“Being able to feed America is just as important as being able to produce bullets and bombs.”

Lucas Expresses Confidence in Nation’s Food Supply

WASHINGTON, DC — With reports that America may be facing a meat shortage as it continues its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, The Ripon Society held a virtual meeting this past Thursday with a leader who understands both the challenges facing the nation’s farmers and ranchers and the science that will be needed to win this fight.

That leader is U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas. For over two decades now, Lucas has represented the northern and western half of Oklahoma in the House of Representatives. He currently serves as the Ranking Republican on the Science Committee. He previously served as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, where he wrote the landmark 2014 Farm Bill and guided America’s farm policy for six years.

Lucas is also an agricultural producer himself. In fact, his family has been farming in Oklahoma for over 100 years. He spoke about the challenges facing the nation’s agriculture sector in his remarks before The Ripon Society last week. He began his remarks, though, by talking about the current crisis itself, and how it compares not only to other challenges he has seen during his time in office, but how it compares to another crisis he heard about growing up.

“We’re facing challenges unlike anything I’ve seen in my congressional career,” the veteran lawmaker stated. “I was a freshmen in 1995 when the Murrah building was bombed, a block and a half away from my building. One hundred and sixty-eight of my constituents and, more importantly, my neighbors were taken away in an instant.

“I was a member of Congress for 9/11 and the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and those good fellow citizens who put that plane down in Pennsylvania to protect even more people. I’ve been through the Dot-Com boom, and I’ve been through the property bubble bust. What we’re dealing with now makes all that pale in comparison in terms of loss of life and impact on the economy.

“I think about the stories that my grandparents and great aunts and uncles used to tell me about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and how on the farm in rural Western Oklahoma it brought everything to a stop literally for weeks. And how it slaughtered the young generation and healthiest of our society. As a kid, I thought they were probably embellishing just a little bit. But now, after watching tens of thousands of our fellow Americans die, watching literally millions of people on this planet become sick with COVID-19, I have a greater appreciation of what they went through in 1918.”

In addition to talking about the historic magnitude of the current pandemic and how it compares to past crises, Lucas also discussed the pandemic’s economic impact and its potential to disrupt the nation’s food supply.

“There’s plenty of product,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Whether it’s cattle or poultry or pork, there’s plenty of product on the farm and there’s plenty of product in the chicken houses. The question is how do we get it to the consumer’s plate? That’s the real challenge. Because in the meatpacking industry, you basically have two directions in which the product flows.

“Part of it flows towards restaurants. They’re different cuts. They tend to be more expensive cuts. They tend to be in larger size packages. They tend to be contracted for some time in advance. On the other side of the supply chain, you have the product that goes toward retailers and grocery stores. It tends to be a different cut, and tends to be smaller packages. After all, most of us don’t buy a hundred ribeye steaks at one time. We don’t buy hamburger 50 pounds at a time.

“So we’re in a situation where demand has taken off dramatically for food for home consumption, while at the same time we’ve seen restaurants across America shut down. So these restaurants are not only unable to use the product that they have on hand, but they can’t take possession of any more product. And that’s part of the challenge that we face.”

According to Lucas, the other part of the challenge is dealing with the threat of the coronavirus itself and doing whatever is needed to keep workers safe.

“The sanitation practices in all of our American meat processing facilities remain as high as they ever have been,” he declared. “So the danger is not the product we get. The danger to the supply chain is how do those folks get to work, do their job, and get back from work without a potential risk?

“I’ve watched the facilities in my district and in my state dramatically ramp up their temperature checks and their questioning about people. They’re very focused on, ‘don’t come in if there’s a problem in your household’ or ‘don’t come in if you have a problem.’ They’re trying really hard to address that. But like most other processes in this country, the technology we’ve developed in recent decades where everything is just in time means that if you have a hiccup, it becomes a real challenge overall.

“All that said, I don’t see dramatic food shortages that are inevitable. I think we have to be mindful of how we proceed. President Trump has announced utilization of the 1950 Defense Production Act because being able to feed America is just as important as being able to produce bullets and bombs. Ultimately, though, the answer to this is a vaccine and therapeutics to address the effect of the virus.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.