FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: State Rep. Dell Kerbs
Phone: (405) 557-7345
Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Shawnee, who chairs the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, today voiced his support for the new Public Health Laboratory and the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence (OPCIE) at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Gov. Stitt recently announced plans to move the Public Health Laboratory to Stillwater by the end of the year.
“Public health crises, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have an immediate and significant impact on food availability. Shortly after the coronavirus outbreak began in March, empty grocery store shelves across the country were glaring evidence of the connection between the health and availability and the workforce and the public’s ability to access food.
COVID-19 severely disrupted the agriculture industry’s workforce by forcing the closure of and slowed production in many packing plants that the livestock and meat industries depend on. Pork production in the United States lost approximately 25% of its processing capacity from late March to mid-April.
The $25 million investment of CARES Act funds in the Public Health Laboratory and Oklahoma Pandemic Center of Innovation and Excellence will help ensure continued accessibility of food throughout the pandemic and in any future public health crises by providing agricultural and food businesses with tools necessary to protect employees and maintain operations.
This initiative will allow for more accurate, efficient testing and results, as well as increased data processing with full customization to meet the needs of individuals businesses and their workforce. Tools like onsite testing and timely, accurate results allow for crucial decision-making for meat processors our state depends on to keep food available for families across Oklahoma.
Our state is home to a significant meat processing industry, especially in the pork sector. Seaboard Foods in Guymon represents 6% of the nation’s pork processing capacity and processes about 20,000 hogs per day.
Seaboard not only meets the demands of American families by providing safe, wholesome pork products, but also the processing needs of a pork industry that operates on a just-in-time basis. Without processing capacity, live animal production quickly backs up resulting in overpopulation in barns and a lack of protein available at grocery stores.
Public health resources that keep processors functioning solve a variety of problems in the food supply chain. I believe the creation of Public Health Laboratory and Oklahoma Pandemic Center of Innovation and Excellence will help maintain the food supply chain Americans depend on during future public health crises. With Oklahoma State University as Oklahoma’s largest agriculture school and as a huge presence in the agriculture industry of our state, this is just one more reason that the transition to Stillwater is a discussion worth having.”