Hog building

DES MOINES — Pork producers need the federal government’s help as they address the new coronavirus, according to a letter some of Iowa’s top elected officials sent to the administration’s pandemic response task force.

The federal government should help keep open processing plants where outbreaks have occurred, assist in the humane euthanasia of animals at farms that are overstocked due to depressed demand, and boost mental health services to farmers and veterinarians, the letter says.

The letter was signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, state agriculture secretary Mike Naig, and U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. It was sent Monday to Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the administration’s coronavirus task force.

Iowa’s hog industry could suffer more than $2 billion in losses, according to a recent Iowa State University study.

“This is an emergency in our rural communities unlike any seen in recent history. Swift and decisive action will be required to preserve Iowa’s farm communities and ensure that safe, affordable and abundant food remains available in this crisis. We ask for your immediate assistance in addressing these critical needs,” the letter reads.

At least a half-dozen coronavirus outbreaks have occurred at multiple food processing plants throughout Iowa and just across its borders in neighboring states. Some of the plants shut down temporarily in order to address the outbreaks, and production has slowed as a result: production is down 25%, according to the letter, over the past month.

That has created less demand, which has left some Iowa farms with excess hogs, causing animal welfare issues, the letter said.

“Simply put, Iowa pork producers cannot operate if they can’t send their pigs to market,” the letter says.

The outbreaks also have contributed to a recent spike in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state.