WASHINGTON– In its latest testimony to the House Agriculture Committee, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) stated the ongoing US labor shortage is challenging the food supply chain and raising the cost to consumers.

The trade association said members are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated existing labor challenges and increased consumer demand. 

“Just six weeks ago, the Biden Administration tried to blame the meat and poultry industry for the rising cost of food,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of NAMI. “Today, the Congress will hear from other food manufacturers, shippers, input suppliers, growers and retailers enduring the same labor shortages up and down the food supply chain that are driving the record cost of food at the holidays.”

In other parts of the testimony regarding labor, Potts said that the Meat Institute regularly hears from member companies that have 20% absenteeism on any day.

Potts also brought up port congestion as an additional challenge for meat and poultry production. 

“Recent announcements by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to extend hours of operations must be matched with an adequate supply of labor, including truck drivers, along with extended warehouse hours to improve cargo flows,” Potts said. “Urgent action is especially critical to enhance current port capacity, including using nearby empty lots for container storage and unloading, along with inland loading points.”

Potts also brought up the case where a federal court blocked the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS). Late in May, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), accepted the ruling and did not appeal, resulting in slowdowns. Processing facilities have now been running on slower speeds since July 1. 

The trade association said it provided information to USDA regarding worker safety practices and draft criteria that could be included in a line speed waiver to address worker safety and inform future rulemaking. 

“It is beyond past time for USDA to issue the criteria for line speed waivers: the NSIS plants – specially configured and staffed to operate under NSIS – have been operating at a competitive disadvantage since July 1, and hog slaughter capacity has been reduced,” Potts said. “With hog plants already running below capacity because of lack of labor, the additional slowdown due to slower line speeds is a self-inflicted wound by the administration.”

Vaccine mandates for federal employees was another concern for the Meat Institute in its testimony. NAMI said if a significant number of federal inspection employees decline to get vaccinated it will compound the inspector shortage and result in slowdowns at processing plants. The group also sees vaccine mandates creating shortages for federal contractors in trucking and rail line industries.