USDA Hit Over Food Box Grants

May 14, 2020
A USDA program is coming under criticism for awarding grants to companies with little or no experience in food distribution.

A USDA program designed to get agricultural surpluses to food banks is coming under criticism for awarding contracts to companies with little or no experience in food distribution.

Companies receiving contracts under USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program include a Texas-based event marketing agency, a California company that offers “business finance solutions,” and a small company that sells personal care products online, Politico reports.

The purpose of Farmers to Families, which is budgeted at $300 million a month, is to ship dairy products, produce and other perishable foods to food banks and other charities. The idea is to redirect commodities that would otherwise go to waste because processors can’t switch from foodservice to retail production fast enough.

Companies receive contracts from Farmers to Families to receive, package and ship surplus commodities. But the list of contract recipients raised eyebrows because not only did some companies appear to have little experience in food chain operations, but other, existing companies that specialize in produce logistics got left off.

Politico speculated that USDA may have been trying to avoid the criticism that the Small Business Administration received when it routed money through the Paycheck Protection Program to large companies. However, several large companies, including Cargill and Tyson Foods, are on the Farmers to Families contract list.

Brent Erenwert, CEO of Brothers Produce, which applied for but did not get a contract, wrote in a LinkedIn post, “The industry has a focus on food safety yet we award to people with no logistics or warehouses.”

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