Daily COVID-19 Briefing April 23, 2020
On their recent video conference to discuss challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic, United Church of Christ Conference Disaster Coordinators from across the United States repeatedly sounded this alarm: “Our farmers are dumping milk and fresh produce because they have nowhere to sell it.” At the same time, food pantries across the country report escalating demand. What’s going on here?
United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Farmers Dumping Food and Milk Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic!
On their recent video conference to discuss challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic, United Church of Christ Conference Disaster Coordinators from across the United States repeatedly sounded this alarm: “Our farmers are dumping milk and fresh produce because they have nowhere to sell it.” At the same time, food pantries across the country report escalating demand.
The COVID-19 pandemic is playing havoc with the distribution of fresh food and milk. Farmers who supplied now-closed restaurants and schools suddenly have no market for their products. They are being forced to destroy tens of millions of pounds of fresh food that they can no longer sell. For many farmers, it’s more cost-effective to let crops rot in the fields or to plow them under. They cannot afford to harvest them if there is no market.
At the same time, more people find themselves out of work and are turning to food banks to feed their families. According to Feeding America, food banks across the United States are reporting a 40 percent increase in demand.
What’s going on here?
Farmers are throwing out food that could go to food banks, but getting food from fields to hungry families isn’t that simple. Economically, food banks can’t cover the full cost of the labor that’s involved. Food producers say costs, animals’ needs and the public’s health all play a role in their difficult decision making.
Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the nation’s largest milk marketing cooperative, predicted that between 2.7 million and 3.7 million gallons of U.S. milk could be dumped per day because of the pandemic,
Federal regulations require that milk be processed first, and that costs money dairy farmers don’t have right now.The state of California is directing farmers to stop dumping and instead either dry the cows so they don’t produce more milk, or “beef” them. But both options pose tremendous costs to farmers.
How do we bridge the gap between hungry people who need the food and the farmers who have this surplus of food and milk? Why can’t farmers deal with food banks directly?
On Friday, the CEO of Feeding America and the President of the American Farm Bureau wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing concern that literally tons of agricultural goods are being discarded that could feed hungry people during the pandemic.
The two organizations proposed a voucher program that would increase the relationship between farmers and food banks, allowing them to work directly with one another. Usually, both sides go through a third party, which can often delay food getting to food bank shelves.
This USDA-run voucher system would send farm products to food banks while helping farmers and ranchers recoup costs from lost markets shuttered by the pandemic. It would also help get farm-fresh products quickly to families in need. Click here to read the letter.
On a lighter note, Dennis Rodenbaugh, President of Council Operations for Dairy Farmers of America, said that they are working with food brands to try to increase their use of dairy products to prevent excess dumping. One way to do that: cheesier pizzas! If pizza makers add more cheese to their pizzas, that could help provide a new home for excess milk. Pizza, anyone?
Editor’s Note: As this Daily Briefing was being posted, a news headline announced that, as a first step in a new initiative, the Publix grocery store chain would buy more than 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk from farmers and donate it to Feeding America food banks.
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