Catholic leaders call for farming policies that help poor
A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting in the Salinas Valley of Calif. on June 16, 2011. Credit: USDA Photo-Lance Cheung.
A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting in the Salinas Valley of Calif. on June 16, 2011. Credit: USDA Photo-Lance Cheung.
By Michelle Bauman
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.- Leaders of multiple Catholic organizations are asking a U.S. Senate committee to develop legislation that serves the needs of the poor and hungry, helps vulnerable farming communities and encourages sustainable stewardship of natural resources.

“Food production is unique because it is necessary for life itself,” said the Catholic leaders. “Catholic teaching maintains that food is a basic need and a fundamental right of the human person.”

The March 6 letter to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry addressed possible changes to U.S. policy for food and agriculture that the committee is considering as it holds hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill.

Bishops Stephen E. Blaire and Richard E. Pates and other Catholic leaders observed that the bill will have a particularly strong impact on the poor, as well as those who are “struggling to keep farming a viable way of life.”

The letter was also signed by Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services; and Mr. James F. Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

In their letter, they outlined priorities to consider that would help provide for the poor and hungry, offer support to farms that are truly in need, and encourage stewardship of the nation’s resources.

Agricultural policy should strive to ensure that food is provided for all and to reduce poverty on farms in America and around the world, they said.

The signatories called on the senators to address the demands of domestic hunger and nutrition - particularly during the current period of high unemployment and a struggling economy - through food assistance programs for those in need. 

They also asked that sufficient resources be put aside for both emergency food assistance and development aid abroad. They encouraged the legislators to consider the continuation of international programs to fight hunger, provide nutrition to those living in poverty and build resilience against natural disasters such as drought.

In addition, the Catholic leaders voiced support for full funding of “conservation initiatives that promote stewardship of the land and environmentally sound agriculture practices.”

They promoted programs that offer incentives and technical aid for farmers to implement practices to cultivate clean air, water and wildlife habitats.

Emphasizing “the public health benefits of improving water and air quality,” they also welcomed consideration of easement programs to preserve the nation’s “abundant natural resources.”

Financial aid for poor farmers was also on the Catholic leaders’ list of priorities. They acknowledged a need for “shared sacrifice” in “times of financial hardship,” and said that government resources should support those who “truly need assistance” and are willing to utilize “environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices.”

Due to budget limitations and the high price of commodities, they suggested that the overall level of agricultural subsidies be reduced and sent to smaller farms, particularly those owned by minorities.

Furthermore, they said, programs and policies should promote the development and well-being of rural communities and small towns, which they described as “the backbone of the social and economic life of America.”

In particular, they voiced support for Value-Added Producer grants, which aid small and mid-sized farms and ranches, as well as those that are socially disadvantaged and just starting out.

They also spoke in favor of the Rural Micro-Entrepreneur Assistance Program and access to broad-band telecommunications services, which they called “essential tools” for farmers and ranchers.

The bishops and other Catholic leaders welcomed the 2012 Farm Bill as “an opportunity to address our nation’s broken and outdated agricultural policies.”

They said that the present moment is “a crucial time to build a more just framework” of policies that promote the common good by helping those in need and encouraging sustainable stewardship.

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