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Trump administration faces mounting pressure to buy food for the needy and cut waste

15 April 2020

The US administration is facing increased pressure to purchase more meat, dairy and produce for food banks as farmers dump and destroy goods due to reduced restaurant demand because of coronavirus.

According to Reuters, agriculture industry groups have called on the USDA to purchase farm goods that have been designated and packaged for restaurants and redirect it to food bank programmes. The National Pork Producers Council reports that US food banks are facing increasing demand due to rising unemployment.

Over 16 million people filed for US unemployment benefits in the last three weeks as the country locked down to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Supplies of meat have backed up and dairy farmers have been dumping milk as restaurant dining rooms have closed. Rabobank estimates overall North American meat demand is down some 30 percent in the past month.

Increasing food purchases by the USDA can “help ensure that the production that no longer has a foodservice market can be made available to help our nation’s food banks,” said Representative Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

In a letter on 14 April, Peterson urged USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to earmark $9.5 billion in funding through the CARES Act relief bill, as well as the Commodity Credit Corporation funding authority, to alleviate food demand disruptions from the outbreak.

Perdue said on Twitter last week USDA is developing a programme that will include direct payments to farmers and "procurement methods to help solidify the supply chain from producers to consumers." The agency said on Tuesday that details will be released soon.

Feeding America, which says it is the largest US hunger-relief organisation, and the American Farm Bureau Federation said in a letter last week that USDA should implement a voucher programme that would allow farmers and food banks to work directly with one another.

"We are seeing literally tonnes of agricultural goods being discarded because of the shutdown of so much of the economy," the letter said. "Paradoxically, we are seeing a simultaneous surge in demand at a moment when many farmers are being told there is an oversupply of their product."

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