Lobbying groups that represent companies including Target Corp., The Clorox Co., and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, are pushing for an exemption from local gathering bans and curfews in the U.S. so that stores can replenish products that are rapidly disappearing from store shelves.
More than four dozen industry groups representing sectors ranging from household products, food and beverages to transportation, are pressing the Trump administration, lawmakers and state and local officials to set a clear framework for consumer goods makers, food processors, distributors and their workers to prevent shortages.
The groups — which include the Consumer Brands Association, the National Milk Producers Federation, the American Bakers Association, the Pet Food Institute, the Beer Institute, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the American Frozen Food Institute — sent a letter to federal, state and local officials asking for clarity on the types of businesses that are exempt from gathering bans and curfews enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
Some state and local measures are stricter than guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, causing confusion among businesses and workers, the letter said.
“Some states have clearly exempted food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods manufacturing facilities,” while others have not, the letter reads. “This lack of uniformity is leading to significant confusion and could further deteriorate if a level of consistency across states and municipalities is not achieved quickly.”
The letter also requests exemptions for related industries, including transportation, warehousing, distribution centers, and other parts of the supply chain such as grocery and pet-supply stores, as Americans empty shelves of key items like household cleaners, toilet paper and canned foods in fear of the spreading virus.
Geoff Freeman, chief executive officer of the Consumer Brands Association, which is leading the effort, said in an interview Tuesday his organization is working with the White House and the Transportation Department, in addition to governors, mayors and county officials.
“I haven’t seen an unwillingness to deal with these issues, it’s just the flood of new issues that is so challenging,” he said.
Freeman was on a call over the weekend with chief executives from Costco Wholesale Corp., Walmart Inc., Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Target and General Mills Inc. and the White House to urge consumers to refrain from panic buying items in mass quantities.
The president echoed that message in a press conference Sunday.
“There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies,” Trump said, cautioning against mass grocery store runs “because it’s hard to refill the stores on a basis as rapid as they’re refilling them.”
On Monday, Trump tweeted about the call with the grocers, saying, “These beacons of our community will remain open for you, no matter what. We are working hard to remove any barriers to that effort!”
After the Sunday call, Freeman sent a letter to the White House with a number of other proposals, including forming a federal Office of Supply Chain to coordinate across agencies “to ensure the movement of essential goods as this crisis evolves,” and temporarily adding personal care, hygiene, cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilization products to low-income assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
The Consumer Brands Association is also pressing the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative to address export restrictions some countries are placing on key ingredients that go into products.
One association member, Procter & Gamble Co., which owns labels like Charmin toilet paper, Tide detergent and Swiffer cleaning products, sources thousands of ingredients from 387 suppliers in China alone that end up in 17,600 different products worldwide, according to a company executive.
India, which is the leading exporter of generic drugs in the world, has placed export restrictions on 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients, including acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. The letter from the group also points to Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia as countries that have prohibited or limited exports of protective medical gear, including masks.
Hospital workers in Washington state — one of the first areas affected by the outbreak in the U.S. — are confronting shortages of safety equipment and are crafting their own masks, Bloomberg has reported. Shortages are expected to grow around the country as cases rise.
“It would only require a handful of countries taking a similar approach to quickly result in long-term, critical ingredient shortages, which would increase prices and severely limit consumer access to products essential to human health and the response to COVID-19,” wrote Bryan Zumwalt, the Consumer Brand Association’s executive vice president for public affairs, in a letter dated March 15.