Policy Progress in Our Food System
Democratizing our food system is a heavy lift, but in just four months, the Farm Action team has made substantial progress towards actualizing this vision. In January, we released a transition paper for the Biden-Harris team titled “Build Back Better: Our Call to Action and Roadmap for Rural America” followed soon after by our Policy Recommendations to the 117th Congress. We hope you’ll join us to pause and reflect on the progress of the policies and people our political arm, Family Farm Action, has pushed for, and all that we have to look forward to.
Anti-Racist Food and Farm Policies
What happened: Our transition paper and policy recommendations pushed for the establishment of an equity commission to review all USDA programs. The commission would seek to understand all barriers that USDA programs present for people with historically marginalized racial, gender, ethnicity and LGBTQ+ identities. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden in March, included a provision in section 1006 that provides funding for the establishment of an equity commission to examine barriers based on race.
Why it matters: The USDA has a history of discrimination, in trying to take the first steps to move forward from this, an equity commission is necessary to paint a full picture of where programs were in terms of discrimination, where they are now, and how they should move forward.
What happened: We recommended that Biden revoke line speed waivers at slaughter facilities and suspend the implementation of the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System. On January 22nd, Biden withdrew Trump’s executive order that had increased the maximum line speeds at poultry processing plants nationwide. On March 11th, Senator Cory Booker and Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Bennie Thompson introduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act of 2021 in both chambers of Congress.
Why it matters: Increased line speeds in slaughtering facilities pose a threat to worker safety and BIPOC make up a disproportionate amount of meatpacking line workers. Slower line speeds signal that the federal government is prioritizing the health of these groups over corporate profits.
What happened: We recommended that Congress pass the Justice for Black Farmers Act, and, in the meantime, include the act’s provisions in the latest stimulus package. The Justice for Black Farmers Act was reintroduced in the Senate and House this February. Multiple provisions from the act were included in section 1006 of the American Rescue Act, signed into law by President Biden in late March. The American Rescue Act also included provisions from the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, a bill endorsed by Family Farm Action but introduced after the release of our transition paper and policy recommendations.
Why it matters: We cannot wait to begin to tackle systemic racism and discrimination in the agrifood system. It is time to take the steps necessary to right the injustices that Black farmers have faced in our country, including discrimination within local, state, and federal government, that has stripped them of the opportunity to farm and to thrive.
Prioritizing Local and Regional Food Systems
What happened: We called on the Biden Administration and Congress to prioritize local and regional food systems, suggesting they start by contracting small and mid size farms to supply food for federal institutions. In March, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed into law, including provisions for an additional food box program.
Why it matters: Resiliency in our food system hinges on the health of local and regional food systems. Local and regional farmers already strive to serve their communities. By purchasing from those farmers, the federal government can assure more families are accessing food grown in their own communities while taking funding away from agribusiness monopolies who currently dominate the current food-contracting landscape.
What happened: We recommended the enactment of provisions from the Strengthening Local Processing Act (SLPA) that support smaller processing plants and BIPOC. The SLPA provides grants, increased funding to state meat inspection programs, and safety and technical assistance for small plant operators and employees. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 did broadly include provisions in section 1001 for smaller processors and food service businesses. Supports specifically for BIPOC owned processing operations were not included in the Rescue Plan Act. Farm Action has submitted comments urging the American Rescue Plan to include more language from the SLPA, like additional COVID relief, BIPOC specific funding, and support programs and simple verification processes that would remove barriers for qualified processors.
Why it matters: Small processors are necessary for livestock farmers and ranchers to stay afloat. Their success lays the foundations for self-reliant local and regional food systems. BIPOC farmers and ranchers are disproportionately being pushed out of the market by monopoly meatpackers. In order to construct a food system where all have the right to share in the prosperity they’ve helped build, BIPOC operations must be intentionally uplifted, because they are being disproportionately harmed.
Curbing Globalized Concentration
What happened: We asked that a federal commission be established to examine the current state of agrifood concentration and its consequences. The commission would recommend how to best change antitrust and other Federal laws to build a fair and competitive marketplace for independent farmers, ranchers, processors, and their communities. In February, Senator Klobuchar introduced the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act, which authorized several federal agencies to review and report on various aspects of market concentration. The Senator’s legislation contains some of the strongest antitrust provisions Congress has seen in decades.
Why it matters: It has been too long since comprehensive antitrust laws have been passed, since then we have seen the rise of unprecedented monopoly power in the agrifood industry and beyond. This legislation is a historic step towards curbing monopolies and building a more just, democratized food system.
Transitioning to a Just and Resilient Food System
What happened: We asked Congress to pass the Climate Stewardship Act. The Farm Action team had worked closely with Senator Booker in formulating the original legislation which was filed in 2019. This April, Senators Booker and Gillibrand and Representative Spanberger introduced the act in the Senate and House respectively.
Why it matters: Family Farm Action Alliance’s president Joe Maxwell said it best: “The United States spends over 25 billion dollars a year in farm subsidies. The majority of these taxpayer dollars are going to prop up a failed industrial monoculture farm system that is simply not ecologically nor financially sustainable. It is time we invest in agriculture practices that benefit the farmer while contributing to climate change solutions. That is exactly what the Climate Stewardship Act does.”
What happened: We asked that Congress enact provisions outlined in the Agriculture Resilience Act, including increasing mandatory funding to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and amending the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 to establish: 1) Long-Term Agroecological Research Network, and 2) regional hubs for risk adaptation and mitigation for climate change. In April, the Agriculture Resilience Act was introduced in the House and Senate by Representative Pingree and Senator Heinrich.
Why it matters: The Agriculture Resilience Act goes the extra step to explicitly incentivize pasture raised livestock, and positions the farmer-led research agencies to be well-funded and carry out a regional approach to agricultural research.
People for Progress in Our Food System
Family Farm Action recognized that the new Biden administration bore the potential to bring movement to policy for a more just food system. For decades, abusive monopolies have cowed progressive food system policies into stagnation as monopolies continue to extract wealth and opportunities from rural areas. Corporate abuses have been felt deepest by people of color and Family Farm Action is proud that the appointments we have championed represent a diverse group of people who have what it takes to bring about reconciliation for centuries of discrimination.
We are grateful to our Family Farm Action chair Lilian Solerno for leading our efforts in promoting qualified diverse individuals to important positions, and thank our partners and the Biden Administration for promoting and appointing people who will help this country Build Back Better.
Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (MORE)