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USDA barter program providing food for hungry

Dealing with “surplus” stocks of commodities has often been a contentious issue for farmers and government officials, but USDA appears to have found a way to move those stocks without having an adverse impact on crop prices.

USDA is using a “Stocks for Food” bartering initiative to turn government stocks of commodities such as cotton, grains, peanuts, and non-fat dry milk into products including canned vegetables, meats and peanut butter to help stock food banks and feeding programs.

“Since Nov. 1, USDA’s Stocks for Food program has generated more than $12 million in barter assets to boost assistance to U.S. domestic and foreign nutrition programs,” said Mark Keenum, undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at USDA and executive vice president of the Commodity Credit Corp.

“By the end of December, USDA expects to use the program to provide an additional $11 million worth of canned tuna and $11 million in canned chicken for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Emergency Food Assistance Program.”

Since July of last year, USDA has been bartering government-owned bulk commodities with U.S. food processors in exchange for value-added agricultural products to be distributed through USDA’s domestic and international food assistance programs.

“When we came up with the concept of bartering for food aid, we were paying a lot to store government-owned commodities, and we were looking for ways to augment tight budgets for domestic and overseas food aid programs,” said Keenum, who will soon be leaving USDA to become president of Mississippi State University.

“USDA staff looked outside of the box to bolster our efforts to feed the hungry,” Keenum said. “And, this program saves taxpayer dollars by reducing government costs associated with storing the commodities.”

“This program has been a win for all, especially low-income people in this country and around the world who receive U.S. food assistance,” said Nancy Montanez Johner, USDA undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “Bartering government-owned commodity stocks for processed products like vegetable oil and flour, as well as meat, can help us meet an increasing demand for food assistance.”

This initiative provides additional finished and semi-processed food products to food banks and other local agencies to help meet domestic food assistance needs. Domestic food programs such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program receive 80 percent of the benefits under the Stocks for Food program.

Under USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, the Stocks for Food initiative will also have produced over $26 million in additional assistance to benefit more than 700,000 children in several low-income countries by the end of this year. The McGovern-Dole Program helps promote education, child development, and food security for some of the world’s poorest children.

“I am proud of the USDA personnel who responded quickly and creatively,” Keenum said. “And, it’s gratifying to know that advocates for the less fortunate have also applauded the program. It’s a great way to use our available resources to help others.”

“I commend USDA for its incredible vision in creating the Stocks for Food program,” Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer for Feeding America (formerly named America’s Second Harvest), said. “Over the past year this innovative program has provided millions of pounds of nutritious food for hungry Americans as food banks and emergency feeding organizations throughout the United States struggle to meet record demands.”

Since July 2007 more than $138 million in commodities has been bartered, with more than $15 million in additional government inventories expected to be swapped in the near future.

“Although market conditions and the availability of government-owned stocks determine the scope of this program,” Keenum said, “it is a novel initiative that complements existing efforts to provide food assistance.”

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