WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) joined a letter led by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking answers on the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) imposing a mask mandate for employees at certain private businesses. On August 20, FSIS issued a notice stating, “Establishments must require their employees or contractors to wear masks when [inspectors] are present, if the establishment is located in a county with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ community transmission of COVID-19.”

“The notice states FSIS will withhold inspections if an establishment does not require its employees to wear a mask when FSIS personnel are present. Given the nature of constant presence of FSIS inspectors at facilities like meat packing and poultry processing plants, this notice seems to be a backdoor maneuver to regulate the internal policies of private businesses,” the senators wrote. “Meat packing and poultry processing plants are critical to our nation’s food supply chain. We are concerned with the impact this notice will have on the economy and availability of food nationwide.”

In the letter, the senators seek answers on the following:
  1. The legal authority under which USDA and FSIS issued this notice.
  2. The legal authority by which USDA and FSIS can deem a product to be adulterated solely due to a facility not requiring universal mask use but operating in compliance with local and state guidance for COVID-19.
  3. The total number of businesses that FSIS has withheld inspections as a result of noncompliance of the notice.
  4. Has the USDA conducted any analyses to determine the economic impact of the FSIS actions to shut down plants under this notice, either before or since its issuance?
  5. Was this notice developed and issued pursuant to any collective bargaining agreement with a FSIS representative?
  6. Under this notice, are the personnel of private businesses required to wear masks when an inspector is not present?
  7. Does USDA require inspectors to wear masks whenever they are in public, either on or off-duty?
  8. Does USDA bar FSIS inspectors from entering, either on-duty or off-duty, any private establishment that does not require mask use for its personnel and/or patrons?
  9. Will FSIS issue any notice in the future requiring employees and contractors at facilities to be fully vaccinated in order for FSIS to conduct inspections?