Wisconsin Representative Thomas Tiffany (R-WI-07) said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) demands employees at a small Wisconsin meat processing plant wear masks “absurd.” As reported by Empower Wisconsin, the USDA warned Nolechek’s Meats that it would not conduct any inspections unless all employees were properly masked. Not having its products inspected would mean that the plant would lose any out-of-state business.
Tiffany is asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to back off of the USDA’s “unfair notice.” One of the owners of the plant, Lindsey Fox informed the USDA that its masking policy was optional but the USDA told her that was “not acceptable.”
Tiffany said, “It’s becoming more apparent why this is happening. It’s not about the safety of USDA employees; this is about the federal government controlling people’s lives.”
Tiffany wrote a letter to Vilsack where he questioned their legal ability to enforce an order.
He wrote, “In fact, the FSIS [Food Safety Inspection Services] itself came close to admitting it has no legal basis to impose this mandate, noting ironically in the directive itself that the agency ‘does not have authority to abate hazardous conditions directly.’ Instead, the agency claims the mandate is necessary to ‘provide [agency] employees with safe and healthy working conditions.’ This is, simply put, absurd.”
USDA agent Phillip Bronstein told the owners that the plant is located in Clark County, which according to the CDC, has “high community transmission of COVID-19.” This was the rationale given for their demand that employees of Nolechek be masked.
As reported by Empower Wisconsin, now when inspectors come to the plant, any employees that choose not to wear a mask while at work have to leave the production area. The order is expected to remain in place until August 4, 2022.
Tiffany wrote in his letter defending the plant that, “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. 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.”
He shared his concerns that demands like this will further damage the economy. He wrote, “In addition to being transparently partisan, this order will kill jobs, further disrupt already scrambled supply chains, create unnecessary food security risks, and harm consumers.”
Tiffany asked the USDA to provide “transparent and detailed data-based justification” for the order, “at the very least.”
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