WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department, its supplies of surplus food dwindling, plans to cut in half the annual allocation of cheese, milk, honey and rice distributed to at least 15 million needy Americans each month through food banks, a spokeswoman said today.
The shrinking stocks are in large part a result of the government's reduced price supports and incentives to farmers to cut surplus production.
Diane J. Durant of the department's Food and Nutrition Service said the reduction means that the commodities actually will begin to run out by April. That is because the food is being doled out to the states at the previous monthly rates, she said.
Less Free Cheese
For the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, that will mean 210 million pounds of free cheese, compared with 420 million pounds in 1986-87; 48 million pounds of non-fat dry milk, instead of 96 million; 48 million pounds of honey, instead of 76 million, and 90 million pounds of rice, instead of 180 million.
But Durant said the projections are still highly tentative and that some authorities say there is a possibility of the department replenishing its dairy surplus inventories if farmers continue to step up milk production.
"The inventories are in flux," she said in an interview. "Dairy policy succeeded in reducing the (surplus) inventories . . . and we're not sure where that's going to be headed in the next year."
More Information Later
Department officials expect to have a better idea of what may happen by sometime in January, Durant said. Meanwhile, the agency is required to notify the states, which delegate food distribution to local sponsors such as food banks, of levels they can expect in the coming year.
"This is tentative, and it may change dramatically," she said.
About 15 million to 18 million people have been getting some free food each month under the programs, according to USDA estimates.
Under the Food Security Act of 1985, the government started paying 14,000 dairy farmers to stop milk production by killing or exporting cows, calves and heifers. Also, the price supports paid to dairy farmers have been reduced.
Officials at the agencies that helped distribute the food said it will be sorely missed.
"At a time when there is hunger in America, we are very concerned about the loss of commodities to supplement the diet of people who need them," said Robert J. Fersh, executive director of the Food Research and Action Center, a group that seeks to fight hunger.