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Letter on Agricultural Subsidies

 

April 1, 2005

The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
Chairman
Senate Finance Committee
Senate Dirksen Building
Room 219
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we are writing to welcome and support the introduction of S. 385, the Rural America Preservation Act. It is our understanding that the bill proposes to place a real limit on the amount of direct federal funding any single entity can receive and to close loopholes that currently allow the largest farms to receive massive government payments.

As Pastors, we are motivated by a moral vision that focuses concern on the poor and the vulnerable, and thus requires the just allocation of limited resources for the common good. The USCCB is in favor of targeting direct federal assistance to those who need it most and placing reasonable limits on agricultural commodity payments. In our 2003 pastoral statement, For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers, the bishops specifically addressed this issue: Limited government resources for subsidies and other forms of support should be targeted to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority-owned farms, to help them through difficult times caused by changes in global agricultural markets or weather patterns that destroy crops. Agricultural subsidies often go to a few large producers, while smaller family farms struggle to survive. Rather than simply rewarding production, which can lead to surpluses and falling prices, government resources should reward environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices. Although agricultural subsidies were originally created to help poor farmers during the depression era, the unfortunate reality today is that most of the subsidies do not go to struggling farmers. Instead, millions in annual subsidies encourage the largest farms to overproduce, depressing crop prices and threatening the livelihood of small and medium-sized family farms in the U.S. and around the world.

While the legislation you have introduced is directed towards the rural community in the United States, we are also mindful that in an era of globalization, decisions made by the United States can affect the ability of poor farmers and farm workers in Central America, Africa and Asia to earn a living and to feed their families. For this reason, our Pastoral Statement also refers to the international consequences of U.S. farm supports, and their impact on the ability of poor farmers around the world to receive a decent price for their products and to support their families. It states: Current U.S. and European subsidies, supports, tariffs, quotas, and other barriers that undermine market access for poorer countries should be substantially reduced and should be focused on policies that minimize the direct effects on the price of agricultural goods. As the United States continues its role in the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, we encourage you to be mindful of the words of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who in his Labor Day Statement of 2004 urged leaders to “look at trade policies from the bottom-up—how they touch the lives of the poorest families and most vulnerable workers in our own country and around the world.”

Again Mr. Chairman, thank you for your efforts on this important issue. We look forward to working with you to reform farm programs and help sustain family farmers and rural communities both here and abroad.

Sincerely,

Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D, D.D.
Bishop of Brooklyn
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee

Most Revered John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, International Policy Committee

 


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