Coalition urges Biden to demand farm bill to ‘reflect your values’

A coalition of more than 160 groups not usually associated with major farm bill policymaking will send a letter to President Biden todayk, Sept. 13, urging him to demand that Congress pass a farm bill to “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.”

The letter was written by a dozen nutrition, farming, labor, rural development, equity, and climate groups and sent to more than 150 groups that agreed to sign it.

Ricardo Salvador, the senior scientist and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Food & Environment Program, said that the groups consider Biden and his administration to be “friendly.”

The point of the letter, he said, is to urge Biden and other officials to maintain their policies on matters such as infrastructure, enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, increasing competition, and climate change, and to insist that Congress provide the resources to continue and expand those efforts.

Salvador also said the coalition has been established and the letter written with the intent of solidifying the coalition as the farm bill debate begins. He said the coalition wants to make the point to the administration before it becomes immersed in the midterm elections.

“President Biden has shown a deep understanding of the urgency of confronting the challenges facing our country — including the climate crisis, racial injustice and economic insecurity — and how transforming our food and farm system into one that is more resilient, equitable and sustainable is key to meeting those challenges,” Salvador said in a news release.

“The farm bill offers a path to build on the historic investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, boost key administrative actions already taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and advance the president’s values.”

USDA has such a history of catering primarily to agribusiness and not to frontline workers that “a lot of folks” in these groups “are having to adjust to realize we have a friendly administration here,” Salvador added in an interview.

He said the coalition recognizes that the farm bill “is a congressional vehicle,” but added “it is the president who needs to sign the final bill.”

Salvador also said he is under no illusion that the coalition’s advocacy will mean the farm bill does not include the traditional programs that major farm, commodity and meat groups support, but believes the president can insist that it include other values as well.

Salvador said a dozen groups began meeting in 2020 to discuss the farm bill and that their efforts were intensified by the inequities that became apparent during the coronavirus pandemic and the current inflationary period.

The original 12 groups that agreed on the letter that was sent to the other 150 groups are:

▪ Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

▪ Center for Science in the Public Interest

▪ Fair Food Network

▪ Farm Action

▪ Food Chain Workers Alliance

▪ Good Food For All Coalition

▪ Health, Environment, Agriculture and Labor (HEAL) Food Alliance

▪ National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

▪ Pesticide Action Network

▪ Rural Coalition

▪ Union of Concerned Scientists

▪ United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

The letter outlines what the coalition calls “seven crucial values,” but says the top priority is that the farm bill must be a “racial justice bill.”

Although Latino, Black, Native American and Asian farmers together make up only about 7.7% of the 3.4 million farmers in the country, the initial 12 groups believed that the issue is so important it should be listed first, Salvador said. The various minority groups have differing perspectives on racial justice depending on the group’s history, but all believe that their problems began with historical discrimination, he added.

The letter does not list specific program objectives but in addition to racial justice includes the following “values:”

▪ “End Hunger

▪ “Meet the Climate Crisis Head On

▪ “Increase Access to Healthy Food

▪ “Ensure Safety and Dignity for Food and Farm Workers

▪ “Protect Farmers and Consumers

▪ “Ensure the Safety of Our Food Supply”

Salvador acknowledged that the letter does not address women’s issues specifically, but said the leaders of many of the groups that signed the letter are women and that their interests are reflected in the list of values.

He pointed out that while most of the groups that signed the letter are small, the later signers include the ALF-CIO and other labor unions and larger environmental groups.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union President Marc Perrone explained labor’s interest in this farm bill.

“The farm bill is a pivotal piece of legislation that impacts hundreds of thousands of workers along our nation’s food chain,” Perrone said in the news release.

“As America’s largest private sector union, representing essential workers across the food processing and manufacturing, grocery retail, and farming, it has been the priority of the UFCW to protect and improve the lives of the workers who make our food and farming systems run. Too often, workers across these industries take a backseat to employer profit, but there is an opportunity with this year’s reauthorization of the farm bill to change that.

“Today, the UFCW — alongside this broad coalition of groups and every worker who is ready to fight for a better life — is calling on President Biden to fight for a transformational farm bill that prioritizes America’s workers.”


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