Food and Farm Bill Proposals Must Prioritize Climate, Equity for Farmers and Workers 

Statement by Melissa Kaplan, Union of Concerned Scientists 

Published May 1, 2024

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Today, U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson (R-Pa.) released competing proposals for the 2024 food and farm bill. This legislation shapes the U.S. food system and covers everything from nutrition to conservation and crop insurance. The last food and farm bill expired in September 2023, and Congress passed a one-year extension shortly after to keep agricultural programs running until a new bill is signed into law. 

The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act, proposed but not yet introduced in full by Stabenow, critically protects climate-friendly guardrails around billions of dollars in investments from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that are intended to support farmers in being part of the climate solution.  Thompson’s proposal suggests removing those guardrails to allow funding to be used for practices with no demonstrated climate benefits.  

A truly sustainable agricultural system must include sustainable working conditions. A review of Stabenow’s proposal indicates that her bill would improve coordination across the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for food and farmworkers by reauthorizing and expanding the Farmworker Coordinator position and providing workers with support to withstand disruptions to the food and farm economy, whether from extreme weather or global pandemics.  

The proposal also includes provisions to create a more just and equitable food and farm system by increasing support for farmers who have been historically underserved or excluded from USDA support and services – namely Black farmers and ranchers, Indigenous producers and other farmers of color – and ensuring that all farmers, no matter their background, can compete and succeed. Thompson’s House proposal does not appear to contain any provisions to address the needs of workers or historically underserved farmers.  

Finally, the Senate proposal would protect modernization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure that food assistance reflects the true cost of a nutritious diet based on the latest scientific and dietary guidelines.  

Below is a statement by Melissa Kaplan, senior manager of government affairs in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists:  

“Farmers are increasingly impacted by extreme weather driven by climate change, and any final food and farm bill must help farmers become more resilient to climate impacts like increasingly severe droughts, extreme heat and flooding while also reducing agricultural emissions that are contributing to the climate crisis. Protecting and preserving Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding for climate-smart farming practices is critical and should not be up for discussion or negotiation. This isn’t a fringe issue – polls show that the public strongly supports programs that help farmers protect their farms from extreme weather, like those funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. 

“The public also supports protecting the workers who keep our country fed and helping people of color and young people succeed in agriculture. Senator Stabenow’s proposal takes important steps to rectify a history of exclusion and discrimination by addressing the unique barriers faced by historically underserved farmers and ranchers and finally recognizing food and farmworkers as a critical part of our agriculture and food system. Workers have been clear that they deserve a voice in the food and farm bill and in USDA policies that affect their workplaces and their lives. 

“A new food and farm bill provides an opportunity to create a food system that is more resilient in the face of extreme weather and climate change, is more sustainable for future generations, is more just and equitable for farmers and workers, and keeps people from going hungry. The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act appears to demonstrate a serious understanding and reckoning with the challenges facing our food and farm system, and the changes necessary to build a more sustainable, resilient and equitable food system that works for everyone. This proposal should be the starting point for all future conversations about the food and farm bill.”