After receiving multiple questions regarding what defines a “food and ag worker” as outlined in an updated Michigan Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 vaccination schedule released last week, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has provided some clarification.
In a Feb. 23 letter to Michigan food and ag stakeholders, MDARD Director Gary McDowell said the department is doing its best to keep stakeholders up to speed where possible.
“With the limited supply of vaccines currently available, these definitions are very important,” McDowell said. “We will continue to work with DHHS and local public health to help clarify and inform this year’s testing and vaccination efforts.”
Food and ag worker definition
According to MDARD, the state’s food and agriculture sector is critical to feeding Michiganders, the continuity of the economy and spans a wide range of jobs. Within the sector, workers at the highest risk are those who must work in close proximity to many other people for extended periods of time.
In Michigan and across the country, there have been significant outbreaks, particularly in meat processing, fruit and vegetable processing, and in harvesting of some crops.
According to MDARD, the priorities are:
Food processing workers. This includes meat processing and meatpacking facilities; processing of fruit and vegetables; dairy processing; animal feed manufacturing; food and animal feed ingredient manufacturing; beverage production; and the production of food packaging.
Farmers and farmworkers. This includes migrant and seasonal workers involved in raising, cultivating, harvesting, packing, storing and distributing agricultural commodities, and who are by the nature of their work in close proximity and contact with other people.
Ben Tirrell, Michigan Farm Bureau associate legislative counsel, said the MDARD guidance is helpful in highlighting which agriculture and food processing workers will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination starting March 1.
“While the initial MDHHS announcement specified ‘frontline’ workers, this guidance delineates that prioritization should be given to those in work settings where social distancing is simply not realistic,” Tirrell said.
“It also makes it very clear that this order applies to traditional agricultural production workers and those involved in agricultural processing activities, but does exclude workers further up the supply chain like distribution employees or those involved in general retail or restaurant industries.”