policy issues

FAQs on COVID-19's Impact on Animal Food Industry

Feed & Food Safety

1.  Is feed/pet food safe for animals to eat or can it transmit COVID-19 to animals or the people handling it?

Feed and pet food is safe. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,, there is currently no evidence that food – including animal feed and pet food – is associated with the transmission of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses (e.g., norovirus), COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, spreading primarily from person-to-person through direct or indirect exposure to respiratory droplets. Thus, foodborne exposure is highly unlikely. That said, even without the threat of COVID-19, pet food manufacturers advise pet owners to thoroughly wash their hands and any surfaces coming into contact with pet food or treats upon feeding their pets, and to keep any utensils or food bowls used for feeding pets separate from utensils or bowls used for humans to avoid spreading foodborne illnesses.

2.  Is the packaging that pet food or feed comes in (e.g., canned pet food, bagged pet food/feed) a risk for COVID-19 transmission?

Highly unlikely. According to the FDA, there is currently no evidence that food packaging is associated with the transmission of COVID-19. While the virus that causes COVID-19, can survive on some surfaces for a short period, the risk for people contracting the disease this way is low. COVID-19 is mostly spread through human-to-human transmission via direct or indirect exposure to respiratory droplets. If individuals are concerned about handling pet food/feed packaging, they can always wait to use the products for a few days to kill any remaining active virus, or can remove the food/feed from the packaging and put it into their own sanitary containers. Another suggestion may be to wipe down the packaging with disinfecting wipes. The CDC says that one of the best ways to protect yourself from the virus is handwashing and to not touch your face after handling packaging until you can wash your hands.

3.  Would feed/pet food need to be held or withdrawn from the marketplace if an animal food industry employee tests positive for COVID-19?

At this time, the FDA does not anticipate that animal food products would need to be recalled or withdrawn from the market if an employee tests positive. The FDA maintains that there is no evidence that animal food can carry the new coronavirus, thus, there would be no scientific basis for recalling feed/pet food should an employee at an animal food manufacturing facility test positive for COVID-19.

4.  Should feed or pet food manufacturers hold ingredients in storage, similar to preparations used to thwart African swine fever?

No. The FDA maintains that there is no evidence that animal food can be a fomite for the new coronavirus, thus, there would be no scientific basis for holding ingredients in storage prior to use for reasons related to COVID-19. It is important that facilities producing feed for the swine industry continue to voluntarily maintain those protections against the ongoing threat of African swine fever.

Supply Chain Issues

1.  Is there a shortage of pet food products in the United States?

At this time, no, but this is something the American Feed Industry Association is monitoring regularly in coordination with input from its members. Given that stay-at-home orders are now in effect in most states, Americans are rightfully concerned about stocking up on food staples for their families, including their pets, and are limiting their time in stores. In response to the increased demand for pet food products, many pet food retailers have had a difficult time restocking in a timely manner, but the pet food industry is working tirelessly to ensure that these products continue to move throughout the supply chain to restock empty shelves as quickly as possible. In addition, in late March, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released updated guidance to state and local policymakers on what it considers the “critical infrastructure workforce.” Under this guidance, pet food retailers and pet food manufacturers, as well as those involved in the transport of these products, are deemed “essential” and will continue reporting to work amid state shelter-in-place orders.

2.  Are farmers and ranchers hoarding feed supplies?

Early on in the emergency, AFIA heard from some feed manufacturers that their farmer and rancher customers were stocking up on feed supplies, a bit similar to what they might do before an expected natural weather event (e.g., hurricane or snowstorm). Part of this is likely attributed to the uncertainty around whether animal food manufacturers would be considered “essential” in state-ordered business closures. In March, animal feed manufacturers were added to CISA’s “critical infrastructure workforce” guidance for state and local policymakers, clarifying the essential role that animal feed manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and shippers play in keeping America’s livestock and poultry fed. At this time, AFIA is confident in the supply of animal feed ingredients, both coming in from international suppliers and produced domestically, and the ability for feed manufacturers to deliver feed to U.S. farmers and ranchers. As the situation evolves, however, AFIA is staying in close communication with federal and state officials to address any supply chain issues, should they arise.

3.  Have there been any disruptions to shipping ingredients into/out of the country?

There have been a few instances of ports closing for short periods or restricting goods in the U.S., but so far, all of the issues resolved themselves within a day or two. A majority of the trade for the animal food industry is between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and so far, all commerce between the countries has continued. AFIA is monitoring the situation very closely and working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure this continues.

4.  Some states are requiring two-week self-quarantines for individuals traveling from certain states. Would this impact truckers driving across state lines?

This should not impact the transportation of feed and pet food. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has asked governing bodies considering the implementation of any quarantine or travel restrictions to remember that truck drivers have been identified as “essential” workers by the DHS. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the delivery of needed supplies to New York City and other hotspots for COVID-19 should also be consulted by governing officials, the agency noted. The CDC recommends that truck drivers:

  • Stay in their vehicles as much as possible when supplies are loaded and unloaded.
  • Move to electronic receipts when possible.
  • Maintain a distance of six feet from others when exiting their vehicles.
  • If they need to spend the night in a hotspot area, stay in their hotel room or sleeper cab to the extent possible.

