Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announces plan to transform food supply chain

During an event at Georgetown University on Wednesday, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack detailed the The new USDA framework to make the food industry supply chain more resilient, level the playing field for small producers, make nutritious food affordable and boost underserved communities.

The announcement comes during a time of massive food inflation and supply chain bottlenecks, as the lingering effects of the pandemic and war in Ukraine continue to drive up prices and product shortages.

The $2 billion in funding from the framework is aimed at food production, processing, distribution and consumers. Highlights include up to $300 million to help farmers transition to organic production methods and up to $75 million to support urban agriculture. The administration is targeting new funding for workforce training, food safety certification and supply chain infrastructure. The framework also includes a $155 million increase in funding for the Healthy Eating Initiativeto improve access in food deserts.

New framework continues Biden administration’s focus on rebalancing power in the food industry. In January, President Biden detailed a billion-dollar plan to sustain competition in the meat sector, with $375 million earmarked for support the projects of independent meat and poultry processors.

During a question-and-answer session, Vilsack said the USDA’s role in increasing competition in the meat and poultry industry is to control capacity and that it is strengthening the law on packers and stockyards to “balance the system on behalf of producers and processors”. The law, first adopted by Congress in 1921aims to ensure fair competition in the meat and poultry industry by preventing monopolies.

Vilsack said Biden’s investment in smaller meat plants earlier this year has increased competition as candidates have been able to expand operations and sell across state lines. He added that more than 250 companies have applied for the funding since Biden’s announcement in January. A $275 million investment, in partnership with lenders, was also previously announced to provide loans to independent meat processors.

“These loan funds will provide the capital needed to meet future plans for these plants to expand, improve or increase capacity,” Vilsack said in his speech.

The USDA announced $100 million in funding under the new framework to support workforce training at processors, something Vilsak said extends from factory workers to the rest of the workforce. About $40 million will be allocated to training programs overseen by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in research on risk management and sustainable agriculture, and those focused on workforce development for meat and poultry processing.

“It’s not just for the people who process, it’s also for the people who inspect and are engaged in management,” Vilsak said. “What we hope we can do is make sure that we continue to train and encourage people to participate in these jobs by educating them about the industry.”

The USDA will also invest in stimulating independent business owners, entrepreneurs, producers, and groups such as cooperatives and worker associations to help build capacity.

Ugly in the new framework did not only focus on the meat industry. Part of the USDA investment includes $600 million in grants for non-meat and poultry food sectors to help them expand capacity and build on existing infrastructure.

“While significant progress is made in efforts to create a more resilient food system, additional investment will be needed to expand cold storage, warehousing and other key components of the overall processing component of our system. food,” Vilsack said.

In comments after his formal remarks, Vilsack said these non-meat investments are not targeted to specific industries and will be determined based on applicants.

“It’s a message we send to the industry that we recognize that a lot of attention has been paid to meat and poultry, and we recognize that there are other aspects of the supply chain to address,” Vilsack said. “So we’re going to open that up and I anticipate we’ll see the same interest that we’ve seen with meat processing opportunities, and that will help us know where the need is greatest. We’ll let the market tell us that. “

The funds could potentially help producers in other food segments that have faced serious supply chain issues this year, such as wheat, oils and grains.

Other investments include $400 million to create regional food business centers to provide technical assistance to small and medium food businesses and farms, and targeting underserved communities. The USDA said existing support networks like those provided by the Small Business Association do not sufficiently meet the needs of the food industry.

The agriculture secretary also flagged sustainability as a key part of the framework, in particular the need to reduce carbon pollution. More than a third of the total US food supply is wasted, according to the USDA, resulting in unnecessary energy uses and methane and carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing food waste can help the country achieve its objective to reduce greenhouse gas pollution 50-52% over 2005 levels. Up to $90 million in funding will go to preventing and reducing food loss and waste, including $30 million to the community composting and waste reduction program. food waste. The money will also fund a feasibility study on a national food loss and waste strategy, the USDA said.

Vilsack said administration actions to “smooth out” the supply chain, as well as USDA funds targeting specific sectors of the food industry, have the potential to ameliorate the inflationary crisis by now. the end of the year.

“To the extent that you increase competition, increase capacity and increase supply, over time you are going to have an impact and affect prices,” Vilsack said. “Will it be done in a month or two? No. Can it be done as we come to the end of 2022 to 2023? I think so. We should start to see some moderation in that regard .”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia) welcomed USDA’s decision in a report. Following the USDA announcement, Scott said his committee has advanced legislation relating to food supply issues, which he hopes to introduce in the House in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee’s Republican leader, Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, called the USDA framework a “deaf tone.” in a press release. He wonders in particular about investments in organic farming and urban agriculture.

“Increasing spending on organic initiatives and rooftop gardens while falsely blaming corporations and agribusinesses will not increase national food production,” Thompson said. “If Secretary Vilsack were serious about solutions to help alleviate the emerging global food crisis, he would oppose President Biden’s progressive agenda and stand up for all farmers and ranchers, and the consumers who depend on them.”

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