Two senior U.S. Representatives, two former Secretaries of Agriculture, a chef, and Consumer Reports have sent USDA an “action plan” to safeguard America’s food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve sent the plan with a cover letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
The plan reportedly includes detailed steps USDA should immediately take, including diverting surplus food that is currently being wasted, protecting workers — from the farm to the grocery store — who make feeding America possible, and fully utilizing existing authority and resources provided by Congress to help farmers, ranchers, and grower operations. The plan also calls for USDA to “partner” with Congress on additional innovative solutions to feed all Americans.
“Too many people across the country are struggling to get food in their communities — at grocery stores and food banks,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-CT. “At the same time, farmers are plowing crops under, euthanizing pigs, and dumping milk. This is a massive failure in the food supply chain, and only the federal government has the scale and resources to solve the problem. That is why I am proud to team up with experts in agricultural space who understand the scope of the problem, the opportunities within existing USDA authority, and the on-the-ground know-how in communities to feed people where they are. I urge Secretary Perdue and the Trump administration to join us at this critical moment in our nation’s history. We must do everything we can to keep people from going hungry.”
“I appreciate Chairwoman DeLauro’s proposed action plan for the Department of Agriculture,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. “This public health emergency has disrupted our economy and it is important that we take care of producers and consumers across the country.”
Secretaries of Agriculture for Presidents Obama and Clinton also weighed in.
“Every American farmer takes pride in feeding our country and the world,” said former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Sadly, as a result of the coronavirus’s impact on today’s supply chain, many farmers are facing no choice but to dump and destroy valuable agricultural products rather than donate to local food banks and pantries. As laid out in Congresswoman DeLauro’s plan, only the federal government can and should work to eliminate that disincentive. In doing so farmers will stay on the farm, workers will stay employed, and hungry people will get fed.”
“As the country continues to endure the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the challenges facing America’s agriculture and food supply chains are complex and multifaceted,” said former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman. “With this action plan, Congresswoman DeLauro has brought together an array of stakeholders to put forward a holistic approach to solving these issues. Implementing these actions would go a long way towards shoring up American agriculture and ensuring the continued availability of food.”
Chef José Andrés, who has gained notoriety for providing meals in disaster areas, also commented.
“As our country faces a significant economic and health crisis, I believe that food can be part of the solution, not the problem,” the chef said. “From farms to restaurants to non-profits serving meals on the frontlines of this pandemic, America has a great opportunity to put forth bold solutions that protect the food supply chain and ensure our country stays fed. Every dollar USDA invests in food purchase and distribution, federal nutrition programs, and support for food banks and local food systems represent our commitment to feeding Americans in need and strengthening our economy at the same time. I hope Secretary Perdue and the Trump administration will act with urgency and be the leaders we need on food issues.”
Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports and former Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA, said Rep. DeLauro “has outlined the bold action plan that will be necessary to avoid major food supply disruptions and ensure the availability of safe and affordable food in a time of crisis.”
“Federal agencies should be collaborating and acting immediately to protect and assist workers throughout the supply chain — farmers, industry personnel, government inspectors, and grocery store employees, Ronholm said.
In her letter to Perdue, the Congresswoman urged USDA to utilize “the full weight of the federal government” on the availability of food.
“In recent weeks, the challenges facing our food system have garnered national attention. Images and videos continue to surface of dairy farmers dumping millions of gallons of milk, farmers plowing over fields of fresh produce, and greenhouses throwing away spring flowers,” DeLauro wrote. “These actions are undoubtedly heartbreaking for farm families who have seen their markets eliminated. But at the same time, their juxtaposition to the shortages and long lines at food banks has caused confusion and frustration among many Americans.”
She said the $19 billion in direct payments to farmers under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is going to fall “woefully short in meeting the needs of farmers as well as the growing number of people facing hunger and food insecurity.”
Instead, she called for using “the historical approach” of direct farm payments and bulk food purchases to stabilize farm income and market prices.
Her plan calls for an “Ad Hoc Public-Private Partnership with Members of the Food Processing and Distribution Sectors to Expedite Diversion of Surplus Foods”
” As a result of social distancing guidelines, many of these businesses have closed along with their sophisticated supply networks of food service providers,” DeLauro’s letter says. ”
Realizing the food system is unable to pivot quickly from providing large quantities of product for restaurants and other foodservice customers to smaller quantities purchased at grocery stores, a public-private partnership with the processing and distribution sectors could:
- Create and implement a detailed food distribution plan prior to procurement of surplus commodities to provide for an efficient and equitable distribution of food and to minimize food waste and supply shortages;
- Provide for real-time understanding and collaborative solutions of problems related to processing, transportation, storage, delivery, and other logistics; and,
- Identify programs and authorities, and gaps thereof, within USDA that could expand the appropriate distribution of food throughout the supply chain.
Her plan also calls for “an Intergovernmental Task Force to Protect Food Workers, Meat Processing Workers, and Farm Workers to Ensure Continuity of Supply.
“To address this shortcoming, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) should immediately create an intergovernmental task force with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish, implement, and ensure compliance with recommendations to ensure worker safety during this pandemic,” the letter continues. “Ensuring that food processors and distributors are operating with proper health and safety protocols will enable a more robust food supply system by avoiding a concentration of burden and risk on the few suppliers still in operation.”
The plan goes on with a wide range of suggestions from slowing production line speeds to expansions of food donation and nutrition programs.
“Family farmers, ranchers, and grower operations have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 because of losses of direct markets, falling market prices, and uncertainties around farm labor. While nearly all agricultural sectors have been impacted, some have been hit harder than others,” she writes.
“These include small and mid-sized dairy farms, specialty crop growers, and greenhouse and nursery operations. Swift, decisive action is needed to preserve these small and mid-sized farming operations, many of which have been family-owned for several generations.”
Rep. DeLauro chairs the House Appropriations Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and serves as Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture,
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