NH delegation calls for USDA investigation into supplier, alleging low-quality food going to NH Food Bank

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NH Delegation, from left, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Congresswoman Annie Kuster and Congressman Chris Pappas. Graphic/ManchesterInkLink

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has penned a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressing concern about Vincent Farms – a Delaware-based food distributor – that was awarded the most recent contract with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to supply food to the New Hampshire Food Bank through the Farmers Families Food Box Program.

The delegation called on the USDA to investigate concerns brought to them by the New Hampshire Food Bank that the products provided do not meet nutritional standards and are not suitable to serve families in need of assistance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delegation wrote, “The intent of the Farmers to Families Food Box program is to provide fresh produce, dairy and meat products from American producers of all sizes to food banks, community and faith-based organizations and other non-profits serving Americans in need. We are alarmed to hear allegations that the food provided to the New Hampshire Food Bank in the third round of this program did not meet the standards of the high-quality product provided in previous rounds.”

U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and U.S. Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas went on to explain that the distributor for the program from the previous round – Costa Fruit & Produce – provided high-quality products for families in need and was the distributor that the New Hampshire Food Bank advocated for in their proposal for the third round.

The delegation continued, “However, USDA awarded the contract for the third round of the program to a different distributor, Vincent Farms, instead of the proposal submitted by the New Hampshire Food Bank and Costa Fruit & Produce. The product subsequently provided to the New Hampshire Food Bank in round three by Vincent Farms was of enormously inferior nutritional quality…”

The delegation underscored concerns that the USDA was paying far more under the Farmers to Families Food Box Program than the contents of the food box being provided by the current distributor have been estimated to be worth, compromising the quality of food for Granite State families. They wrote, “Additionally, we understand that the USDA is paying $40 – $60 per box under the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. However, the cost per box of food provided to the New Hampshire Food Bank by the round three distributor has been estimated to equal $10 – $12. This significant discrepancy in value indicates a large potential profit opportunity for this distributor. Each tractor-trailer delivering to a food bank can carry more than 1,000 boxes of food. By this estimate, the distributor could potentially be making $30,000 – $50,000 on each tractor-trailer, while providing substandard food to the New Hampshire Food Bank for distribution to New Hampshire families.”

The lawmakers closed their letter with a request for USDA to immediately investigate this matter before awarding the fourth round of contracts for the Farmers to Families Box Program and to respond to a series of questions about criteria about the decision-making for these awards. In closing, Shaheen, Hassan, Kuster and Pappas wrote: “In the midst of a global pandemic and while families are experiencing food insecurity at incredible rates, it is essential that the food provided by the U.S. government to our local food banks and other entities is reliable. Now more than ever, keeping families fed and safe should be our top priority.”

The full letter is below:

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