Legislation would require USDA to use its purchasing authority on sustainable and healthy food, and would create new pilot program to support equitable agriculture

Washington (November 20, 2023) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12) today announced the Enabling Farmer, Food worker, Environmental, and Climate Targets through Innovative, Values-aligned, and Equitable (EFFECTIVE) Food Procurement Act, legislation that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to leverage its power and set targets for purchasing sustainable, equitably procured products. The legislation would also establish a $25 million pilot program to create a values-aligned USDA purchasing process and support market access for small-scale and underserved producers. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is a cosponsor in the Senate of the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act.  

USDA is the largest food purchaser in the federal government, spending billions of dollars each year on food for school districts, senior feeding programs, Indian reservations, and food banks. However, USDA makes its purchases predominantly from a handful of big agricultural companies. Many of these USDA vendors have repeatedly violated labor and environmental laws. For example, Tyson Foods accounted for 43 percent of USDA poultry spending in 2022 despite having more than 30 workplace and environmental violations within three years of receiving their contract. The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would push USDA to stop rewarding anticompetitive and unethical behavior. In addition, the USDA Foods Program had a carbon footprint of 19.1 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent between the school year of 2018 and 2019, which is equal to the annual emissions from 4.1 million cars.  

“As families gather around the Thanksgiving table, we need to consider where the food we eat comes from,” said Senator Markey. “The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act lifts up foods that nourish the people who eat them, foods that benefit the people involved in growing and preparing them, and foods that regenerate the land where they’re grown, mitigating climate change instead of contributing to it. USDA has an opportunity to use its sizable purchasing power to address our agriculture sector’s compounding crisis of agri-business consolidation, climate change, and worker mistreatment. This legislation would direct USDA to prioritize purchases that align with its values and support a food system that is healthy for the planet, for workers, and for consumers, and I thank Congresswoman Adams for her partnership on this legislation to nourish our country.”  

“The Department of Agriculture’s purchasing power can be – should be – directed to support supply chains that keep our air and water clean, our climate stable, our workers protected, our small and regional farmers viable, and our families fed,” said Congresswoman Adams, a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee. “This piece of legislation would lift up and embed the values we care about into USDA’s current procurement practices and bidding structure, and pilot a suite of initiatives – including grants, technical assistance, metrics, evaluation, and disclosures – to ensure these food purchasing efforts are durable and, indeed, effective. I am proud to lead the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act with Senator Markey, our colleagues, and our stakeholder supporters.” 
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. A copy of the one-pager can be found HERE. 

The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would: 
  • Direct USDA to use its existing framework for food procurement to expand healthy, sustainable, and ethical food options for school districts and other program beneficiaries, including by setting measurable, maximum targets for increasing equitable and environmentally friendly purchasing;  
  • Shift USDA away from evaluating bids based only on cost to evaluating bids based on multiple values, including climate mitigation, worker well-being, resilient supply chains, and equity; 
  • Create new transparency in USDA purchasing by requiring reporting on the procurement process, including an estimate of associated greenhouse gas emissions;  
  • Provide grants and technical assistance to support small-scale and underserved producers and businesses in accessing market opportunities through USDA’s procurement; and,  
  • Study how USDA can shift its procurement toward a regional model and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food procurement. 
The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act is endorsed by more than 200 organizations.  

USDA has already taken laudable steps towards lifting up regional and small business procurement, and purchasers of USDA-procured foods across the nation, including Boston Public Schools, which have made commitments to buying healthy foods sourced locally and ethically. The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would build on these efforts by helping USDA better meet the demand for these foods, while producing a more just and resilient food system for all.  

“The Boston Public School District is committed to purchasing, preparing, and serving foods that improve the health of our students and our planet. We would love to utilize our commodity dollars to buy higher-quality and values-aligned foods through the USDA Foods Program, such as organic produce, grass-fed beef, and foods sourced from socially disadvantaged producers and local farmers,” said Anneliese Tanner, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Boston Public Schools. “Thank you to Senator Markey and Representative Adams for introducing this legislation that will make it easier for us to serve school meals that align with our district’s policies and values and enable us to meet the needs of every student.” 

“As one of the world’s largest food purchasers, USDA has the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that its purchasing advances, rather than undermines, the public good,” said Chloe Waterman, Senior Program Manager at Friends of the Earth. “Thank you to Senator Markey and Representative Adams for introducing legislation that will better align USDA’s food purchases with the goals of climate, health, sustainability, and equity. The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act is a win-win for the millions of people who rely on USDA’s feeding programs, for the workers and farmers who are putting food on our tables, and for the health of our planet.” 

“Young and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers are leading the way, modeling solutions at the community level to produce and distribute high quality, fresh, affordable products,” said David Howard, Policy Development Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. “In some cases, this new generation of farmers are creating much of the processing, aggregation and distribution, and marketing pathways and resources they need. We have clearly seen the connections between small-scale agriculture and the stability of our food systems, as well as our collective well-being. Progressive procurement policies can be an important element among other efforts to invest in and support farmers selling into local and regional markets and directly to consumers. We applaud Senator Markey and Representative Alma Adams for crafting and introducing the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, which thoughtfully and strategically seeks to advance and improve federal food procurement policy, while at the same time supporting small-scale, Young, and BIPOC farmers, investing in healthy food access, and mitigating climate impacts.” 

“USDA’s commodity procurement provides essential food to children and communities nationwide, but there is untapped potential to leverage their spending to strengthen markets for small, beginning, and underserved producers, stimulate local food economies, and promote climate resiliency,” said Hannah Quigley, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “NSAC is grateful for Senator Markey and Representative Adams’ visionary leadership in the EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act, which would provide a pathway for USDA to transform their procurement practices to advance racial equity, build a climate resilient future, invest in healthy communities, and build the capacity of small and mid-sized producers.” 

“Most of the USDA’s food procurement is not aligned with Biden administration priorities and is instead upholding the status quo food system,” said Jessi Silverman, Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act would bring the federal government meaningfully closer to its goals of reducing the carbon footprint of procurement, creating fair and equitable markets for producers, and protecting workers’ rights.” 

“If USDA is serious about promoting a food system that features fair competition and climate resilience, it should stop using the American people's money to support extractive and abusive multinational corporations,” says Aaron Johnson, Senior Program Manager of RAFI’s Challenging Corporate Power. “The EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act will move USDA toward leveraging its massive procurement budget to support the scaling-up of economically, racially, and ecologically just food supply chains.” 

“The Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) strongly endorses Senator Markey’s EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act,” said Susan Murray, Executive Director of Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership. “Shifting the criteria by which food and farm businesses are evaluated for federal procurement will strengthen small and medium-scale farm businesses, especially here in the Commonwealth. Regionally-based food procurement helps better prepare our food system to withstand and mitigate the effects of climate change, increases viability for small and medium sized farmers, nutrition, and will bring more nutritious and culturally relevant crops to children, elderly folks and underserved communities through federal programs.”