After pandemic crippled food supply, USDA asks for public input moving forward

U.S. Department of AgricultureApril 28, 2021Agriculture News

WASHINGTON, — Few will forget the abrupt halt of the food supply chains at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in January 2020. And the economic impact.  From production to consumption, the outbreak has uncovered major weaknesses in the U.S. capacity to not only feed the world but to feed itself.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a Department-wide effort to improve and reimagine the supply chains for the production, processing and distribution of agricultural commodities and food products. The request for comments is published in the Federal Register and the comment period will close on May 21, 2021.

The comments received will help USDA assess the critical factors, risks, and strategies needed to support resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains and ensure U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and nutrition security for all Americans.

Such supply chains are needed to address conditions that can reduce critical processing and infrastructure capacity and the availability and integrity of critical goods, products, and services.

Identifying food system supply chain-bottlenecks and vulnerabilities also may provide valuable insights into the competitive and fair markets landscape, effects on local and regional producers and processors, and equitable access to food and economic opportunity across diverse communities. USDA will use the comments to prepare a report.

“We have an opportunity to take the lessons we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and apply those to transforming our nation’s food system from the inside out, including our supply chains,” said Vilsack.

In addition to asking about the agricultural supply chain, USDA is interested in comments about how to target pandemic-related stimulus relief programs and spending authorized by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) toward long term, systemic change that results in food supply chain resiliency. In particular, the request for comment seeks input on:

  • bolstering local and regional food systems,
  • developing new market opportunities (including for value-added agriculture and products),
  • creating fairer and more competitive markets,
  • meeting the needs of the agricultural workforce,
  • supporting and promoting consumers’ nutrition security, particularly for low-income populations,
  • addressing the needs of socially disadvantaged and small to mid-sized producers, and
  • advancing efforts in other ways to transform the food system.

USDA is undertaking this effort to strengthen U.S. competitiveness with attention to our farmers, ranchers, producers, food processors, and other important links in the food supply chain, said Vilsack.

Goals of this transformation include a fairer, more competitive, and transparent system where a greater share of the food dollar goes to those growing, harvesting, and preparing  food and one that promotes and strengthens the overall health and well-being of people, the land and water, and the economy.

The deadline for comments is May 21, 2021. More information about how to submit comments  is available in the Notice.