UEP praises Sec. 32 buys, concerned over food box program

January 21, 2021

UEP welcomed the USDA’s intention to purchase $20 million of eggs and egg products under “Section 32” surplus disposal authority but expressed concern over an issue that has marred the fifth round of food box purchases.

USDA has substantially increased its purchases from the egg industry in the wake of the pandemic, buying about twice as much as in normal years. UEP also praised USDA when eggs and egg products were made eligible for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. However, USDA notices in the fifth round of the program gave some distributors the unintended impression that eggs and egg products were no longer eligible for food boxes. That was not correct, but distributors understood program rules differently from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) procurement staff.

UEP held several conversations with senior USDA officials about this issue, which centers around whether eggs and egg products count toward the five pounds (or more) of meat required to be in each food box. When eggs and egg products were added in the third round of food box purchases, distributors understood that they would count as meat. AMS now says this was never the case, and that while eggs count toward the total weight of the box (which must be between 30 and 40 pounds), they should never have been counted as substituting for the meat requirement.

That was different from what many distributors understood in the third and fourth purchase rounds.  When AMS sent out what the agency intended as clarification before the fifth round, some distributors got the idea that eggs had been banned from the boxes in a policy change. That was not the case, but some distributors were unwilling to purchase eggs if doing so did not reduce their meat requirement.

UEP has urged AMS to give preference to those bids that did include eggs and egg products despite the confusion and to use a significant portion of the $400 million that Congress recently appropriated for food bank donations to eggs and egg products, including value-added products like hard-cooked eggs.