Food shelves across Minnesota are reporting a surplus of food as a result of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, among other nations.
Since the middle of last year, a wide range of American-produced meat, produce and dairy is being taxed at a higher rate by China, in retaliation for tariffs imposed on Chinese goods exported to the U.S.
To soften the blow for the nation's farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has bought up more than $1.2 billion in food commodities that it says has been "unfairly targeted by unjustified retaliation."
This food has then been distributed to child nutrition programs as well as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), ending up at food shelves across the country, including in Minnesota.
In an email to BMTN this week, Gary Young of Hunger Solutions Minnesota says that the state's food shelves will typically make 6-8 million pounds of food available over the course of the year.
But because of the trade wars and resulting government food purchase, the amount of food passing through state food banks is estimated to have more than doubled, at between 14 and 17 million pounds.
Ironically, the surplus comes at a time when food shelf use is escalating as a result of the partial federal government shutdown, which has seen thousands of workers across Minnesota furloughed or working unpaid since Dec. 22.
Hunger Solutions is encouraging more people who need food assistance to sign up and take advantage of this surplus food, particularly considering that some of it – namely fresh fruits and vegetables – is perishable.
"Food shelves are being encouraged to be open longer hours, as well as give away more food in an attempt to address this issue," Young said.
Hunger Solutions' executive director Colleen Moriarty told WCCO that they are particularly keen to get milk, pork, apples, and other foods of high nutritional value, out as soon as possible.
Hunger Solutions says the number of calls it's receiving every day during the federal government shutdown has increased from the usual 25 to around 100.
This is not only because workers are being furloughed, but because of the impact the shutdown is having on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
"The government shutdown has created widespread confusion and concern among Minnesotans about their SNAP benefits," Moriarty said. "Many don’t know if there’s going to be an interruption in services and are worried about how they are going to feed their families.
"Most SNAP benefits have been issued early for February, but people who might be eligible but are not yet receiving SNAP are still encouraged to apply. New SNAP benefits can be issued as long as there are still funds available."
The nonprofit says those struggling to pay for food should call its help line at 1-888-711-1151 to find their nearest food shelf.