Wins for Food, Not Feed Movement Shows Pressure on USDA Is Working

Demanding change from the government can sometimes feel like you’re shouting into the void. Many have given up because they don’t think the government listens to them — and that only empowers big industry lobbyists. For too long these lobbyists and the corporate interests they represent have had an outsized influence, resulting in the abusive, corporate-controlled food system we find ourselves with today. But this month’s announcements from the USDA that it will support farmers producing specialty crops — fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, legumes, and whole grains — show the department is succumbing to the pressure we’ve all worked together to apply. 

As a result of our collective hard work, USDA has started dialing up support for Food, Not Feed by implementing new specialty crop resources and increasing funding to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables through the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). This news means that those growing and raising nutritious foods — not just industrial feed grains like corn and soybeans for livestock — will have the resources and infrastructure they need to begin their escape from the treadmill of industrial agriculture by profitably growing food for their communities.

We Held USDA’s Feet to the Fire

Nine months ago at the historic Food Not Feed Summit, we gathered as a diverse coalition united around a shared vision of a food system that prioritizes the production of healthy and nutritious foods over taxpayer-subsidized animal feed and the profits of meatpacking corporations.

We made our voices heard in Washington, D.C. as we called for a shift in resources that would empower farmers to produce healthy foods for their communities. Thanks to all who lit the fuse — change is finally happening as a result of your hard work.

How USDA Is Supporting Food, Not Feed

USDA has released a flurry of encouraging announcements this month. Last week, USDA issued a press release highlighting their Initiative to Enhance Competitiveness of the U.S. Specialty Crop Industry. The announcement included a diverse range of new support for specialty crop growers, including important improvements to crop insurance programs, an initiative to solicit feedback from stakeholders on how USDA can do more to support specialty crop farmers, and a new Specialty Crops Resource Directory.

The Specialty Crops Resource Directory is a critical addition to producers’ toolkits. This comprehensive guide of all resources available to specialty crop producers will help farmers and Farm Service Agency offices better understand what supports are available, beyond just those for conventional farming operations.

USDA also announced an investment of more than $52 million to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables through GusNIP. This program helps American families afford healthy fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting local farmers at the same time.

Together, these moves will also help balance the current agricultural trade deficit, as we highlighted in our latest report: Balancing the U.S. Agricultural Trade Deficit with Higher-Value Food Crops. The decline in domestic production of produce, legumes, and whole grains has made the U.S. increasingly dependent on imports for these essential foods, resulting in an agricultural trade deficit. But, as our research demonstrates, this deficit can be balanced by converting less than 0.5 percent of current farm acreage to the production of these essential crops, instead of feed grains for industrial livestock operations.

Full Steam Ahead

While USDA’s announcements are encouraging, we can’t stop now and simply wait for further change to happen on its own. At the Food Not Feed summit, we all showed up, held the USDA’s feet to the fire, and demanded a response. Nine months later, the administration is moving the Food, Not Feed agenda forward as aggressively as it can without action from Congress.

We know that we have the power to make meaningful changes to our agricultural system if we raise our collective voices, and we must keep this pressure up across all government branches. Soon, there will be opportunities to speak up in roundtable discussions and in public comments. And while we’re applying pressure to USDA, we must also continue pushing Congress to pass major agricultural policy reforms for Food, Not Feed through a Fair Farm Bill. Stay tuned to learn how to continue fighting to transform our food system.

Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth, Sarah Carden, Angela Huffman, Dee Laninga, Christian Lovell, and Joe Maxwell.