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A Chicken in Every Pot: Providing Protein & Protecting Essential Workers During COVID-19

The following column ran in, a leading publication on the Eastern Shore of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Mike Brown outlines how the chicken industry is working to protect its workforce and keep Americans fed. The original column can be found here and is posted below.

Chicken industry working to keep workers safe, feed people: Column

Mike Brown, Guest column Published 11:23 a.m. ET April 30, 2020

We have to eat. As seemingly obvious as that may sound, amidst this pandemic, it bears added weight.

The COVID-19 outbreak has reminded us that our food system is “critical” and “essential.”

The chicken industry has a long history of adapting to difficult situations and meeting changing demand and we’re confident this will be no different.

Our top priorities right now are keeping our essential workers safe and keeping chicken stocked in the meat case. Delaware’s chicken producers are stepping up to the plate, literally, to ensure America’s number one protein keeps flowing to store shelves.

It is imperative that a proper balance be struck between ensuring a steady supply of food while maintaining the health and welfare of the people who work tirelessly to produce and deliver that food.

Our industry is following CDC, OHSA and USDA guidelines. Companies also are enacting additional measures to keep workers safe, such as increased cleaning and sanitation of the plants, temperature checks before entering plants, social distancing measures, installing plastic dividers between work stations, issuing masks and/or face shields, hazard pay, paid leave for sick or at risk employees, among many others measures.

Unfortunately, there are some groups who seek to take advantage of this situation and incite fear and panic among our workforce that does little to help us accomplish our mission. Further, inconsistencies among the states and many localities in enforcing CDC guidelines add to the confusion and can lead to unnecessary shutdowns. NCC is urging states to immediately adopt CDC, OSHA and USDA guidelines. When considering human health and food supply issues, time is of the essence.

The fact is that chicken plant managers in Millsboro, Georgetown, Harbeson, Seaford and Selbyville, and all over the country, wake up every morning and the first thing they ask themselves is, “Are we doing everything in our power to take real actions within our facilities to protect our employees from this virus, while still providing them a job with competitive pay and benefits?”

Those jobs are significant. Chicken is Delaware’s #1 agriculture commodity and the state is 7th in the nation in boiler production. The industry in Delaware currently employs 3,400 people and another 3,500 rely on the industry as suppliers – at a time when, unfortunately, some jobs are hard to come by. As important, Delaware’s farmers depend on these companies to provide a steady income to their families. Telling those farmers we are shutting down during this crisis would be a disaster for them.

It would also significantly affect food availability in Delaware, Washington, D.C., New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England, where the majority of Delaware’s chicken is shipped. Calculating from USDA data, each week of lost production in Delaware would result in 50 million fewer pounds of chicken and 175 million less meals in the Northeast and across the country.

During all of this, chicken companies in the state and all around the country are giving back to their local communities with millions of dollars and about 15 million pounds of sought-after chicken by making donations to food banks, soup kitchens, local health care facilities, police and fire stations. Companies are providing free chicken for their employees so they don’t have to look for it in the store. Every weekend, you can find a company selling chicken at reduced prices right out of trucks in the local community.

While the efforts of our industry may not drive attention-getting headlines or make their way into sensationalized media stories, know that Delaware’s chicken producers are doing everything they can to keep our workers healthy and safe, and keep America fed – in that order, one meal at a time.

Mike Brown, of Harbeson, DE, is president of the National Chicken Council, a non-profit trade association in Washington, D.C. representing America’s chicken producers and processors.