The novel coronavirus (COVID-19), identified in December 2019, has become a major outbreak and has recently spread rapidly across the United States, impacting life and society in many ways, including our food systems. The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is engaged in an emergency response effort to address the impact that COVID-19 is having on our food systems. Our efforts include 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.
- Read our issue brief to learn more.
- Read our blog post for a summary
- State level actions to support local and regional food system.
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.
- Read our food policy recommendations here.
- Read our Evaluation of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
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:
- COVID-19 Response: Delivering Food to Vulnerable Individuals in Mississippi
- COVID-19 Response: Resources for Small and Mid-Size Farms in Mississippi
- COVID‐19 Response: Feeding Mississippi Children During School Closure
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.
- Read FLPC’s blog post to learn about specific ways that the pandemic is affecting our food system.
- Read FLPC’s blog post about protecting essential workers during COVID-19 and beyond.
- Read FLPC’s blog post about expanding support for local and regional food systems.
- Read FLPC’s blog post about the executive order on meat and poultry processing and worker safety concerns.
FLPC’s COVID-19 Response in the News
- The Impact of COVID-19 on the Food Supply & Feeding the Hungry, an article and webinar by Waste 360.
- Coronavirus Could Usher In A New Era Of Local, Sustainable Eating, an article by The HuffPost.
- Harvard Law School Clinics Focus on Coronavirus Legal Aid, an article by The Harvard Crimson.
- Law School Clinics Across the Country Offer Coronavirus Help, an article by Law.com’s Karen Sloan.
- HLS clinics and students fight for the most vulnerable amid COVID-19, an article by Harvard Law Today’s Brett Milano.
- Harvard students, alumni, faculty, and staff from the nationwide ‘To Serve Better’ project reflect on how coronavirus is affecting their communities, an article by The Harvard Gazette.
- The Covid-19 Crisis is Going to Get Much Worse When it Hits Rural Areas, an op-ed co-written by Emily Broad Leib.
- Emily Broad Leib Talks Food Law and COVID-19, and interview with Food Tank’s Danie Nierenberg.
- Waste Not, Want Not: HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic Steps Up its Efforts in Time of Pandemic, an article by Harvard Law Today’s Emily Newburger.
- Food Waste Impacts Emerging as Coronavirus Shifts Life from Commercial to Residential, an article by Waste Dive’s E.A. Crunden.
- The Fight to Keep Farmers’ Markets Open During Coronavirus, an article by Civil Eats’ Twighlight Greenaway.
- As Senate Passes Coronavirus Relief Package, Farm Groups Call for Support in Next Round, an article by The Food & Environment Reporting Network’s Leah Douglas.
FLPC’s COVID-19 Response Initiative is supported in part by The ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund.