With US Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: Are you concerned about food insecurity in 2022 and beyond?
A: During the COVID-19 pandemic, more Americans have experienced food insecurity as unemployment and empty store shelves have produced uncertainty around kitchen tables in households across the country. Moms and dads struggled to put food on the table and feared sending their children to bed hungry. According to the USDA, more than 38 million people in the United States lived in food-insecure households in 2020. As COVID-19 spread across the country, Congress increased spending on child care -eating and nutritional assistance programs to help Americans who have lost their jobs to feed themselves. Their families. I worked to expand the flexibilities of the USDA Summer Restoration Program to maximize its usefulness during the summer months when children are not in the school building. When I visited food banks in Pocahontas and Waterloo, I saw a neighbor helping his neighbor help starving families in times of need. Today, more Americans are turning to local food banks to feed their families as inflation outpaces their wages.
Food insecurity is looming and could affect even more people due to soaring fuel and food prices and war-torn Ukraine. The International Food Price Index which tracks the prices of food commodities traded around the world reached its highest point this spring since recording began in 1990. Since last June, the Producer Price Index here in the States States rose 11.3%. Prices paid by US consumers soared 9.1%, the fastest clip since November 1981. The main driver of inflation is rising energy costs. Families get hammered from week to week at the gas pump and the grocery store. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for grains, breads and chicken have increased by 14.2%, 10.8% and 17.3% on an annual basis. Rising fuel prices, especially diesel, are on top of rising food prices on the shelves. Soaring input costs for farmers who grow food, especially fertilizer and diesel fuel, are contributing to higher prices to get food from farm to fork. Truckers are paying more than double to fill their tanks and deliver food to stores and restaurants across the country.
Q: What are you doing to help reduce costs and reduce limited supplies?
A: I’m leading the charge to help cut costs at the grocery store. The Big Four Packers control over 85% of the market and use anti-competitive tactics to eliminate small producers. This means independent farmers in Iowa are forced to sell livestock at very low prices, and consumers pay through the nose for beef in restaurants and grocery stores. It comes as the big four packers reap record profits. Sysco, the largest food retailer in the United States, recently filed a lawsuit against these packers alleging price fixing. They claim that these packers intentionally reduced the number of cattle slaughtered to inflate the beef prices that families are forced to pay. We need to maintain a cash market for cattle producers and increase competition. My two bipartisan bills that made it through the Senate Agriculture Committee would do just that.
In July, I joined farm state lawmakers and urged the Biden administration remove import duties on fertilizers from Morocco and Trinidad and Tobago. They export phosphate fertilizers subject to import duties, which exacerbates inflationary prices of key ingredients to get crops into the ground. The rising cost of fertilizers is forcing farmers to apply nutrient rates below recommendations. This will impact productivity, lead some growers to switch to alternative crops, and disrupt a reliable supply of staple protein and increase food insecurity in America and around the world. A competitive price for fertilizers is essential to food security, national security and national defense. Additionally, import duties exacerbate the fragility of the global food supply due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion. Ukraine is a key exporter of agricultural products and often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe and a main supplier of grains throughout the Middle East and Africa. The war zone in Ukraine has disrupted the growing season and as the war takes its toll, its ports are besieged and sea lanes are blocked by Russia. Rising food and fuel prices, combined with the ongoing war in Ukraine, have the potential to create a perfect storm of social unrest, food riots and starvation in the developing world.
Here in Iowa, food banks and mobile pantries are seeing a growing need as food prices continue to climb. The Iowa Food Bank serves 55 of our 99 counties and partners with volunteers and community businesses to stock local food pantries and serve hungry neighbors. It said it served its highest number of people in its 40-year history in May. Food pantries supplied by the River Bend Food Bank report feeling the pinch as donations dwindle with less food on store shelves available to donate. As the cost of fresh fruit, meat and eggs continues to rise, cash donations don’t go as far to buy food and local pantries are challenged to help families with children , the elderly and veterans to go hungry in their communities. In Washington, I will continue to fight inflation so that wages are not eaten up at the pumps and at the grocery store. I also fight tax increases so Iowans can keep more of their hard-earned money to make ends meet. Iowans looking for more information on local food pantries can call 211. Or visit https://www.iowafba.org/partner-food-banks.