Dairy farmers can soon donate milk products that they might otherwise dump to nonprofit groups, helping food-insecure Americans as coronavirus cases surge because of the delta variant.
The aid program that the Agriculture Department announced Wednesday aims to prevent food waste and is designed to benefit both the dairy industry and consumers. Dairy farmers dumped excess milk last year when Covid-19 outbreaks shuttered schools and restaurants, temporarily cutting off markets for their commodities.
An interim final rule set to publish soon in the Federal Register initiates a $400 million initiative funded by last December’s fiscal 2021 spending omnibus bill (Public Law 116-260). A preview of the regulation available through the Agricultural Marketing Service says the program will go into effect one day after the rule is posted.
“When there is surplus milk production, we encourage the milk be donated instead of being dumped,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh.
With schools reopening for the fall semester, that trend has since reversed, with dairy futures climbing. Demand for milk to nourish students is rising to the point that supply is running out in some regions of the U.S.
More than $3.7 billion worth of dairy products were sold overseas from the U.S. in the first six months of this year—the highest levels of exports by value in history, reports the American Farm Bureau Federation, with Mexico, Canada, and China purchasing the most.
Even though the industry is recovering, and the new program will still help address the continuing need for food security across the country, said Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in a Wednesday press call.
“There’s a whole range of gaps in the system right now that this is going to fill,” she said.
Dairy industry groups welcome the new opportunity afforded by the Agriculture Department, as the program “ensures high-quality, nutritious products like milk, cheese, yogurt and more will get to those who need them most, while ensuring dairy foods producers receive a fair market value for their healthy products,” said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association.
It comes on top of a jump in food-stamp benefits, the biggest expansion in the program’s history. Average benefits in October will go up by more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels for the 42 million participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a U.S. official said before Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the increase on Aug. 16.
The new Dairy Donation Program will reimburse dairy organizations for their products distributed to low-income Americans. It follows a similar initiative: the Trump-era Milk Donation Reimbursement Program, created by the 2018 farm law. The previous program only collected fluid milk, excluding other dairy products.
Jay Bryant, CEO of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, Inc., lauded the rollout, as “dairy farmers can continue to be a part of the solution for food insecurity in the U.S.”
His cooperative donated more than 1,200 gallons of milk to local communities this year.
“This win-win program has the opportunity to help the dairy industry avoid supply chain disruptions while simultaneously helping nourish our communities,” he said in an emailed statement.
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