“A transformed food system is part of how we as a country become more resilient and competitive in the case of big and future challenges and threats.”
This rhetoric – that food systems must transform – is commonplace in progressive food circles but marks a significant and welcome shift from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In his June 1 speech, Vilsack not only announced new and re-purposed funding, but he also signaled that the growing grassroots movement to transform America’s food system is going mainstream. The plant-based foods industry sits right in the center of the movement.
In his speech, Secretary Vilsack announced a framework to transform the food system to benefit consumers, producers, and rural communities by providing more options, increasing access, and creating new, more, and better markets for small and mid-size producers.
The goals of USDA’s Food System Transformation framework are:
- Building a more resilient food supply chain that provides more and better market options for consumers and producers while reducing carbon pollution
- Creating a fairer food system that combats market dominance and helps producers and consumers gain more power in the marketplace by creating new, more and better local market options
- Making nutritious food more accessible and affordable for consumers
- Emphasizing equity
Vilsack announced funding of more than $1 billion, much of which can address the challenges increasingly identified by plant-based food companies. These investments hold the potential to build and bolster regional food systems and support processing capacity for new crops, like the kinds we need to shift to plant-based diets. Further, the funding offers money to schools to improve the nutrition in school meals, a potential opportunity for adding more plant-based options for school feeding.
Specifically, Vilsack announced:
- Up to $600 million in financial assistance to support food supply chain infrastructure aimed at independently owned and available infrastructures such as cold storage, refrigerated trucks, and processing facilities are in short supply but essential to creating a more resilient food system.
- $400 million to create regional food business centers that will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity-building support to small and mid-size food and farm businesses, particularly focused on processing, distribution and aggregation, and market access challenges.
- $100 million to create a new Healthy Food Incentive Fund, which will support school food authorities to innovate and accelerate their efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school meals to children.
- $60 million to leverage increased commodity purchases through Farm-to-School. Farm-to-school programs are a proven model of increasing markets for farmers via child nutrition programs while also providing children with healthy, fresh food.
- Increases Healthy Food Financing Initiative to $155 million. Aimed at ‘food deserts’, this program provides grants and loans to entities that offer healthy food in communities that are underserved by grocery stores and other food retailers.
- The Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantee Program is $40 million for qualified lenders, which will back private lenders that invest in independently owned food processing, distribution and aggregation infrastructure, and other projects along the middle of the supply chain.
- $200 million for Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program for specialty crop operations that incur eligible on-farm food safety program expenses.
PBFA looks forward to engaging with USDA to build a resilient and fair food system – one which prioritizes equity, nutrition, and affordability. We agree wholeheartedly. It is time to transform America’s food system.