some manner other than processing,” the letter said. “Accordingly, government support is needed in the management of a sensible depopulation of the herd until plant operations stabilize. Given these significant social and economic consequences, we must prioritize funding to indemnify producers who are depopulating herds due to processing plant closures.”

In a separate request, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) asked Congress to allocate $1.17 billion to an emergency livestock program, plus an additional $505 million to pay for euthanasia/depopulation expenses. 

The letter also acknowledged that plants are not expected to reopen until improved safety measures can be implemented on the production line, as dictated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local authorities. 

“Without proper safety measures in place, workers in the plants will remain at a high risk at contracting the virus,” the letter said. “Failure to ensure workplace safety at these plants could result in an even greater backlog on the farm.”

The senators also said the closures negatively impact hog farmers who now face overcrowding and the challenge of providing enough feed and water to each animal. 

“There are pigs in various stages of the six-month growth process that have nowhere to go. If processing plants are idled, then there is an immediate need to establish processes whereby some portion of the herd is humanely euthanized to prevent animal suffering,” the letter said. “Failure to have a sensible and orderly process for thinning the herd will lead to animal health issues, environmental issues and pork producers going out of business.”