USDA turns down vaccine exemption request for FSA employees… decision will degrade food harvests for years to come
10/28/2021 // Ramon Tomey // Views

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) turned down vaccine exemption requests by staff members of the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Under President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate, FSA staff and county committee members are required to get Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) shots.

The National Association of FSA County Office Employees, which represents 6,700 FSA employees, filed the vaccine exemption request and asked the department to allow county offices to choose regular COVID-19 testing instead of vaccines.

A Sept. 22 letter from FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux outlined a vaccination timeline for state and county committee members and advisors. It stated that all employees must be fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shots before Nov. 22.

A Sept. 20 statement from USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack reiterating Biden's executive order came with Ducheneaux's letter. "To promote the health and safety of our workforce and their families and children, it is necessary to require COVID-19 vaccinations," Vilsack wrote.

The secretary noted that USDA federal and non-federal employees "must be fully vaccinated regardless of whether they work on-site, are on mandatory telework or are remote employees." (Related: Biden's federal vaccine mandate doesn't really apply to everyone: Members of Congress, staff, postal workers are EXEMPT.)

The vaccine mandates by Biden only serve to worsen the current staff shortages the USDA is facing.

"When we came into this situation, we faced a USDA where we had [significantly] fewer people than we had last time. I think there were 3,000 to 4,000 fewer people working in USDA. We're trying to get these resources out the door and do all of this work that's important to people, we're also trying to step up and we're trying to deal with the pandemic," Vilsack said in August.


FSA staffers subject to the vaccine mandate speak out

Biden's order applies to FSA county committee members, who are mostly farmers. Many of them have spoken out against the required COVID-19 injection.

Central Illinois farmer Rory Rincker, who currently chairs the FSA county committee in his area, has not yet arrived at a decision with regard to getting injected. He already has natural immunity after recovering from COVID-19. Rincker fears that the agency will lose valuable office staff because of the vaccine mandate.

"I have spoken to a couple of full-time employees, and they've voiced their concerns about it in our general conversations. A couple of these individuals have said they are simply not going to get the vaccination; they are choosing to step away," he said.

"I also spoke to FSA staff who weren't vaccinated, but went ahead and got vaccinated just because they want to keep their job. My fear is that the FSA is going to lose good people, because the vaccine mandate is forcing them to walk away."

Jeremy Maher, an FSA committee member in North Dakota, has the same sentiments.

"I feel that I'll be terminated from my job, which is hard to fill. I'm not sure about two [county committee] members – I do know one was vaccinated, and I assume the other [one was] also," he said. "As far as handling it, out of respect for other FSA employees – I will not get the shot. The government is putting [its] employees in a tough spot and if one more person being terminated helps, I'm glad to be that person."

Other anonymous FSA employees have openly disagreed with the mandate.

One employee told Tri-State Livestock News (TSLN): "From what I'm seeing, local offices don't like the idea of the mandate. Even the vaccinated aren't on board with forcing the unvaccinated. In our office, everyone is on board to not get it. [We] are going to hold out as long as we can, but we are looking for other [employment] opportunities. Maybe a lawsuit or an injunction from a judge might help." (Related: US soldiers sue federal agencies over military's COVID-19 vaccine requirements.)

TSLN also talked to a long-time FSA employee with more than three decades of experience. She said that if her religious exemption for the COVID-19 is denied, she is willing to walk away.

"If I don't get it, I'm gone. Thirty-four years and a whole lot of knowledge will go with me," she said. "This vaccine mandate will be a detriment to local FSA offices, even if it tries to hire replacements. When we hired part-time employees – it took three months for the background check, training and their cards. And even now, the overworked employees are expected to train the new hires." has more articles about how the Biden administration's vaccine mandate affects the USDA and other government agencies.

Sources include: [PDF]

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