05-28-20 U.S. Senator Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect America’s Food Supply

U.S. Senator Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect America’s Food Supply

Washington, D.C. – On May 27th, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and his Democratic colleagues on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry introduced legislation to help protect the food supply after the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis has put an unprecedented strain on farmers, workers, food banks, and families.

“From small farmers facing market uncertainty to food banks working overtime, the pandemic has created new and challenging realities,” said Bennet. “This legislation will help to fill the gaps in the food supply chain, supporting producers, processors, and distributors as they respond to COVID-19 and adjust their operations. This strategic assistance will ensure our farmers and ranchers can access new markets, safeguard the health of their employees, and feed hungry Americans.”

The shift in demand from restaurants and food service to retail and food donations has caused bottlenecks in the food supply chain. Meanwhile, outbreaks of COVID-19 in food processing plants have sickened thousands of workers and slowed production across the country. Farmers have struggled to sell their crops, and some have had no choice but to dispose of perfectly good food. At the same time, the price of groceries is rising, and food banks and other human service organizations are experiencing exceptionally high demand.

Bennet continues to prioritize the security of our food supply by focusing on the health of our workforce. Since April, he’s pressed the administration to protect essential food supply workers and prioritize access to testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), and provided recommendations to the administration to improve worker safety. Earlier this month, Bennet sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting an update on the delivery of testing and PPE to protect worker health and safety at the JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado.

In addition, last week Bennet and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act to support small meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours during the pandemic. This legislation would provide funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to reduce fees charged to small plants, providing more options for ranchers to harvest their livestock.

The Food Supply Protection Act will: 

  • Support food banks and non-profits to help increase their capacity and address growing demand. The bill will provide infrastructure grants that can be used for additional cold storage and refrigeration, transportation, PPE, rental costs, and additional use of commercial and community infrastructure.
  • Strengthen food partnerships to prevent food waste and feed families. Through grants and reimbursements, the bill will support new partnerships to make purchases of excess food and increase donations to food banks, schools, and nonprofits. These partnerships will promote innovative collaborations with chefs and restaurants and focus on the needs and creative solutions in local communities. They will allow for a diverse variety of purchases and include many areas and products left out of the USDA’s current food box program to ensure more people in need and agricultural producers of all sizes and types can access support.
  • Protect workers and retool small- and medium-sized food processors. Through grants, loans, and loan guarantees, the bill will support upgrading machinery, temporary cold storage, purchasing PPE and test kits, and cleaning. This funding will assist farmers and small- and medium-sized food processors in protecting their workers and help them cater to new markets so they can continue operations and alleviate bottlenecks in the supply chain.

In addition to Bennet, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The bill text is available HERE.

The Food Supply Protection Act is supported by over 40 food and agricultural organizations, including Feeding America, the James Beard Foundation, Chef José Andrés, National Farmers Union, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Milk Producers Association, United Fresh, United Farm Workers Foundation, and more.

“During this unprecedented crisis, we need creative solutions to feed our communities and keep food businesses alive. This bill will help chefs and restaurants do what they do best – feed families and uplift their communities in innovative ways.” – Katherine Miller, VP of Impact at the James Beard Foundation

“As farmers are forced to plow crops back into the soil while lines stretch for miles at food banks, the need for a holistic food supply plan that keeps Americans fed safely could not be more urgent. From ensuring food processing facilities have access to PPE to increasing storage capacity at food banks, to innovative partnerships with farms and restaurants that expand the reach of national hunger programs while supporting small business recovery, I’m proud to support the Food Supply Protection Act as a bold step that turns food from a problem into a solution.” – Chef José Andrés, Founder of the relief organization World Central Kitchen

“The Food Supply Protection Act will complement the efforts of USDA to ensure that the great bounty produced by this country’s farmers and ranchers reaches Americans in need at this difficult and trying time. By helping food banks expand their capacity to carry fresh foods and by providing support for small and medium food processors to expand their capacity, this legislation strengthens critical links in a food supply chain that has been strained to its limit during the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Chuck Conner, President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives

A full list of supporting organizations and quotes of support are available HERE.

SOURCE