USDA to spend USD 70 million in COVID-19 relief funds on domestic seafood

Published on
May 5, 2020

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced on Monday, 4 May, it had purchased USD 470 million (EUR 433.4 million) worth of agricultural products as part of its COVID-19 response, with nearly 15 percent of that spent on seafood products.

According to a USDA release, the USD 70 million (EUR 64.6 million) in seafood, along with the remaining agricultural goods, will go to the department’s Section 32 program, which purchases surpluses and directs their use in children’s nutrition and disaster relief programs.

“USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods and deliver them to the hungry Americans who need it most,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

The government will purchase USD 30 million (EUR 27.7 million) in catfish products, USD 20 million (EUR 18.4 million) in Atlantic haddock, pollock, and redfish, and USD 20 million in Alaskan pollock.

The funding for the Section 32 purchases comes from the USD 2.2 trillion (EUR 2.03 trillion) CARES Act Congress passed in late March.

Lawmakers from across the country reached out to Purdue last month urging him to ensure the USDA would not overlook the seafood industry in its COVID-19 relief spending. That included U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Reps. William Keating and Seth Moulton, all Democrats from Massachusetts.

In a Tuesday statement, the lawmakers thanked the department for including Atlantic seafood products that they said have been typically overlooked by the purchasing program.

“I am pleased to see that the USDA has finally recognized the important role that North Atlantic seafood plays in maintaining the nation’s food supply,” Keating said in a statement. “These purchases will not only help to support our fishing industry during these trying times, but will also provide highly nutritious, sustainable food for families in need across the nation.”

U.S. Sen Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement Monday that fishermen in her state, which produces 60 percent of the country’s seafood, needed the “economic stabilization” the USDA purchase will provide.

“We are grateful to the administration and to Agriculture Secretary Perdue for making these important investments in our state's economy, and hope this support will continue,” she said.

According to a release by U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), the USDA will soon publish information on its “Selling Food to the USDA” website and will issue product solicitations on its purchasing portal.

Hyde-Smith said the catfish purchase will be a big help to Mississippi, the nation’s leading catfish producer. Last year, the 208 catfish farms and eight processing plans generated an economic impact of USD 172 million (EUR 158.6 million).

“Mississippi producers and processing facilities will benefit from this action which is really a win-win for them and for people who need help getting food during these difficult days,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Ioan Florin Cnejevici/Shutterstock

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