MADISON — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) wants answers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about its strong-arming of private businesses.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has mandated employees at meat and poultry processing plants wear masks during inspection. Failure to do so will result in FSIS ending inspections, putting the processors at risk of losing business or even closing.
Johnson is working with fellow Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) in requesting information on the government agency’s move to impose a mask mandate for employees at private businesses.
Over the past two weeks, Johnson said, the senators have heard from a number of meat packing and poultry processing plants in their states regarding what appears to be an extrajudicial mandate on private businesses by the FSIS. These businesses informed the offices that, due to FSIS’ sudden actions, they have been forced to shut down or are fearful they will be soon be shut down for reasons wholly unrelated to compliance with laws, rules, or regulations enforced by FSIS.
“We stand with these businesses in taking issue with this federal overreach by FSIS,” the senators wrote. “Individual processing facilities and plants have established policies to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 that work best for their employees and operations and are adhering to local and state guidance and restrictions.
“Further, it is questionable whether FSIS has the authority to withhold conducting inspection services, thus resulting in products being labeled as ‘adulterated,’ for reasons not authorized by Congress or outside the rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act.”
Lindsey Fox, co-owner of Nolechek’s Meats in Thorp, Wis., recently told Empower Wisconsin that FSIS rejected the processor’s appeal. Nolechek’s policy is mask optional for its employees.
Without an inspection, Nolechek’s was locked out of the wholesale side of its business. USDA says it could do so because the meats are distributed across state lines.
“…If we produced any product with the mark of inspection going forward, it would be considered adulterated and a recall would be initiated,” Fox said.
Facing another hit to a business already knocked around in the COVID economy, the Clark County meat processor was forced to come up with a “corrective plan” acceptable to USDA. When masked inspectors come in, plant employees that choose not to wear a face covering will have to leave the production area.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) also is demanding USDA stop its overreach.
“It is clear that this tortured interpretation of authority was fabricated by the agency in bad faith, working backwards from a pre-ordained and nakedly political preferred outcome,” he recently wrote in a letter to the U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It is no secret that the Biden administration is determined to usurp the authority of states in an ongoing, and seemingly never-ending crusade to pursue mask mandates and politicize public health.”
The concerns come as the Biden administration pushes constitutionally suspect COVID-19 vaccination mandates for businesses with 100 employees or more.