More than 50 organizations signed an open letter to Congress this week calling for stimulus funding to support independent, small, and mid-size farms, and farm and food production workers. Citing the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on these groups and the essential services they provide, the letter urged lawmakers to ensure assistance programs will benefit localized food systems, rather than industrial agribusiness.
The US$2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) stimulus package, signed into law March 26, includes US$23.5 billion for agriculture. Although the majority of farms in the United States are small family operations, the top 10 percent of farm industry earners have historically received over 75 percent of subsidies from the USDA and other programs.
Authors of the letter advise Congress to prioritize stimulus funding for groups most susceptible to economic downturns. This includes socially disadvantaged farmers, farmers of color, and those who have lost local and regional markets due to the pandemic. The letter calls for additional support, including the expansion of grant and loan programs, financial incentives, a moratorium on farm foreclosures, and technical assistance to expand sustainable, plant-based agriculture.
“Without [small farms and farm workers] the sustainability and security of our food system will be in grave danger,” said Stephanie Feldstein, Director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population and Sustainability program in a press release about the letter.
The Center and allies also advocate for essential benefits and workplace protections for farm workers and food production staff, who are putting their own health at risk to keep the American food chain running. Currently, factory farms and other industrial operations fail to provide adequate working conditions for workers during the pandemic.
Responding to a recent announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency, the letter urges lawmakers to oppose efforts to waive environmental regulations for industrial agriculture during the pandemic. Industrial livestock production, in particular, has been linked to the depletion of natural resources and zoonotic diseases, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Groups warn that violating existing regulations would pose a risk to public health and environment.
“Congress should reject the environmentally damaging and broken agenda of agribusiness,” said Mia MacDonald, Executive Director of the environmental think tank Brighter Green in the press release. This pandemic poses long-term consequences for food producers and workers. Investing in localized food systems and increasing the accessibility of sustainable, plant-based foods will ensure recovery and build resilience for future crises.