USDA to Purchase $470 Million in Surplus Food for Food Banks

The shopping list includes $120 million in dairy products, $20 million in Alaskan Pollock, and $35 million in strawberries.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the USDA has announced a number of measures to solve two congruent problems: Due to mass business and restaurant closures, many farmers have surplus food; meanwhile, many Americans facing financial hardship are struggling to put food on the table. One of the tools the USDA has at its disposal is “Section 32 funding” which allows the department to purchase domestic foods directly from producers for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service nutrition assistance programs which supplies food banks—a system that can address both issues. Yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced details of $470 million in Section 32 spending—and revealed the government's shopping list.

Specifically, the USDA is purchasing $5 million worth of asparagus; $30 million of catfish; $30 million of chicken; $120 million of dairy products; $20 million of Atlantic fish such as Haddock, Pollock, and Redfish; $25 million of orange juice; $5 million of pears; $20 million of Alaskan Pollock; $30 million of pork; $50 million of prunes; $15 million of raisins; $35 million of strawberries; $10 million of sweet potatoes; $10 million of tart cherries; and $50 million of turkey products.

Bottle of milk, fish, fruits and vegetables.
James Worrell/Getty Images

If you’re wondering why Americans are in need of seven times more strawberries than asparagus, the USDA does loosely address where these numbers come from. “Purchases are determined by industry requests, market analysis and food bank needs,” the department explains. The USDA also adds a reminder that these foods are only part of a larger plan “to purchase 100 percent American-grown and produced agricultural products totaling $4.89 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year in support of American agriculture and people in need.”

“America’s farmers and ranchers have experienced a dislocated supply chain caused by the coronavirus,” Perdue stated. “USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods and deliver them to the hungry Americans who need it most.” However, as far as the specific food purchases announced in this plan are concerned, the food banks will have to wait. The USDA says that deliveries are not intended to begin until July.

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