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Catholic Groups Say Agriculture Laws Should Aid Poor, Farmers (2602)

Catholic leaders say it is a crucial time to build a framework that puts poor and hungry people first, promotes sustainable stewardship of the land and helps vulnerable farmers and rural communities.

05/14/2013 Comment
USDA Photo/Lance Cheung

A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting in the Salinas Valley of California.

– USDA Photo/Lance Cheung

WASHINGTON — Leaders of several prominent Catholic institutions asked members of Congress to provide for the hungry, protect the interests of farmers and promote environmental stewardship with the 2013 Farm Bill.

“In the face of continuing budgetary constraints, the 2013 Farm Bill is an opportunity to address our nation’s broken and outdated agricultural policies,” they said.

“This is a crucial time to build a more just framework that puts poor and hungry people first, serves small and moderate-sized family farms, promotes sustainable stewardship of the land and helps vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries.”

In a May 9 letter sent to congressional agriculture committees, Catholic leaders urged the nation’s lawmakers to consider the needs of both farmers and the poor as they discuss proposed farming legislation.

Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, signed the letter in their role as U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee chairmen. Bishop Blaire heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, while Bishop Pates leads the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

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

The Farm Bill, passed approximately every five years, lays out the main agricultural policy for the United States. Current regulations are found in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, which runs through September 2013. New legislation will then replace that law.

The authors of the letter drew upon Catholic teaching, quoting a document from the U.S. bishops that states that the “primary goals of agriculture policies should be providing food for all people and reducing poverty among farmers and farmworkers in this country and abroad.”

In order to achieve these goals, the writers identified five top priorities for the bill: support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — to help the hungry; development of rural communities; continued funding for emergency aid and food security overseas; promotion of environmental conservation programs among farmers; and subsidies for famers “who truly need assistance” and engage in sustainable farming practices.

The signatories urged, “We ask that you support a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers and promotes stewardship of the land.”

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