Will the USDA’s December Food Release Do More Harm Than Good?

The Lempert Report
November 15, 2018

In just a couple of weeks the USDA is going to be sending tons and tons of food to food-banks across the nation.

The reason is that many U.S. farmers have been unable to sell their foods abroad because foreign nations have retaliated against tariffs imposed by President Trump by taxing American agricultural products.  

USDA will be buying up about $12 billion of pork, apples, grapefruit, juices, cheeses, and other commodities. About ten percent of that $1.2 billion will go to The Emergency Food Assistance Program which funnels excess food from farmers to low-income Americans. The good news is that it will provide some temporary relief to the 40 million Americans who don't have enough to eat.

Congress appropriated $375 million for TEFAP in fiscal year 2017, according to USDA figures. In addition, the USDA purchased $305 million of so-called bonus foods with extra money in a separate fund. The $1.2 billion in food was added to the bonus stream of commodities a quadrupling of the amount of food that food banks are used to dealing with. Making matters tougher, while much of TEFAP food is accompanied by USDA money to pay for transportation, storage, and related costs, mitigation bonus food arrives with no such financial help.

And there in lies the problem. Food banks all over the country are worried about how they'll pay for the storing, both dry and refrigerated/frozen goods, transporting, and distributing the surplus food. For many food banks it means renting out other facilities. 

The timing is also a problem. Not for the recipients who over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays will have more food available than ever, but its also the time of year where many warehouses are packed with their regular customers’ goods.

This year what food banks need from our food industry more than ever is financial, storage and trucking help – things that our industry both retail and CPG can offer.