On November 12, the U.S. bishops unanimously approved For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers. The new pastoral statement addresses a wide range of agricultural issues, including threats to small farms, crop subsidies, the plight of undocumented farm workers, as well as market forces affecting farmers and rural life both in the United States and abroad.
When the 2002 Farm Bill was passed, the USCCB and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) were critical of Congress failure to target federal income support to those who needed assistance the most. Specifically, the Farm Bill did not include important provisions, such as: payment limitations on commodity support programs, a ban on meatpacker ownership of livestock, and contract fairness protection for poultry and livestock growers. Despite these economic justice failings, there were several provisions supported by USCCB and NCRLC that were included in the Farm Bill and addressed inadequate hunger policies and dilemmas facing rural communities. These welcomed provisions included: restoration of food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants, increased funding for conservation programs, innovative programs to assist new and beginning farmers and ranchers, and various rural development programs.
The 2003 budget proposal raises serious questions for rural communities because it calls for USDA cuts in key 2002 Farm Bill conservation, rural development, and agricultural research programs. The Administration proposes to cap the Conservation Security Program and to reduce mandatory funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and the Value-Added Producer Grants Program (VAPG), among others. As the legislative year progresses, the Conference will be advocating for full funding of these programs.
The Conference will also be looking for opportunities to support legislative efforts that would introduce important provisions left out of the 2002 Farm Bill. These include payment limitations on farm subsidies, support for micro-enterprise programs, and a ban on packer ownership of livestock.
The USCCB continues to advocate farm policies that enable our nation to maintain an agricultural system of diverse, family-owned and operated farms. Policies and programs are needed that encourage rural development, promote and maintain the culture and values of rural communities, and protect Gods creation. These policies should encourage a wide range of economic development strategies, including fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of rural people and investing in their education and training. They also should support the efforts of farmers to establish co-ops and other cooperative ventures, and encourage widespread diversity in farm ownership.
Limited government resources for subsidies and other forms of support should be targeted to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority-owned farms, to help them through difficult times caused by changes in global agricultural markets or weather patterns that destroy crops. The bulk of agricultural subsidies go to a few large producers while smaller family farms struggle to survive, this has to change. In the wholesale and retail sectors of the food supply system, the Conference supports policies that would promote greater competition among wholesale and retail buyers of farm products, so that the individual farmer receives a more for his/her goods.
What You Can Do
Contact your Senators and Representative and urge them to give priority to:
- Owners of small or medium farms struggling to feed their families.
- Rural communities struggling to maintain their values and quality of life.
- Farmers and ranchers practicing responsible stewardship of their land and common waterways.
- Women and children who need adequate nutrition.
- Fully funding the Conservation Security Program, the
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and the Value-Added Producer Grants Program.
Andy Rivas 202-541-3190; (fax) 202-541-3339; firstname.lastname@example.org Robert Gronski, NCRLC, 515-270-2634; email@example.com.