The Atlantic Natural Foods company was rejected from the Department of Agriculture’s “approved” food list when it tried to join hurricane relief efforts and was told the process would take up to four years to complete.
ANF, based in Nashville, North Carolina is the largest manufacturer of shelf-stable plant based proteins in the U.S. and company leaders say they’re frustrated with government regulations restricting small businesses and benefiting big business.
When Hurricane Irma hit, ANF sent its own food truck to Florida and handed out goods to more than 20,000 victims and families. Company officials decided they wanted to do more by joining the USDA food relief efforts, so the company worked through the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce to connect with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was told to contact the USDA directly.
The chamber received a phone call from the USDA saying ANF was rejected and had to “get on the list,” J. Douglas Hines, chairman of ANF, told Bloomberg Government.
“I do appreciate an agency working but in times of need America needs exceptions in policy that allow us to provide products as a country and individuals,” Hines says, explaining he was more disappointed in the process than the agency itself.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers the Emergency Food Aid Assistance Program, which buys food, including processing and packaging, and ships it to the states in need. States provide the food to local agencies they have selected, usually food banks, which in turn, distribute the food to facilities that directly serve the public.
To win USDA approval, the process is to get the agency to request that you present your products for consideration, Hines says. It will consider based on need and “need is determined by those in D.C. at the agency.” If the USDA determines a product is not needed then the agency will not pursue it.
“It does not lend itself to a small or medium sized company, but is built for the larger companies and those that are part of the current USDA inspection program, primarily fresh and frozen animal proteins,” he says.
Hines will be in Washington next week and during his visit he plans to meet with members of Congress and try to persuade them that small businesses need more support. If ANF was part of the USDA inspection program, Hines says he would be able to add more than 80 jobs in three years and double the amount of workers.
Hines announced ANF will be consolidating two of its facilities in November 2017 in order to reduce operational costs through increased efficiencies and will “build back over time.”
“We have to address the fact vegetarian products should be part of feeding programs,” he says. “Owning a small business has never been easy, but it is disappointing to experience the uphill battle against stifling government processes.”
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