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Food Law and Policy Clinic: COVID-19 Response

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19), identified in December 2019, spread rapidly across the United States and impacted life and society in many ways, including our food systems. In the months that followed, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) engaged in an emergency response effort to address the impact of COVID-19 on our food systems. Our efforts included initiatives supporting donations of excess food due to closures of universities and other venues, analyzing opportunities to increase low-cost home food delivery, and shoring up emergency food systems.

FLPC COVID-19 Resources

Donating Excess Food During the COVID-19 National Emergency

Many universities, venues, and other large institutions were left with excess food as they closed or significantly reduced operations as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Donating this food to emergency food assistance institutions can go a long way toward supporting their increased needs at this time. More institutions can and should help provide food for those in need by donating their excess food. FLPC partnered with Feeding America, ReFED, and the Food Recovery Network to share information about how this can be done.

Support for Local and Regional Food Systems in COVID-19 Response

As social distancing measures closed schools and public gatherings nationwide, farmers markets closures revealed a difficult reality for a particularly vulnerable segment of the food system: local and regional farmers and ranchers. Farmers selling into direct-to-consumer markets and institutional purchases, such as farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, stand to lose much or all of their revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis, and tons of produce may go to waste, all while economic downturn and job losses lead to stretched food banks and increased food insecurity. To help policymakers consider measures to respond to the crisis, FLPC and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition released an issue brief highlighting several legislative and administrative actions that Congress and USDA can take.

Feeding People in their Homes: Opportunities to Bolster Home Food Delivery for Vulnerable Communities during the COVID-19 National Emergency

Across the United States, as individuals implemented social distancing protocols to slow the spread of COVID-19, many struggled to access the food they need, making delivery of food to people’s homes critical. However, while ordering meal or grocery deliveries from restaurants and grocery stores does not pose a problem for those with stable incomes, vulnerable individuals and families are in need of free or low-cost home food deliveries. FLPC released an issue brief detailing opportunities in non-crisis food assistance programs, disaster programs, and food donation programs for federal/state governments to facilitate free or low-cost food delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Policies to Support the Food System and Consumers During COVID-19

Despite the enactment of three stimulus bills since the pandemic began, support for the food system remains inadequate. Food supply chains for the hospitality sector have dried up and some avenues of processing and distribution have slowed due to closures from illness and social distancing rules. As a result, many producers are unable to sell their products. This trend contributes heavily toward food waste, even though this food could instead support emergency food assistance programs (e.g., food banks). At the same time, estimates are showing that up to 38% of people in the U.S. could be food insecure due to the pandemic, up from 11% in 2019. FLPC’s food policy recommendations outline opportunities to address gaps in the federal government’s response to the crisis, and leverage funds that Congress has already appropriated to meet the needs of food producers, workers, and consumers

COVID-19 Response in the Mississippi Delta

COVID-19 has strained food systems and communities across the United States. As we’ve engaged in national-level response efforts, FLPC has also worked to support our long-standing partners in the Mississippi Delta. In part due to the region’s rurality, Delta communities have felt the impacts of school closures, changing agricultural markets, and the challenges of social distancing even more severely. In partnership with the Delta Directions Consortium, FLPC released three issue briefs outlining policy and advocacy opportunities to support Delta communities during the pandemic:

Blog Posts and News

Food System Concerns in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact our everyday lives, including how we produce, process, and distribute food.

FLPC’s COVID-19 Response in the News

FLPC’s COVID-19 Response Initiative is supported in part by The ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund. 

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