The USDA had a tough learning experience from the Covid-19 pandemic. The food supply chain, already a house of cards, was exposed in all of its fragile glory at the expense of millions of Americans. Never again, they say.
In response to the problems which disrupted the supply chains — from increased prices for consumers to billions in losses for farmers — the Biden Administration will be allocating $4 billion to strengthen these ties through the Build Back Better initiative.
In a call to reporters, White House officials stated that the administration had created a task force, of which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is a co-chair, aimed at tackling the near-term bottlenecks which are constricting construction, transportation, semiconductor production and agriculture.
“The new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain,” said the USDA in a statement. “Through the Build Back Better initiative, USDA will help to ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation. While the Build Back Better initiative addresses near- and long-term issues, recent events have exposed the immediate need for action. With attention to competition and investments in additional small- and medium-sized meat processing capacity, the Build Back Better initiative will spur economic opportunity while increasing resilience and certainty for producers and consumers alike.”
In a news conference, Vilsack said that he believes the funds would start to be allocated within a year. However, he did not specify as to how it would be dispersed among the areas of food processing, distribution, production and marketing. It is believed that individual states could add their own funding to the mix in addition to the $4 billion being allocated by the USDA.
“The pandemic laid bare the significant challenges facing small- and medium-sized producers and processors up and down the supply chain,” said Eric Deeble, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “This significant funding should be used to address the fundamental causes so that the Administration can follow through on their promise to ‘build back better’ and create a more resilient, just, and equitable food system. NSAC members look forward to working with USDA to ensure that they do.”
Another part of the initiative, says the agriculture department head, would to seek greater transparency in livestock prices and increase competition among processors “with attention to how certain types of conduct in the livestock markets and the meat processing sector have resulted in thinly-traded markets and unfair treatment of some farmers, ranchers and small processors.”
This week’s announcement comes on the heels of a $1 billion investment to support food banks and other anti-hunger organizations which provide emergency food aid to Americans in need. That funding is also backed by the Build Back Better initiative.