NSLP Commodity and Bonus Foods

The Physicians Committee

NSLP Commodity and Bonus Foods

Commodity Foods

The commodity system was designed with the dual purpose of providing food at low or zero cost to schools, while at the same time providing a guaranteed market for agricultural products. USDA purchases food under the direction of Congress based on agricultural surpluses and price support activities to help American agriculture producers. 

In 2007, each school district received 16.75 cents worth of commodity foods for each meal served. The schools choose from a list of foods that changes depending on availability and market prices. 

Concerns about Commodity Foods:

  • There is a serious conflict of interest in the commodity system in that the USDA pledges to provide nutritious meals for school children, while supporting the industries that produce the foods that contribute to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.   
  • Now more than ever we must focus on moving government subsidies away from animal agriculture. In 2005, the federal government purchased more than $385 million of beef and cheese for food assistance—most notably school meals, contrasted with about $50 million for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Producers of feed crops (corn, soy, wheat, rice, oats, barley, sorghum), meat, and dairy received 73 percent of direct subsidies for food production, while fruit and vegetable farmers received less than 1 percent.
  • Apples are the only fruit and/or vegetable that is subsidized with $261 million spent between 1996 and 2005 while direct meat and dairy product subsidies total 2.89 billion and 3.12 billion dollars, respectively.
  • State processing programs allow school districts to contract with commercial food processors to convert raw USDA commodities into more convenient, ready-to-use end products. Many of the foods offered through this program and those that are reprocessed most often are animal products rich in cholesterol and saturated fat. The top reprocessed items include cooked beef and pork patties and links, chicken nuggets, chicken patties and roasted pieces, turkey hot dogs, bologna, and pizza. 

Bonus Foods

  • Bonus commodities work differently in that they are delivered to schools at no charge, often in large amounts, when farmers are left with surplus products. These inexpensive products are often enticing to cash-strapped schools. 
  • Bonus Foods are offered periodically as they become available. Previous year’s bonus foods include items such as apple products, beef, dried fruit, nonfat dry milk, pork products, catfish, and turkey.