“Supply chain problem solving doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” CBA says of new critical infrastructure council

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

Related tags Supply chain Consumer Brands Association coronavirus Tyson foods

Following recent high-profile claims that the food supply chain is buckling under pressure from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Consumer Brands Association is teaming with more than 35 trade associations to address long- and short-term challenges that threaten the “timely flow of critical goods.”

Through a newly formed Critical Infrastructure Supply Chain Council, CBA and others will take a three-prong approach to address specific supply chain challenges revealed by COVID-19, and “advance uniform, national policies that strengthen the country’s supply chains”​ now and in the future.

To this end, the council will share information, recommendations and best practices with policymakers; leverage its collective experience to find solutions to supply chain weaknesses and breakdowns; and serve “as a forum across industries to anticipate, spotlight and address future supply chain challenges,”​ according to CBA.

Is the supply chain broken?

CBA executive vice president of public affairs Bryan Zumwalt explained to FoodNavigator-USA that a council that brings together multiple voices as one is necessary because “there is clearly continued confusion around response, testing and other nuanced issues that are creating inefficiencies in the supply chain at times.”

While he praised companies for being “nimble”​ and responding quickly to what he described as “localized”​ supply chain challenges and “not an overall breakdown,”​ other industry stakeholders have publicly decried the opposite – triggering government action that has been met with mixed reactions.

For example, Tyson Foods Board Chairman John Tyson declared in an April 26 full-page ad​ that ran in several newspapers that “the food supply chain is breaking”​ as “pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close”​ to address COVID-19 outbreaks and related food and worker safety issues.

Within days, President Trump responded with an executive order​ April 28 that invoked the Defense Production Act to classify meat plants as essential infrastructure and provide them with additional protective gear and guidance, explaining that “closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”

At a more local level, the chief merchandising and marketing officer of the New Jersey-based Kings Food Markets recently said that fill rates by distributors have fallen into the teens, signaling “the supply chain … broken at this point,”​ even if not irrevocably so.

The council will “surface national challenges,” “pinpoint unintended consequences of government action”

The creation of the Critical Infrastructure Supply Chain Council suggests that a piecemeal approach to addressing supply chain challenges may not be the most efficient solution for the overall industry, which shares many of the same concerns with stakeholders from other segments, including government.

“Supply chain problem solving doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it’s deeply shaped and influenced by government policy, regulation and support,”​ Zumwalt explained. “The Council is equipped to surface national challenges and pinpoint unintended consequences of government action, and to make policy recommendations about ways to improve supply chain resiliency and competitiveness. By being able to combine the collective efforts of our members, it gives us the ability to magnify our message and provide unique insights relative to each organization’s position within the supply chain.”

He added CISCC’s efforts will fit within the broader industry efforts to improve supply chains by elevating “the need for enhanced, national coordination on supply chain issues, focusing on the need for clearer guidance and uniform policymaking. And as companies consider how they might retool supply chains coming out of the pandemic – thinking about what their strategy should be – there’s also an opportunity for a national conversation on supply chain strategy and how to ensure that US supply chains are as resilient and robust as they can be in the years ahead.”

Step one: Determining how to respond to COVID-19 testing

While the council has an ambitious mission and long-term goal, Zumwalt said the group’s first step will be to work with federal government and states to clarify and standardize procedures for facilities where employees test positive for COVID-19.

“The clarity on how to handle a pandemic and response to employee concerns are front burner. For example, there needs to be clear and systematic guidance that answers questions such as: What threshold of positive COVID-19 tests should trigger a plant shutdown? When and how should manufacturers administer tests as they begin reopening a plant? Will public health authorities accept privately administered test results?”​ he said.

Further down the line, he added, the council wants to address questions, including, “as states reopen, how should facilities deal with visitors, including inspection and auditing teams? And how should truck drivers interact with manufacturing plants, stores and other facilities?”

Ultimately, Zumwalt said, “the more consistency we can get across the country, the easier it will be to address localized challenges. In the long-term, we’d like to see this coalition used as a tool to push state and federal governments to implement policies that will make supply chains more efficient overall and nimble during emergencies.”

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