WASHINGTON (November 12, 2003) --Today the United States bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement raising concerns about the ethical dimensions of agriculture and trade policy. 'For I was hungry and you gave me food' (Mt. 25:35): Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers, which was passed at the semi-annual meeting here of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also contains a suggested "Catholic Agenda for Action."
The statement highlights 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, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Agricultural Issues.
According to the statement, the world is "facing new challenges: increasing concentration at every level of agriculture, increasing focus on agricultural trade as a measure of economic vitality, and increasing globalization tying together our lives and livelihoods wherever we live…These forces of increasing concentration and growing globalization are pushing some ahead and leaving others behind."
On one of the more challenging issues related to agriculture, the bishops seek a middle course. "We recognize that agricultural subsidies can have a damaging effect on struggling farmers in developing nations," explained Bishop Gilmore. "We're not suggesting that we should wipe the slate clean, but we believe we can reduce and target U.S. subsidies so that small and moderate sized farms can compete while the negative impacts on developing countries are minimized."
"For too many in our Church and nation, agriculture is a distant reality, little seen and less understood," said Bishop Gilmore. "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, ranchers, and farmworkers, both here and around the world," said Bishop Gilmore.
The document, which builds on previous bishops' statements, is the work of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Agricultural Issues. Over the past four years the committee conducted listening sessions with farmers, ranchers, 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.
"U.S. agriculture has given Americans and the world plentiful food and other products at affordable prices," notes the statement. "However, we live in a world where many are still hungry. We live in a nation where family farmers are still struggling and where many have lost farms in recent decades. We live in a society where many farmworkers are still 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."