WASHINGTON, DC, US — A coalition of groups that includes the North American Millers’ Association, the American Bakers Association and the National Grain and Feed Association has written top Biden administration officials to seek an exemption from COVID-19 vaccination for truckers hauling agricultural goods from Canada.

The Dec. 9 letter expresses concern about a US policy set to take effect in January requiring all essential foreign national truck drivers to provide proof of vaccination upon crossing into the United States. The letter was addressed to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

“North American agricultural supply chains are deeply intertwined,” the group said. “Including Canadian truck drivers in the cross-border vaccine mandate will impede trade flows and harm both the US and Canada. Canada is the largest import market for finished US agricultural products, and Canada is a major fertilizer supplier for US farmers. If Canadian truck drivers are not excluded from the mandate, this essential trade will be reduced and become more costly. In recognition of the essential role of truck drivers, Canada has not implemented a similar ban on unvaccinated American truck drivers. We strongly urge the United States to continue recognizing the essential role of truck drivers as well, both for domestic commerce and cross-border commerce.”

The groups asked Buttigieg and Mayorkas to include options for vaccine exemptions and testing as an alternative to vaccination for cross-border truck drivers.

“It is our hope that this policy reflects the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) recent fact sheet assertion that those who work alone and do not come into contact with other employees or customers pose little risk to others and should be exempt from vaccine requirements,” the group said.

The proof of vaccination requirement for essential travelers comes at a time of acute shortages of truckers, the groups said. Steps that recognize “essential, critical infrastructure travel” must be recognized to support US supply chains, they said.

While vaccination rates are high among Canadian drivers, any reduction because of COVID restrictions in the availability of drivers “would be crippling to trade and food supply chains,” the groups said.

“Further, the vaccination rate among American truck drivers is significantly less than that of Canadian drivers,” the letter said. “If the government of Canada were to reciprocate this regulation and impose new vaccination requirements similar to the US measures coming into effect in January, a very large percentage of the estimated 40,000 US-based drivers who have cross-border routes would not be able to enter Canada, exacerbating current supply chain challenges.

“In light of this very real threat to the orderly trans-border flow of goods, we urge you to provide cross-border truck drivers with various exemption and testing options.”

In addition to NAMA and the ABA, other signatories to the letter included:

American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association, American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute, Consumer Brands Association, Corn Refiners Association, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Pasta Association, National Propane Gas Association, Pet Food Institute, The Fertilizer Institute, The International Dairy Foods Association, USA Rice and Western Growers.

In a companion letter to the Canadian minister of transport, the groups added, “We would urge your department and all relevant agencies of the government of Canada to work with your US counterparts to have aligned policies that not only encourage vaccinations, but also provide a number of exemption and testing alternatives for drivers who are not yet vaccinated.”