Bringing a higher power to the Farm Bill debate

The Food and Farm Bill debate has already seen a wide range of input: farmers (American Farm Bureau, PDF), environmentalists (Environmental Defense), libertarians (Cato Institute), and anti-poverty organizations (Oxfam), to name a few. A while ago I pointed out a letter asking for increased Farm Bill funding that was signed by forty groups that normally don’t find much common ground (e.g., American Bird Conservancy, the National Corn Growers Association, Environmental Defense and National Potato Council).

And now a coalition of “faith communities and congregations” is joining the debate. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill includes representatives from Church World Service, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Oxfam America and Bread for the World. Why are these church getting involved in agricultural policy? There are quite a few reasons: American rural communities, American diets, and the American landscape.

But they are also looking beyond our borders — at cotton farmers in Africa, corn farmers in Mexico and other poor farmers around the world that are suffering because of U.S. agricultural subsidies. Massive subsidies for commodity crops like cotton and corn stimulate overproduction in the U.S. and cause their prices to drop throughout the world, devastating impoverished farmers in developing countries. In an ironic twist, international lending agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund often require developing nations to give up their internal subsidies (i.e., “do as we say, not as we do”) in order to obtain loans and grants. The PBS program NOW recently presented a balanced look at the issue of cotton subsidies, with the full episode available on-line.

According to the press release, the group plans to meet weekly with the goal of finding a common vision for the next Farm Bill. In addition, they plan to have discussions with members of Congress and their staff to get their ideas into the ears of Congress. Quite a few members of Congress are very open to associating with religious leaders these days, so I’m curious to see if they will be taken seriously. Unlike the agribusiness lobbyists, they won’t be bringing campaign contributions to the meetings, just righteous ideas and dedication.

The working group might be the tip of the iceberg. In mid-June, Bread for the World (an organization founded in 1972 that “seeks justice for the world’s hungry people” through lobbying, research and education) is expecting thousands to attend a national conference about hunger and poverty, with the Farm Bill certain to be on the agenda.

Image credit: Cotton photo from the USDA ARS Image Gallery.

2 Responsesto “Bringing a higher power to the Farm Bill debate”

  1. Dan Owens says:

    As an organizer who works on farm and rural policy, I can tell you that having Bread for the World, CWS, and all of the other members of the religious working group work is simply fantastic. Of all the groups I have worked with, none are better at conveying the message that policy -and the policy process- can and should be a reflection of our most fundamental societal values. This really helps get past all of the arcane jargon and policy wonkishness that surrounds the farm bill. I hope that this emphasis continues, and that all groups really see the disparate components of the farm bill as an integrated whole, from nutrition programs to conservation to rural development to commodities.

  2. Anthony says:

    I am working with the Farm and Food Policy Project. There is a new campaign to support healthy/fresh/local food in the 2007 Farm Bill. To contact your Congressman directly, go to