Two former secretaries of agriculture, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a well-known chef and restaurant owner and Consumer Reports have joined Rep. Rosa DeLauro in releasing an “action plan” addressing food and worker safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeLauro outlined the plan in a letter to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“The plan includes detailed steps the 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,” a news release from DeLauro’s office says. “It also includes a plan for USDA to partner with Congress on additional innovative solutions to feed all Americans.”
In her letter to Perdue, DeLauro notes the $19 billion in direct payments and commodity purchases announced last month "can play a role in stabilizing farm income and market prices," but alone are "inadequate solutions to the ongoing disruptions to the food supply chain caused by COVID-19."
The planks of the plan are:
- "Establish an ad hoc public-private partnership with members of the food processing and distribution sectors to expedite diversion of surplus foods," including creation of a “detailed food distribution plan” before obtaining surplus commodities to provide “an efficient and equitable distribution of food and to minimize food waste and supply shortages.”
- "Create an intergovernmental task force to protect food workers, meat processing workers, and farmworkers to ensure continuity of supply." “USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service should immediately create an intergovernmental task force with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish, implement, and ensure compliance with recommendations to ensure worker safety during this pandemic.”
- "Fully utilize all resources provided by Congress to assist family farmers, ranchers, and grower operations affected by COVID-19," including use of “the unbiased expertise of USDA’s Economic Research Service to estimate and project current and future losses for various agricultural sectors.”
- "Partner with Congress on bold and innovative solutions to utilize excess capacity to feed Americans," such as by increasing “the food purchasing power of low-income and recently unemployed people by increasing the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit, and expand SNAP spending flexibility by granting nationwide eligibility for online purchasing, allowing for low-cost, hot meal purchases at retailers and restaurants, creating an incentive program tied to the purchase of perishable food items.”
The release of the plan comes at a critical time for the food industry, with slaughterhouses and meat processing plants struggling to reopen amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19 at those plants.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has been charged with implementing President Donald Trump’s executive order on meat and poultry plants, has said plants that are closed will be reopening within “days, not weeks” so long as they comply with guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
However, the food industry, among other sectors of the economy, is pushing for liability protections that would prevent employees from suing over workplace conditions.
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“I appreciate Chairwoman DeLauro’s proposed action plan for the Department of Agriculture,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said. “This public health emergency has disrupted our economy and it is important that we take care of producers and consumers across the country.”
DeLauro chairs the House Appropriations Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and is vice-chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
The former ag secretaries endorsing the plan are Tom Vilsack and Dan Glickman, the Ag Department leaders for Democratic presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, respectively. The chef is José Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen, which has been helping to feed people during the pandemic.
“Sadly, as a result of the coronavirus’ impact on today’s supply chain, many farmers are facing no choice but to dump and destroy valuable agricultural product rather than donate to local food banks and pantries,” Vilsack said. “As laid out in Congresswoman DeLauro’s plan, only the federal government can and should work to eliminate that disincentive.”
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