Says one panelist: ‘The faith community’s voice has always been important to address these longstanding equity issues’
June 17, 2023
Interfaith Power & Light, a partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), recently held a webinar exploring both the political and the faith-based aspects of the Farm Bill, which expires Sept. 30 and is reauthorized every five years. Watch the hourlong forum here or here.
Karyn Bigelow, co-executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, put the question directly: Why should faith-based communities care about the Farm Bill, most of which goes to provide food assistance to people who need it, including students?
“There are faithful principles for the Farm Bill,” Bigelow said, adding that members of a coalition “have collectively come together as interfaith organizations to call on Congress to pass a Farm Bill that will support God’s people and the planet.”
Creation Justice Ministries uses five principles in which the first letter of each of the first five words together spell out “FAITH”:
- Frontline, BIPOC, elderly, youth and/or disabled communities must be centered in policy work.
- Accelerate the transition to a sustainable agriculture and food system that supports small- and medium-sized farm operations and local food economies.
- Invest in climate resilience and diversify crop insurance.
- Transform farm subsidies from supporting majority commodity crops to more specialty crops.
- Honor Creation through the protection of land, the elimination of food waste and the reduction of harmful farm practices that result in high greenhouse gas emissions.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group and an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown Law, said more than 80% of the Farm Bill goes to anti-hunger assistance programs, particularly the United States Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. About 11% goes to farm subsidies, with another 6% for conversation payments.
There are two kinds of subsidies: commodity subsidies for crops including corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice and peanuts, and crop insurance subsidies. Commodity subsidies are subject to payment limits, are means tested and are transparent. Crop insurance subsidies have none of those qualities, Faber said. Some large producers receive $1 million to help them buy crop insurance, “but we don’t know” who receives those subsidies, Faber said. “When your neighbor gets tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars [in subsidies], it creates an unfair playing field,” Faber said.
The top 1% of recipients receive $41 per acre to buy crop insurance, while the bottom 50% receive $22 per acre.
While many people, including members of Congress, argue the current system ought to be renewed in part because the United States is feeding the world, “in fact, farmers aren’t,” Faber said. “Where we do send food, we aren’t feeding the world. We send most of our food exports to wealthy countries,” Faber said. Most of that is animal feed. “We feed the wealthy, and it’s mostly meat and dairy or animal feed” so that other countries can produce their own meat and dairy.
Turning to the Farm Bill’s environmental considerations, Faber said the agricultural sector currently produces 11% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, most of it as nitrous oxide through fertilizer and animals and their waste. If things continue as they are, agriculture’s share of U.S. emissions will be 32% by 2050, the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s terrible news for the climate and for farmers,” Faber said.
The good news is that a recent analysis by Boston Consulting Group shows that helping farmers adopt good practices with fertilizing, feeding animals, storing waste and tilling the soil — Faber called them “a suite of well-known practices” — could “dramatically change the picture,” Faber said, reducing agriculture’s share of U.S. greenhouse gases to 21% by 2050.
Faith-based organizations might consider these their priorities in the coming months, Faber suggested:
- Protect SNAP, “the top of everybody’s list,” Faber said.
- Support family farmers in particular and limit subsidies to large producers.
- Protect the $19.5 billion in climate-smart funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act. Some members of Congress have proposed cutting that funding.
- Ensure that most conservation funding reduces greenhouse gases and builds soil carbon in the acres set aside from production under the Conservation Reserve Program.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Interfaith Power & Light
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O Lord, inspire us to make disciples of all nations and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what the circumstances may be. Amen.