WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) –The United States Department of Agriculture announced major investments to strengthen the nation’s food supply systems, saying the pandemic highlighted weaknesses that impact the neediest the most.

During a press conference, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explained “today in major cities and remote rural areas, far too many Americans live in food deserts that severely limit their ability to access healthy foods.”

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Vilsack noted the pandemic made food insecurity worse for the most vulnerable.

“At one point during the pandemic, animals had to be euthanized simply because processing plants were shut down,” Vilsack explained.

Now, the USDA is announcing a new effort to transform the nation’s food systems and supply chains.

“It has to touch on all elements of our food system. I believe there are four basic elements: production, processing, distribution and aggregation and market development,” Vilsack said.

The USDA announced major investments in each of those areas.

Examples of the projects include efforts to make food more affordable and available locally by funding initiatives like urban farming projects that require less transportation.

The USDA will also invest in helping the agriculture industry transition to more organic and sustainable practices.

“A transformed food system needs to be one that through all four elements sustainably grows and raises commodities and livestock with net zero gas emissions while also raising farm and rural incomes,” Vilsack said.

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The administration also announced more help in the form of loans and grants to small and mid-size growers and food production and processing operations.