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 PompeoMike PompeoRussia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Winter is here for Democrats Overnight Defense & National Security — Nuclear states say no winners in global war MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueThe hero of Jan. 6 whose name must not be spoken With soaring demand for meat, it's time to fund animal-free protein research Perdue on possible run for Georgia governor: 'I'm concerned about the state of our state' 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) MoranEight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs Senate Republicans call on Biden to lift vaccine mandate for truckers crossing Canadian border Lawmakers remember Bob Dole: 'Bona fide American hero' 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 CaseyOn the Money — Inflation hits highest level in decades Pressures aligning on Biden, Democrats to forgive student loans Senate Democrats grow less confident in Manchin MORE (D-Pa.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanPostal Service expansion into banking services misguided Arkansas governor backs Sarah Huckabee Sanders to replace him Arkansas attorney general drops bid for governor, says she will work with Sanders MORE (R-Ark.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks Dems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill 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."

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.