Detroit Regional Chamber > US Sen. Stabenow: Milk Dumping, Supply Chain Needs, and Testing

US Sen. Stabenow: Milk Dumping, Supply Chain Needs, and Testing

April 15, 2020
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No More Milk Dumping? Incentives to Ag Producers Could Help Food Supply Chain Nightmares

Some of the images in the media have been jarring.

Dairy farmers being forced to dump thousands of gallons of milk on the ground. All the while many grocery store shelves are empty and cars line up at drive-through food banks with people seeking assistance.

The dramatic shift in consumer demands caused by COVID-19 has left many in the agriculture industry scrambling as markets have expanded or evaporated in a matter of days. The crux of the challenge comes down to the fact that businesses that buy in bulk, like restaurants, are closed. Conversely, consumers confined to home are relying on grocers for nearly, if not all, their food stock and buying groceries at surging volumes.

“We have really two different kinds of supply chains – one for grocery stores, and the demand is there,” said U.S. Sen.Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan). “Then we have more of a bulk purchase kind of supply chain to go to restaurants.”

The result is that those in mass production agriculture, like egg and milk producers, have seen their customers disappear and their method of market delivery suddenly closed off.

“We have all kinds of mass production,” said Sen. Stabenow during one of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s COVID-19 Tele-Town Halls. “To move from a huge bulk operation and try to put milk in half-gallon or gallon jugs or to be able to change the way you package things is no small challenge.”

Sen. Stabenow indicated it was going to take leadership and flexibility on the part of the Food and Drug Administration to address the issues and prevent food from going to waste when it is needed by people elsewhere.

“We are trying to create more opportunities for donations,” said Sen. Stabenow, highlighting recent conversations with the Michigan Milk Producers and other agricultural stakeholders. “We have an awful lot of demand on food banks, so it’s about how we move that forward and figure out incentives so that there is more incentive to donate than, frankly, to dump the milk.”

The public health challenges of COVID-19 are also confounding the supply chain. Meat producers such as Smithfield, which recently halted operations at its pork processing plant in South Dakota, remain vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 as employees fell ill.

“Our meat processing plants are packed with workers who are shoulder to shoulder,” Sen. Stabenow said. “When the virus gets into a plant it can move very quickly shutting down the plant.”

US Sen. Stabenow: National Supply Chain Strategy Needed

According to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), the U.S. needs a national supply chain strategy. And if the federal government isn’t ready to lead the way, Michigan has the leadership to step up and serve as the prototype.

“If it can’t happen nationally as it should, I think we in Michigan should take the lead in what we think ought to be happening,” Sen. Stabenow, noting Michigan’s deep manufacturing and agriculture roots and location on an international border.

From food security to medical supplies critical to public health, COVID-19 has exposed the country’s dependence on foreign powers for key products.

“We need to have the capacity in the United States to meet our own needs, whether it’s medical, technology in terms of manufacturing jobs or food supply,” Sen. Stabenow said warning of reliance on China. “We need to look at what is needed and then incentivize those industries that are critical.”

Case in point, Sen. Stabenow said that there is only one large supplier in the United States for swabs needed amid the COVID-19 and they are basically out of product with none in reserves in the national strategic stock pile. This leaves medical professionals without a basic medical supply amid a global pandemic.

“We need an aggressive national strategy around focused incentives looking at the whole supply chain from raw materials all the way up to finished products,” said Sen. Stabenow.

Key to Reopening Economy: Testing, Testing, Testing

When asked about the key to reopening the economy, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) unequivocally highlighted three things: Testing. Testing. Testing.

“Unless we have widespread testing so that we know who can go back to work … unless we have that information … we are really flying blind, it’s Russian Roulette,” said Sen. Stabenow, noting that each one of the three initial federal aid packages have included funding for testing.

“The next package has to address a national strategy on testing,” said Sen. Stabenow, noting testing needs to be widespread across the country. “If we don’t focus on this, I really worry that if we reopen to soon, we will end up with people sicker and more lives lost … Until we get a vaccine, I don’t know a better way to keep people safe and to reopen the economy.”

View the Chamber’s Tele-Town Hall lineup for this week and next, or listen to past speakers.