Long-haul drivers may be on the road for days or weeks at a time. However, FMCSA said that the drivers who follow these precautions would not need to self-quarantine when leaving New York City or other hotspots, unless required by state or local officials in the area where they live.

5.  Have there been any ingredient shortages used in the manufacture of feed/pet food?

At this time, there are no major ingredient shortages, but this is something AFIA is monitoring regularly in coordination with input from its members. There has been a reduction in ethanol production due to the decreased overall demand for gasoline (i.e., people staying at home and not driving their cars as much); therefore, there is a decrease in the output of distillers’ grains. Animal nutritionists are working with their customers to reformulate their livestock and poultry rations to use other ingredients, such as corn, instead of distillers’ grains. In mid-April, AFIA learned that some rendering facilities connected to meatpacking facilities have temporarily closed due to COVID-19 cases among staff within the facilities. This has reduced the availability of some rendered products (e.g., bloodmeal and meat and bone meal) used in feed and pet food products, but at this time, the North American Renderers Association believes any impacts would be localized, not felt across the country, and animal food manufacturers would be able to substitute other regional ingredients.

6.  What long-term economic disruptions does the animal food industry expect?

AFIA is monitoring several aspects of animal food production throughout this unprecedented public health crisis, such as ingredient availability or delays; transportation issues, including trucking, rail and ports/ocean vessels; needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies; employee illnesses and other items. Having dealt with interruptions in business operations due to natural weather events or disasters, or animal disease outbreaks in the past, the animal food industry expects that there will be some challenges in the days that lie ahead that could affect the economic outlook of this industry. However, it is important to keep in mind that Americans will still need access to available and affordable dairy, meat, poultry and seafood products, so it is critical that U.S. animal food manufacturers continue feeding livestock, poultry and aquaculture. Just as important is keeping pets, which have become such a comfort throughout these trying days, fed complete and balanced meals. The animal food industry is strong and we expect it will continue to grow in the future.

7.  Has COVID-19 impacted animal food research projects?

Some of AFIA’s university members have told us that non-critical research work has been temporarily put on hold as a result of COVID-19, primarily due to the fact that resources (e.g., PPE) are needed to support researchers involved in the COVID-19 vaccine development effort (see interviews with Kansas State University’s Cassandra Jones, Ph.D., and Greg Aldrich, Ph.D.). In addition, AFIA’s public charity, the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER), has not seen any impacts from COVID-19 on current research, since a couple of the projects being conducted this year are not within a laboratory setting and/or are in the final written phase.

Workforce Issues

1.  Will animal food manufacturers be forced to close down should they have employees test positive for COVID-19?

Possibly, this will be a decision made by the company and local/state health authorities. It is likely that the animal food manufacturing facility would need to be sanitized prior to employees reporting back to work, so an employee testing positive may result in the facility being taken offline temporarily. However, it is important to keep in mind that this would be in the interest of public health and not a feed or pet food safety issue. Per the Food Safety Modernization Act, animal food manufacturing facilities are required to maintain clean facilities and have animal food safety plans in place, which require an assessment of hazards and plans for mitigation of risk from those hazards.

2.  What will happen if an animal food manufacturing facility ends up in a “hot spot”?

There have been several instances in the past where a feed mill is abruptly closed down due to natural weather event (e.g., flooding or tornado) or a disaster (e.g., fire). During these times, other feed mills nearby have stepped up and helped fill the void to ensure the livestock and poultry continue receiving feed. While many firms are competitors, when circumstances like this happen, they step up and help one another. The “all in this together” mantra is one our industry lives by in quiet times and in times of crisis.

3.  What will happen if large numbers of employees can no longer report to animal food manufacturing facilities due to COVID-19?

Absenteeism is something that is of great concern to the animal food manufacturing industry, which is why our members have been taking proactive steps to limit the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 in their facilities, by following the CDC’s guidance on social distancing and other safety measures. AFIA has been working with members to ensure they are thinking about cross-training employees, so that vital functions can continue when key personnel are out. AFIA is also staying in close contact with the DHS to monitor regional outbreaks for their impacts on the labor workforce.

4.  Do animal food manufacturers use personal protective equipment (PPE) or other sanitation supplies? If so, what kind and for what purpose, and are shortages expected?

Yes, materials such as N95 respirators (often referred to as “N95 face masks”) are used in the animal food industry to protect the health of employees handling hazardous materials. As the country is facing a temporary shortage of these respirators, AFIA has provided guidance for other alternatives that facility managers can consider to protect their workforce, while reserving these critical PPEs for the medical community. The animal food industry also uses hand sanitizer and may find it is difficult to fulfill orders, but some are working to make their own.

5.  Can sick truck drivers delivering feed to animals on farms spread COVID-19 to them? What about other on-farm visitors?

While there currently is no conclusive evidence that livestock, poultry or pets can become sick with COVID-19, and no current evidence that they can spread the virus to other animals or people, out of an abundance of caution, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends limiting sick individuals’ contact with these animals until more information is known about the virus. (AVMA’s website is a good source of information for people looking to learn more about how COVID-19 affects domestic animals.) As the industry implements social distancing measures, the FDA is encouraging veterinary telemedicine to treat animals and write Veterinary Feed Directives. Some feed salespeople and animal nutritionists, which have traditionally met with farmers and ranchers on farms to determine their livestock and poultry’s health, nutrition and management needs, are starting to move to virtual visits where possible.