In June 2022, Tom Vilsack, USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture, unveiled a $2 billion plan to “transform” the food system in the United States.
The efforts are expected to increase competition, capacity, and supply, and—ultimately—ease inflation. More than that, the plan is designed to improve the supply chain, make things fairer for smaller producers, improve the affordability of nutritious food, and boost underserved communities.
“As the pandemic has evolved and Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused supply chain disruptions, it has become clear we cannot go back to the food system we had before,” a spokesperson with USDA tells Food Quality & Safety. “The Biden–Harris Administration and USDA recognize we must build back better and strengthen the food system across the supply chain, from how our food is produced to how it is purchased, and all the steps in between.”
For that reason, USDA announced this framework to transform the food system with a goal to build a more resilient food supply chain that provides more and better market options for consumers and producers while reducing carbon pollution, combating market dominance, and helping producers and consumers gain more power in the marketplace by creating new, more, and better local market options.
Gary Iles, senior vice president for marketing and business development at TraceGains, a Westminster, Colo.-based technology company that helps global suppliers manage their food supply, product development, safety, and compliance issues, says a plan like this is welcome—and long overdue. “We need to upgrade the department when regulators across the board are struggling to keep up with the markets they’re regulating,” he says. “It also recognizes that today’s supply chain is broken and that fixing it requires just two things: technology and diversity. Technology is essential for supply chain transparency and, by extension, supply chain security.”
The impact of the pandemic over the last two years has painfully revealed how critical it is to diversify the next generation of the supply chain, with Iles noting that it’s naïve to think anyone can rely on a single supplier or region.
What to Expect
The funding is targeted at food production, processing, distribution, and consumers, including up to $300 million to help transition farmers to organic production methods and up to $75 million to support urban agriculture. “Overall, the administration clearly wants to make a significant push in leveling the playing field in the meat and poultry markets, whether it’s investment help for startups, a renewed commitment to organic and urban operations, or pulling financial levers to rein in rising costs,” Iles says. “But it also looks like the best chance for success here are the efforts at diversifying the supply chain, with a straightforward push at supporting local and regional suppliers. This is where we’ll see a real difference in the supply chain that will benefit everyone, from the rancher to the consumer.”
Catie Beauchamp, PhD, vice president of food science, quality, and safety at ButcherBox, a direct-to-consumer meat brand in the U.S., says that responding to the opportunities that were highlighted over the last two-and-a-half years is critical, and there are opportunities within this plan for food safety professionals to take advantage of. “I believe the funding opportunities directly related to supporting [the] private sector’s ability to adapt or respond to needs identified during the pandemic have the most opportunity to be successful in the longer term,” she says. “It may not be directly related to food safety, but I also believe that funding and development within the urban agriculture sector has much potential for success as well.”
Bryan Quoc Le, PhD, a food scientist and consultant based in Puyallup, Wash., believes that the plan is moderate and does not address some serious systemic issues in the food industry. “I’d be curious to see, for example, how point one on building a more resilient food supply chain that’s more regional will be implemented in practice,” Dr. Le says. “I’m also curious to know how the organic and urban agriculture elements in the plan will be implemented. Will that be sufficient to curb the impact of transporting produce and other agricultural goods, or should investments be placed into more sustainable infrastructure for existing manufacturers, such as solar panel installation, advanced wastewater treatment systems, and electric transportation vehicles?”