US commits US$2.1 billion to help create a fairer, competitive, and resilient food system

US – The US Department of Agriculture is committing up to US$2.1 billion to support activities aimed at creating a  “fairer, more competitive [and] more resilient”, food system.

The funds, drawn from the American Rescue Plan Act and other relief legislation, include the deployment of up to US$375m in support of independent meat and poultry processing plant projects.

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The first phase of the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program will deploy US$150m in grants up to US$25m each to expand processing capacity through a variety of activities, including construction, expansion of existing facilities and acquisition of equipment.

An additional US$275m will be made available in partnership with lenders to address the credit access gap for meat and poultry processing projects.

The department has also set aside US$100m to support the development of a pipeline of “well-trained workers and safe workplaces in the processing sector”.

The USDA also has plans to spend up to US$300m in a new Organic Transition Initiative to provide support for farmers to transition to organic production and up to US$75m to support urban agriculture.

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In food production, a Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantee Program 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”.

The USDA said it has deployed US$100m to make more than US$1bn in guaranteed loans available immediately while an additional US$600m will be pumped into providing financial assistance to support food supply chain infrastructure that is not covered by the meat and poultry processing program.

A further US$400m will be availed to create regional food business centers that will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity-building to small and mid-size food and farm businesses mainly focused on processing, distribution and market access challenges.

The USDA said the new financial package will be critical in helping the Biden-Harris administration to “address long-standing issues intensified by [the] pandemic”.

It is also the Biden Administration’s latest attempt to break up what it sees as a monopoly in the meatpacking industry and to see greater competition elsewhere, not least in the infant-formula sector where problems with one manufacturer have led to a nationwide product shortage.

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