Against a backdrop of a spike in global food prices and calls from U.S. food industry players to shore up domestic supply chains, the Biden administration on June 8 announced the creation of a supply-chain task force as well as $4 billion in funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen and diversify the U.S. food system.
The new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force will "focus on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been noted over the past several months," including agriculture and food, according to the White House. The task force, which will be led by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will seek to provide an "all-of-government response" in tackling near-term supply-chain challenges that could threaten the country's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a report from the administration noted.
Back in February, the Biden administration announced an in-depth, one-year review of supply-chain vulnerabilities in six key sectors, including agriculture and food production. The announcement of the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and the USDA funding was an update on that effort, with the White House noting that it is working on strategies for the six critical industrial bases identified.
The USDA's new Build Back Better initiatives will focus on "rebuilding the U.S. food system and strengthening and diversifying supply chains" for food production, processing and distribution to benefit both markets and consumers, the White House stated. Improved access to healthful foods and efforts to address racial equity and climate change are on the table, according to the statement; so, too, are initiatives to support producers and workers, enhance competitiveness in the marketplace and ensure that U.S. food supply networks can be more resilient in the face of disruptions—the kind of disruptions that 15 months ago resulted in sparsely filled meat cases, empty paper-goods aisles and monthslong shortages of some cleaning products. And still, as the U.S. emerges from more than a year of pandemic-related restrictions, supply-chain challenges and out-of-stocks persist for distributors and retailers alike: Aldi, for example, has a web page listing its promoted Aldi Finds that may not be available in stores because of shipping delays. For June alone, more than a dozen products are listed.
Patty McDonald, global solution marketing director for artificial intelligence platform provider Symphony RetailAI, offered some praise for the creation of the supply chain task force while noting that collaboration within the industry, too, will be crucial in addressing supply-chain weaknesses.
"The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting chaos in the supply chain demonstrated that traditional methods of supply-chain planning, especially crucial components such as demand forecasting and replenishment, are not enough," she said in a statement. The new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, while it will support companies' efforts to establish systems to ensure more efficient supply-chain management, represents "only one step in realizing how indispensable yet vulnerable the food supply chain is," she said.