The stability and resilience of the U.S. food system depends on the 21.5 million people who plant, harvest, process, transport, sell and serve our food. In a new letter to members of Congress responsible for negotiating the next Food and Farm Bill, more than 100 organizations called for a bill that protects food and farmworkers, making the point that attention to their wellbeing would help ensure the safety and resilience of the nation’s food system. The signers included groups representing farmers, food and farmworkers, labor, rural interests, agriculture and environmental organizations.
The letter, sent today to Senate and House Agriculture Committee Leadership Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.), Chairman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Pa) and Ranking Member David Scott (D-Ga.), called on the committee leaders to include the following provisions in the next Food and Farm Bill:
- establishment of a Farmworker and Food Chain Worker Office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure USDA prioritizes farmworkers and food chain workers as a core constituency;
- funding to help farmworkers prepare for and recover from disruptions to the food and farm economy, such as pandemics and extreme weather;
- increased federal investment in public research programs to better understand and reduce risks to farmworker health and safety;
- increased protections for meatpacking workers, whose jobs were among the nation’s most dangerous even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit meat and poultry plants hard;
- improved access to federal food assistance programs for food and farmworkers, who consistently have some of the highest rates of food insecurity;
- new standards for USDA food procurement contracts that ensure a living wage for workers; and
- policies that create new pathways for farmworkers to become farm owners.
Farmworkers in particular are exposed to health and safety risks from toxic pesticides, extreme heat and dangerous work environments in the course of their work underpinning a U.S. food and agriculture industry that was valued at $1.264 trillion in 2021. Agriculture has one of the highest fatal occupational injury rates in the nation, and farmworkers die of heat-related causes at roughly 20 times the rate of workers in other civilian jobs. Risks facing farmworkers are growing under climate change, as hotter and more extreme weather increases the risk of heat stress, exposure to wildfire smoke, toxic pesticides and economic insecurity. Low wages, lack of legal protections and insufficient access to health care leave farmworkers uniquely vulnerable to food insecurity, violence, exploitation, and poor health.