WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), along with 19 other Senators and Representatives, urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to work with independent family farmers and ranchers to help address the food shortages currently impacting schools, and consequently, school meals, across the country. 

Due to supply chain disruptions within large multinational food corporations, many schools throughout the nation are currently facing food shortages and are struggling to provide healthy and nutritious meals to their students. The USDA recently announced that they are providing $1.5 billion to help school districts offer meals to address this issue. However, without clear direction, that money will likely end up in the pocket of large food corporations, such as Tyson Foods, who continue to be the source of ongoing supply chain disruptions instead of local and independent family farmers and ranchers that have continued to provide healthy, nutritious food to their communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Creating opportunities for schools to work with local, resilient, small scale producers would also allow school districts the ability to feed children in a way that aligns with their values,” wrote Senator Booker and Representative McGovern to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Many school foodservice professionals are frustrated by the idea of serving food from companies that have committed human rights abuses, environmental harms, and violation of federal laws. As one school dietitian in Washington State put it, “I am pulling my hair out every day having to feed these Big Ag products to children.”

“A growing number of school districts have committed to the Good Food Purchasing Program, which includes a commitment not to source from companies with labor violations,” the lawmakers continued. “However, when school districts place their commodity purchasing orders with the USDA, they are not given a choice in which company will fill that order. The USDA Foods Program is thereby forcing these school districts to choose between leaving valuable entitlement dollars on the table or purchasing from USDA Foods, knowing that doing so is likely to put them in violation of the commitment they have made to their communities to buy from producers who value local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare and nutrition.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to take a hard look at the flaws of our current food system, but it has also created an opportunity for us to build back better as we aim to find ways to withstand future disruptions. It is imperative that the USDA work with independent farmers and ranchers to both nourish the next generation now and build a resilient food procurement system for the future,” the lawmakers concluded

The following Senators co-signed this letter: Wyden (D-OR), Smith (D-MN), Markey (D-MA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Sanders (I-VT), Warren (D-MA), Tester (D-MT), and Heinrich (D-NM). 

The following Representatives co-signed this letter: Trahan (D-MA), Pocan (D-WI), Khanna (D-CA), Raskin (D-MD), Hayes (D-CT), Case (D-HI), Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Thompson (D-CA), Lee (D-CA), and Scanlon (D-PA).

The full text of the letter can be viewed here.