Senators urge Pompeo, Perdue to back global food programs amid coronavirus pandemic

Senators urge Pompeo, Perdue to back global food programs amid coronavirus pandemic
© Anna Moneymaker

A bipartisan group of senators are urging Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report MORE to support international food assistance programs amid concerns about the coronavirus's impact on the supply chain and potential global food shortages. 

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranWatchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Mayor Quinton Lucas MORE (R-Kansas) on Monday spearheaded a letter with three of his colleagues to Perdue and Pompeo, urging them to ensure that programs under the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture are able to keep delivering food assistance amid the economic and health crisis sparked by the spread of the coronavirus. 

“Even in the face of disruptions to the lives of civil servants at USDA and USAID around the world, we must ensure that these programs are efficiently and effectively administered and that program funds are promptly obligated," they wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill ahead of its release. 

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"While the full extent of market disruptions and impacts on vulnerable populations produced by COVID-19 are yet to be seen, humanitarian organizations that deliver this American generosity are already pre-positioning food in high-priority areas around the world. We should be taking every possible step to ensure they are able to perform this and other tasks expeditiously and with sufficient resources," they added. 

In addition to Moran, Sens. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Cure Violence Global founder Gary Slutkin says violence and epidemics follow same patterns; Global death toll surpasses half a million 21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests Overnight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge MORE (D-Pa.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up MORE (R-Ark.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden campaign adds staff in three battleground states Clinton, Buttigieg among Democrats set to hold virtual events for Biden Warren top choice for VP for some Black progressives MORE (D-Wis.) signed the letter. 

The senators added in the letter to Pompeo and Perdue that while the United States needs to take steps to bolster the domestic food supply chain that they should also support other countries, including low-income countries. 

"What we learned from the 2007/8 global food price crisis was that export restrictions, market speculation and panic buying only served to put food further out of reach for vulnerable populations. We are not protected against these same inclinations today and must remain diligent to avoid them," they added. 

The Food and Agriculture Office of the United Nations warned last month that a drawn out coronavirus pandemic would "quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers and more."

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And the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security (CFS) added in a separate report that instability in the global food market will have the largest impact on the "poorest and most vulnerable segments" and that disruptions to food production and distribution in countries like the United States "could have serious implications for global food availability and food prices."

The senators warned in their letter that "if not handled properly" the coronavirus could break the food supply chain, with people in developing countries at a higher risk. 

"We can help to protect against this, in part, by providing high-quality U.S.-grown commodities like wheat, sorghum, soybeans, corn, or rice to people suffering from hunger and living in places where markets aren’t properly functioning or able to meet demand," they wrote. 

 "The U.S. food and agricultural trading system must remain open for business and well-functioning during this period; so too must our food aid programs," they added. 

The Associated Press reported last week that at least 33 of Africa’s 54 countries have restrictions in place aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus that block farmers from getting food to markets. 

And Dominique Burgeon, the director of emergencies at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told The Guardian that some parts of developing countries "are very close to famine." 

“The number of people on the verge of being extremely vulnerable was already very high. What we fear is that this number will further increase because of the impact of Covid-19 on food security," he said.