WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture plans to buy $170 million worth of meat, poultry and fish products in a move to help federal food nutrition assistance programs and food banks. USDA plans to purchase up to $100 million of pork products, up to $10 million of catfish products, up to $50 million in chicken products, and up to $10 million of lamb products.

"These purchases will assist pork, catfish, chicken and lamb producers who are currently struggling due to challenging market conditions and the high cost of feed resulting from the widespread drought," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The purchases will help mitigate further downward prices, stabilize market conditions, and provide high quality, nutritious food to recipients of USDA's nutrition programs."

The Emergency Surplus Removal Program allows USDA to buy meat and poultry products to help farmers and ranchers who have been affected by natural disasters, according to the agency. The pork, lamb and catfish purchases are based on current market conditions. Surging feed costs spurred by the drought are a major factor affecting livestock producers.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) applauded the move which the council said would make chicken products available to needy families and others.

“At this very difficult economic time for chicken producers due to the severe drought and impending corn shortage that will unfortunately continue well into the future, the National Chicken Council is grateful to USDA for working promptly and effectively with NCC to have a special bonus purchase program for chicken,” said Mike Brown, NCC president.  “By providing chicken through this program, USDA will help feed many economically-stressed Americans while at the same time helping to stabilize the chicken market.  NCC looks forward to continuing to work with AMS to help ensure full success of the program.”