FMR among 150+ groups pushing for 'transformative' Farm Bill

A bale of hay sits in the foreground. A baler can be seen in the distance.
The wide-ranging Farm bill expires every five years. U.S. lawmakers are slated to reauthorize a new iteration of the legislation in 2023. (Photo by Dodd Demas for FMR)

Friends of the Mississippi River is one of more than 150 organizations urging federal leaders to pursue a "transformative" federal Farm Bill that will strengthen the U.S. food system while also making it more equitable.  

"The next Farm Bill should reflect your values," a letter to President Joe Biden and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack reads, "and build on your administration's actions to date to reduce economic inequality; bridge the nation's racial divides; end hunger; confront the climate crisis; improve nutrition and food safety; and protect and support farmers, workers, and communities."

Many of the key values we advocate for are represented in this letter, including:

  • The need to meet the climate crisis head-on
  • The pursuit of racial justice in the agriculture industry
  • The protection of both farmers and consumers​

"Such a bill must ensure longer-term agriculture resilience and prioritize fairness for workers, farmers and consumers," the letter says.

The full text is below. A list of supporting organizations can be found here.

What is the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill is a package of federal laws and spending that shapes our food system. It affects what farmers grow, how they grow it and how food gets to people — policies that impact people's livelihoods, the environment and equity. The Farm Bill typically needs to be reworked every five years. The last one passed in 2018, meaning Congress will likely pass the next iteration of a Farm Bill in 2023.

The upcoming negotiations come on the heels of the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping federal law passed in August of 2022 that carries important environmental provisions that could impact the Mississippi River. That includes provisions that could be a boon for clean-water crops that FMR supports.

Through our role in the National Sustainable Ag Coalition, Mississippi River Network and Healing Our Waters coalition, paired with our relationships with key Congressional leaders and agricultural stakeholders, FMR will work with key allies to ensure that the 2023 Farm Bill reflects our priorities. 

A copy of the letter sent to Biden and the USDA:

Dear Mr. President:

Every five years, Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill, a wide-ranging piece of legislation that affects every part of our food system. The next Farm Bill should reflect your values and build on your administration’s actions to date to reduce economic inequality; bridge the nation’s racial divides; end hunger; confront the climate crisis; improve nutrition and food safety; and protect and support farmers, workers, and communities.

Such a Farm Bill should:

Center Racial Justice

To reflect your values, the next Farm Bill must advance your administration’s pledge to “confront the hard reality of past discrimination” and address the continuing and devastating reality of systemic racism in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Your Farm Bill must be a racial justice bill that will, in the words of your 2021 Executive Order, “allocate resources to address the historic failure to invest sufficiently, justly, and equally in underserved communities.” Farmers and communities of color, Tribal Nations, and food and farm workers add immeasurable knowledge and value to our food and farm system and make essential economic and environmental contributions. Ultimately, equity and justice must be at the center of every facet of the next Farm Bill if we hope to repair historical and ongoing discrimination against these communities, recognize more fully their contribution to the food and farming system, and eliminate inequities throughout the food and farm economy.

End Hunger

As you have recognized, “too many families do not know where they’re going to get their next meal.” To reflect your values, the next Farm Bill must protect and strengthen food assistance programs to ensure sufficient resources, merit staffing, and access to nutritious food for all people who struggle against hunger and food insecurity as a result of wealth and income inequities often driven by systemic racism.

Meet the Climate Crisis Head On

To reflect your values, the next Farm Bill must also be a climate bill. We will not avoid the worst effects of climate change unless this nation reduces heat-trapping emissions, including from agriculture. Your Farm Bill must invest in research, technical assistance, and financial incentives to enable farmers and ranchers to reduce emissions and to implement farming practices and labor policies that make their farms and workers better able to withstand extreme weather. The next Farm Bill should reward farmers and ranchers who are already implementing such practices while also enabling others to make those shifts and discouraging farming practices that are harmful to the environment and public health.

Increase Access to Nutritious Food

As you have noted, there are “too many empty chairs around the kitchen table because a loved one was taken by heart disease, diabetes, or other diet-oriented diseases,” and related health care costs continue to grow. Poor nutrition is now the leading cause of U.S. deaths—surpassing smoking—and racial inequities in our society frequently leave communities of color without access to nutritious foods. To reflect your values, the next Farm Bill must tackle this crisis by improving nutrition security, which your administration has defined as “consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable foods essential to optimal health and well-being” for all.

Ensure Safety and Dignity for Food and Farm Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of the 20 million food and farm workers declared essential to feeding our nation. To reflect your values, the next Farm Bill must invest substantially in the people who plant, harvest, process, transport, sell and serve our food, and administer our food programs, ensuring safety and a living wage along with access to health care, clean housing, and the right to organize and join a union. The next Farm Bill must protect food and farm workers from pesticides and extreme heat and strengthen the consequences for employers that endanger their workers. Also needed are new avenues to support the aspirations of farmworkers who wish to become farmers and access to citizenship for workers in the U.S. food chain that does not tie them to exploitative labor practices and systems.

Protect Farmers and Consumers

As you have said, “capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.” You have made competition in the U.S. economy a priority of your administration, and your Farm Bill can and must build on your efforts to promote competition in the food and agriculture sectors. Anti-competitive practices are harming small-scale farmers, workers and consumers; hollowing out rural communities; and damaging our environment. Your Farm Bill should acknowledge those forms of damage as central criteria in defining anti-competitive food and agriculture marketplaces, while increasing long-term investments in local and regional food processing and distribution. In that way, the Farm Bill can level the playing field for farmers and offer more and better choices to consumers.

Ensure the Safety of Our Food Supply

Thousands of people in our country die every year from foodborne illness, and millions more are sickened by pathogens in meat, poultry, produce and drinking water. Recent food safety failures have highlighted gaps in our food safety net that place consumers at unacceptable risks from pathogens. Your Farm Bill must do more to address pathogens that originate on factory farms and make the U.S. food supply safe for everyone.

President Biden, the undersigned organizations call on you to demand a transformative Farm Bill that fully reflects those values and that you can be proud to sign.

CC: 
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

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