More than 40 national and regional grower associations signed onto a letter sent to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for the agency to begin buying perishable foods sitting stagnant in the supply chain because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The letter estimates there are at least $1 billion worth of perishable commodities without a dedicated destination as a result of foodservice closures, such as restaurants, hotels, schools, and universities. While many companies are already donating food banks and others in need, without additional funding, say the groups, much of the food will be left to rot. Groups signing the letter include the United Fresh Produce Association, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Western Growers, and the California Fresh Fruit Association.
Signatories to the letter ask Secretary Perdue to use all purchasing authority options, such as Section 32, current existing funding through DOD Fresh, and the Food Purchase and Distribution Program for the procurement of existing foodservice inventory of fresh produce. “In addition to the existing authority,” the letter states, “USDA must consider any and all flexibility to purchase product. Delays of months will not suffice.”
The letter notes that “with nationwide closures of schools, thousands of USDA-funded school meal programs have cancelled orders. These products, already approved for and appropriate for children and families, could be immediately redirected to any feeding program. This is an unprecedented time, and it will take unprecedented measures and innovative approaches to address the needs of businesses and communities.”