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Policy Outlook Offers Opportunities, Challenges For Food Supply Chain

food supply chain
Lowell Randel

by Lowell RandelSVP, Government and Legal Affairs, Global Cold Chain Alliance

Early in his term, President Joe Biden has taken a series of executive actions and issued policy proposals, several of which will impact the food supply chain. As with any new administration, there have been both opportunities and challenges. 

It is no surprise that responding to the ongoing pandemic is a top priority for the new president. He proposed the American Rescue Plan to provide COVID-19 relief. Congress developed a legislative package based on the proposal by using budget reconciliation, which can be a controversial mechanism to expedite the legislative process.  

Congressional committees drafted their respective sections of the relief package within their jurisdictions. On Feb. 10, the House Agriculture Committee approved language related to food and agriculture. Among the provisions is $4 billion designated for food supply chain and agriculture pandemic response.

The policies are intended to minimize future supply chain disruptions while increasing purchases and distribution of food to those in need. According to the language, funds would be used to: 

  • Buy food and agricultural commodities.
  • Purchase and distribute agricultural commodities (including fresh produce, dairy, seafood, eggs and meat) to individuals in need, including through delivery to nonprofits and through restaurants and other food-related entities.
  • Make grants and loans for small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers or other organizations to respond to COVID–19, including measures to protect workers.
  • Give loans, grants and provide other assistance to maintain and improve food and agricultural supply chain resiliency.

The issue of food supply chain integrity also came up in Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

Vilsack indicated he would consider expanding the nation’s meatpacking processing capacity to avoid breakdowns in the supply chain. He also suggested that USDA should consider the development of incentives or resources that could potentially expand the amount of processing facilities in the country to avoid future disruptions.  

The Biden administration also took broader action on supply chains through the signing of an executive order. The order likely will follow the three pillars identified in Biden’s plan to rebuild U.S. supply chains. 

The three pillars call for:

  • Using the full power of the federal government to rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity of our supply chains for critical products.
  • Implementing a comprehensive approach to ensure the country has the critical supplies it needs for future crises and its national security.
  • Working with allies to protect their supply chains and open new markets to U.S. exports.

The order directs agencies to examine U.S. supply chains, including procurement, in addition to critical technologies and materials in private-sector supply chains.

At the same time, recent statements from the World Health Organization and the government of China represent a challenge to the food supply chain. They raise questions about the transmission of COVID-19 through food and food packaging.

These claims directly contradict the unified agreement among the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FDA, USDA, peer global regulatory bodies and leading food safety experts.  

There is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 with eating food or handling food packaging. These unsubstantiated claims could create challenges for the reputation of refrigerated and frozen foods by fostering misunderstanding among consumers at a time when clarity is needed most.

The Global Cold Chain Alliance and partners across the food industry are working to counter this misinformation and highlight the science. GCCA recently joined 19 other representatives of the food and beverage critical infrastructure in requesting a meeting with leadership from key U.S. agencies to discuss this issue.

They urge the U.S. government to recommend that the WHO commission a panel of objective and independent virus experts to review the evidence presented by the Chinese government.

While there have been some short-term disruptions to the supply chain during the pandemic, the food industry has shown tremendous resilience and adaptability to ensure that people have reliable access to safe, high-quality food.

GCCA will continue to work closely with partners across the food industry as policy opportunities and threats to the food supply chain evolve.

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