In Thursday’s Newsmaker, we heard Secretary Perdue discuss the food supply chain and the changes made due to COVID-19.

Vice President Mike Pence last week held a roundtable discussion on the food chain in West Des Moines, Iowa at the grocer, HyVee, headquarters.

To understand the conundrum of the disruption to the food supply in the United States, you first must understand where we were just a few short weeks and months ago. As Secretary Perdue put it, Americans have been “spoiled” when it comes to food.

“Frankly, as Americans we’ve been pretty spoiled in having the most efficient, the most effective, the least cost food and available in so many choices of any developed country in the world. And frankly we’ve taken that for granted. I don’t think we take it for granted as much now.”

Perdue said he was even guilty of not fully comprehending the dual-supply chain of food and the efficiency with which it ran. He applauded those who have worked hard to realign the food supply during this pandemic.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue attends a signing of an Executive Order by President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C.. USDA photo by Preston Keres

“The interesting thing, and I believe I’m guilty this, I never quite understood the dual-track supply chain that we have developed in this country by efficiency. When we think about over half of our calories being consumed now outside of the home and almost immediately that was stopped. With restaurants, congregate feeding, institutional feeding and others. That had to be, that was part of the relocation and misalignment that happened here in our economy. These people in the supply chain have just moved mountains in order to realign that, in so many ways. We never thought about that very much.”

Perdue said that the reactions at the onset of the pandemic created a “National Hurricane Warning” effect. People were panic buying food, which led to even more panic. Secretary Perdue praised grocers like HyVee and Kroger for working hard to keep shelves stocked and consumers calm.

“This dual-track really had us scrambling. I know initially, for Hyvee and Kroger and all the retailers, this National Hurricane Warning we had initially and your panic buying, the shelves started getting [empty] and that increases the panic, but you all very quickly continued to just do what you’ve always done and get these shelves back stocked because of the warehousing capability you had and doing that. That gave the public a lot of confidence. It took about 7 to 10 days for people realize there’s going to be more food there, there’s going to be food and you and your workers did a great job doing that, in that way.”

Secretary Perdue said the Executive Order from President Donald Trump was needed to provide the protection of meatpacking workers’ health and safety. Perdue said it is critical to get this supply chain up and running safely and do it as quickly as possible.

“That solution that came about as an executive order that the president issued, regarding the critical infrastructure of these meat processing [facilities] with the dual role as you said. We have to have healthy and safe workers in our plants in order to continue the health and the safety of the our food supply. And that’s exactly what it did. Using the gold standard of CDC guidance as well as OSHA guidance for the for the working conditions there. And these men and women of these plants have done an amazing job complying with that and getting these plants back open as quickly as possible.”

Perdue said he believes we have “turned the corner.” He said we have responded to the critical situation in our meatpacking facilities, and he believes that we will see the amounts of meat go back up and the varieties start to show up on shelves. Perdue says this is a testament to the fortitude of American workers.

“I told the president, when the governor Reynolds was there Wednesday, I think we’ve turn the corner. We had a little challenge last week, but this week these plants are coming back online. I think while Hyvee and other retailers may not have the amount of variety they would like to have or usually have, right now. I think they will have that pretty soon coming back and your customers will be there comforted again that the chain is unbroken in that way. I know others have mentioned the threats but I do believe, based on all the good efforts here, in my opinion, this chain is sound, it is solid and it’s a great testament to the innovation and creativity and the perseverance of the American worker.”

That’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.