For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: A Catholic Agenda for Action - Pursuing a More Just Agricultural System - Part 1

The Catholic community brings to our consideration of agricultural policies the teaching of our Church and the everyday experience of our community of faith in rural communities in the United States and abroad. In light of this teaching and experience, we reiterate the criteria for policies that shape our advocacy:

  • Do these policies help to overcome hunger and poverty?
  • Do they provide a safe, affordable, and sustainable food supply?
  • Do they ensure a just and decent life for farmers and farmworkers?
  • Do they sustain and strengthen rural communities?
  • Do they protect God’s creation?
  • Do those affected by agricultural policies have a real opportunity to participate in their development?
Our criteria lead us to focus attention on several key policy areas. We realize that taking positions on these issues involves prudential judgments and that people of good will may disagree about the application of Catholic principles to specific policies. We hope our reflections will encourage widespread discussion and dialogue on issues related to agriculture and their impact on human life, human dignity, and the common good.

U.S. Farmers and Farm Policies

Catholic teaching about the dignity of work insists that farmers must be able to support themselves and their families through their work. This means that they must be able to survive fluctuations in the market and the risks associated with production. We recognize the great pain and stress experienced when a family loses its farm, as so many have in recent years. Their loss is our loss.

Those who live and work in rural areas, especially those who have the fewest resources, depend on small towns to make the transactions of daily life possible without the expense and inconvenience of traveling long distances. For some rural communities to survive economically, there must be enough farm families in the surrounding area to support local businesses. The suffering that accompanies the loss of farms is paralleled by the pain of lost businesses and the struggles of small towns when concentration of the agricultural sector leads to fewer and fewer small and moderate-sized farms. We are concerned that the continuing concentration in the ownership of land and resources and in the marketing and distribution of food leaves control in the hands of too few and diminishes effective participation.

Policies and programs are needed that encourage rural development, promoting and maintaining the culture and values of rural communities. These should include policies that encourage a wide range of economic development strategies, especially by fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of rural people and investing in their education and training. They also should include policies that promote and support farming, support the efforts of farmers to establish co-ops and other cooperative ventures, and encourage widespread diversity in farm ownership. 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. Because of rising land prices, the cost of sophisticated equipment, and the difficulty of making a living, government resources are also needed to help new farmers and ranchers enter the field of agriculture.

Resources should be targeted towards research that helps smaller farms remain viable and promotes environmentally sound agriculture. Programs that provide affordable insurance protection are essential so that farm families can start again if crops fail. In the wholesale and retail sectors of the food supply system, we favor policies that promote greater competition so that farmers can receive a fair price for their goods.