WASHINGTON (November 5, 2003)-— U.S. bishops will consider passage of "'For I was hungry and you gave me food' (Mt. 25:35): Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers" at the semi-annual meeting here of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops next week. The pastoral document and overview of the Church's social teachings on food and agriculture also contains a suggested "Catholic agenda for action."
The "Reflections" highlight the "pressing need" for U.S. Catholics to "connect their faith to the ethical and human dimensions of food and agriculture issues," according to Bishop Ronald Gilmore of Dodge City, Kansas, and chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Agricultural Issues.
"For too many in our Church and nation, agriculture is a distant reality, little seen and less understood. The document examines agricultural issues in the light of Catholic social teaching, encouraging Catholics to seek the 'common good' on issues of food and agriculture and affirming the dignity and rights of farmers and farmworkers, both here and around the world," said Bishop Gilmore.
The document, which builds on previous bishops' statements such as "Food Policy in a Hungry World," is the work of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Agricultural Issues. Over the past five years the committee conducted listening sessions with farmers, academics, policymakers, farmworkers, growers, representatives of rural organizations and corporations, and government officials.
"While not everybody farms, everybody eats," said Holy Cross Brother David Andrews, Executive Director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and a consultant to the Ad Hoc Committee. "I think the document will help reacquaint Catholics and the general public with social teachings which can serve as valuable tools for addressing issues of agricultural trade policy, globalization, and the concentration of the agricultural industry into fewer and fewer hands," said Brother Andrews.
In 2000, the top five food retailers held 42 percent of retail food sales, according to statistics cited in the "Reflections." The number of U.S. farms has fallen from 5.5 million in 1950 to 2.16 million in 2001.
"U.S. agriculture has given Americans and the world plentiful food and other products at affordable prices," notes the statement. "However, we still live in a world where many are hungry. We still live in a nation where family farmers are struggling and where many have lost farms in recent decades. We still live in a society where many farmworkers are denied the opportunity to live a decent life."
The document is comprised of a pastoral message, a summary of Catholic social teaching and its relation to agriculture, a compilation of recent statistics on agriculture, and an agenda for action. But "this is not just another statement," according to Bishop Gilmore, "because agriculture is not just another economic sector. It is about food and hunger, the way we treat those who grow and harvest our food, and what kind of nation and world we are shaping."
The USCCB's November meeting opens Monday, November 10, and continues through Thursday, November 13 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington.