U.S. Federal Food Spending Could Accelerate Climate Mitigation, Equity, according to research 



Erin Eberle, erinleberle@gmail.com 


Citing a first-of-its-kind analysis of $9B in annual federal food spending, a diverse coalition points to misalignment with Biden administration goals around climate mitigation, worker well-being, equity, public health, and fair markets for producers.  


WASHINGTON DC, NOVEMBER 9, 2023 The Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition - a diverse coalition of food justice, labor, environmental, animal welfare, public health, and other organizations - released a groundbreaking analysis of the US federal government’s food spending. The report, which analyzes two years of publicly available food purchasing data, includes the first-ever carbon footprinting of federal food spending and highlights the concentration of the Department of Agriculture’s food purchases among a small number of agribusiness corporations. The authors model how changes in federal food purchasing patterns could affect various social and environmental outcomes and offer policy recommendations to align federal food purchasing with values that support a just, healthy, and resilient food system.

Two years after the Biden administration committed to achieving “net-zero” emissions from procurement by 2050 in its Federal Sustainability Plan, the administration has yet to put forth any strategies or policies focused on measuring or reducing food-related emissions. The report lays out a feasible, cost-effective pathway for shifting food purchasing in service of this goal. The report also comes one year after President Biden committed to updating and implementing the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities (FSG) in the White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The administration has yet to follow through on this commitment, and the report highlights the FSG as a crucial vehicle for aligning federal foodservice with the administration’s policy priorities. 

Key Findings:

“As the world’s largest food purchaser, the US government has the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that its purchasing advances, rather than undermines, the public good,” said Chloe Waterman, a senior program manager at Friends of the Earth and an author of the report. “Our research highlights that climate-friendly food purchasing is a win-win strategy for President Biden to follow through on his commitments to climate, health, sustainability, and equity.” 

Members of the Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition are calling on the federal government to: 

“If the USDA were serious about supporting a fair market for producers, it should stop shutting producers like me out of federal contracting opportunities,” said Greg Gunthorp, owner of Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange, IN, which produces pasture-raised hogs, poultry, and lambs. "We are long overdue to start building these relationships to help rebuild local and regional food systems. The federal government should use its massive food purchasing power to reward producers using more resilient and regenerative practices instead of awarding billions in contracts to the largest agribusiness conglomerates and foreign entities.”

It is hypocritical for any government to pledge a commitment to worker well-being while at the same time rewarding companies like Tyson that have extensive federal labor violations with lucrative federal contracts,” said Axel Fuentes, executive director of RCWA-Rural Communities Workers Alliance, a non-profit organization in Missouri advocating for workers in Tyson meat processing plans. “The federal government should put its money where its mouth is and purchase from companies that prioritize worker well-being throughout their supply chains.”

Students, now more than ever, want school meals that align with our values and dietary needs,” said Nancy Zhang, a senior at Carmel High School. “USDA should be providing schools with foods that are climate-friendly, plant-based, and sourced from supply chains where workers are treated fairly and animals are raised humanely. Instead, USDA is turning a blind eye to our needs and sending our schools food from exploitative, polluting corporations – despite millions of students being unable or unwilling to consume these animal-based products in the first place." 

“Our district is committed to purchasing foods that align with our policies and values, but the lack of options in the USDA Foods Program can present a barrier,” said Kat Soltanmorad, food service director for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. “We would love to see USDA offer us more organic options, a greater variety of plant-based sources of protein, and higher quality meat so that we can get the greatest value from our federal entitlement dollars. We would love to have our commodity entitlement dollars to stay local with cash in lieu as an option.”

“The Santa Ana Unified School District is committed to purchasing, preparing, and serving foods that improve the health of our kids and our planet. The USDA Foods Program, in its current state, is a barrier to achieving this goal. I fear the interests of giant food manufacturers, many of them responsible for significant carbon emissions, are being placed ahead of the needs and future opportunities of our children,” said Josh Goddard, Director of Nutrition Services for the Santa Ana Unified School District. “I call upon USDA to align its values with ours by offering more local, organic, and plant-based protein options so we can get the highest value from our entitlement dollars.”

“This analysis makes clear that the Biden administration's food purchasing is not aligned with its values and is instead upholding the status quo food system,” said Jessi Silverman, senior policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “At the same time, it demonstrates that climate-friendly food purchasing would get the federal government meaningfully closer to its goal of net-zero emissions from procurement."

You can access the report here.

Join authors of the report today Thursday, November 9 from 1:00 - 1:45 PM ET for a webinar: Modeling Climate, Environmental, and Social Impacts of Federal Food Procurement to learn more about the findings. Register here

The Federal Good Food Purchasing Coalition is working to spur a more just, healthy, resilient, and sustainable food system through values-aligned food purchasing and food service at the federal level and is supported in part by The Rockefeller Foundation.

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