Policy Progress in Our Food System
Democratizing our food system is a heavy lift, but in just four months, the Farm Action team has made substantial progress toward actualizing this vision. In January, we released a transition paper for the Biden-Harris team titled Build Back Better: Our Call to Action and Roadmap for Rural America, followed soon after by our Policy Recommendations to the 117th Congress. We hope you’ll join us to pause and reflect on the progress of the policies and people our political arm, Farm Action Fund, has pushed for, and all that we have to look forward to.
Anti-Racist Food and Farm Policies
What happened: Our transition paper and policy recommendations pushed for the establishment of an equity commission to review all USDA programs. The commission would seek to understand all barriers that USDA programs present for people with historically marginalized racial, gender, ethnicity and LGBTQ+ identities. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden in March, included a provision in section 1006 that provides funding for the establishment of an equity commission to examine barriers based on race.
Why it matters: The USDA has a history of discrimination. In trying to take the first steps to move forward from this, an equity commission is necessary to paint a full picture of where programs were in terms of discrimination, where they are now, and how they should move forward.
What happened: We recommended that Biden revoke line speed waivers at slaughter facilities and suspend the implementation of the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System. On January 22nd, Biden withdrew Trump’s executive order that had increased the maximum line speeds at poultry processing plants nationwide. On March 11th, Senator Cory Booker and Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Bennie Thompson introduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act of 2021 in both chambers of Congress.
Why it matters: Increased line speeds in slaughtering facilities pose a threat to worker safety and BIPOC workers make up a disproportionate amount of meatpacking line workers. Slower line speeds signal that the federal government is prioritizing the health of these groups over corporate profits.
What happened: We recommended that Congress pass the Justice for Black Farmers Act, and, in the meantime, include the act’s provisions in the latest stimulus package. The Justice for Black Farmers Act was reintroduced in the Senate and House this February. Multiple provisions from the act were included in section 1006 of the American Rescue Act, signed into law by President Biden in late March. The American Rescue Act also included provisions from the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, a bill endorsed by Farm Action Fund but introduced after the release of our transition paper and policy recommendations.
Why it matters: We cannot wait to begin to tackle systemic racism and discrimination in the agrifood system. It is time to take the steps necessary to right the injustices that Black farmers have faced in our country, including discrimination within local, state, and federal government, that has stripped them of the opportunity to farm and to thrive.
Prioritizing Local and Regional Food Systems
What happened: We called on the Biden Administration and Congress to prioritize local and regional food systems, suggesting they start by contracting small and mid-size farms to supply food for federal institutions. In March, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed into law, including provisions for an additional food box program.
Why it matters: Resiliency in our food system hinges on the health of local and regional food systems. Local and regional farmers already strive to serve their communities. By purchasing from those farmers, the federal government can assure more families are accessing food grown in their own communities while taking funding away from agribusiness monopolies who currently dominate the current food-contracting landscape.
What happened: We recommended the enactment of provisions from the Strengthening Local Processing Act (SLPA) that support smaller processing plants and BIPOC producers. The SLPA provides grants, increased funding to state meat inspection programs, and safety and technical assistance for small plant operators and employees. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 did broadly include provisions in section 1001 for smaller processors and food service businesses. Supports specifically for BIPOC-owned processing operations were not included in the Rescue Plan Act. We have submitted comments urging the American Rescue Plan to include more language from the SLPA, like additional COVID relief, BIPOC-specific funding, and support programs and simple verification processes that would remove barriers for qualified processors.
Why it matters: Small processors are necessary for livestock farmers and ranchers to stay afloat. Their success lays the foundations for self-reliant local and regional food systems. BIPOC farmers and ranchers are disproportionately being pushed out of the market by monopoly meatpackers. In order to construct a food system where all have the right to share in the prosperity they’ve helped build, BIPOC operations must be intentionally uplifted, because they are being disproportionately harmed.
Curbing Globalized Concentration
What happened: We asked that a federal commission be established to examine the current state of agrifood concentration and its consequences. The commission would recommend how to best change antitrust and other federal laws to build a fair and competitive marketplace for independent farmers, ranchers, processors, and their communities. In February, Senator Klobuchar introduced the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act, which authorized several federal agencies to review and report on various aspects of market concentration. The Senator’s legislation contains some of the strongest antitrust provisions Congress has seen in decades.
Why it matters: It has been too long since comprehensive antitrust laws have been passed and adequately enforced. Since then we have seen the rise of unprecedented monopoly power in the agrifood industry and beyond. This legislation is a historic step towards curbing monopolies and building a more just, democratized food system.
Transitioning to a Just and Resilient Food System
What happened: We asked Congress to pass the Climate Stewardship Act. The Farm Action team had worked closely with Senator Booker in formulating the original legislation which was filed in 2019. This April, Senators Booker and Gillibrand and Representative Spanberger introduced the act in the Senate and House respectively.
Why it matters: Farm Action’s president Joe Maxwell said it best: “The United States spends over 25 billion dollars a year in farm subsidies. The majority of these taxpayer dollars are going to prop up a failed industrial monoculture farm system that is simply not ecologically nor financially sustainable. It is time we invest in agriculture practices that benefit the farmer while contributing to climate change solutions. That is exactly what the Climate Stewardship Act does.”
What happened: We asked that Congress enact provisions outlined in the Agriculture Resilience Act, including increasing mandatory funding to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and amending the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 to establish: 1) Long-Term Agroecological Research Network, and 2) regional hubs for risk adaptation and mitigation for climate change. In April, the Agriculture Resilience Act was introduced in the House and Senate by Representative Pingree and Senator Heinrich.
Why it matters: The Agriculture Resilience Act goes the extra step to explicitly incentivize pasture raised livestock, and positions the farmer-led research agencies to be well-funded and carry out a regional approach to agricultural research.
People for Progress in Our Food System
Farm Action Fund recognized that the new Biden administration bore the potential to bring movement to policy for a more just food system. For decades, abusive monopolies have cowed progressive food system policies into stagnation as monopolies continue to extract wealth and opportunities from rural areas. Corporate abuses have been felt deepest by people of color, and Farm Action Fund is pleased that the appointments we have championed a diverse group of people who have what it takes to bring about reconciliation for centuries of discrimination.
We are grateful to our Farm Action Fund chair Lilian Salerno for leading our efforts in promoting qualified diverse individuals to important positions, and thank our partners and the Biden Administration for promoting and appointing people who will help this country Build Back Better.
Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary Fudge has a long history of public service as a mayor and member of Congress (OH-11). She brings a much-needed level of experience and knowledge to a Department in desperate need of reform during a time of economic hardship. During her time in Congress, Secretary Fudge was a member and leader of several caucuses, including the Congressional Black Caucus and House Agriculture Committee. During her time as chair of the nutrition subcommittee, she was a well-known consensus builder, willing to reach across political divides to deliver results for the American public. We believe Secretary Fudge has the experience and skill set needed to build a bridge between urban and rural America while leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
Secretary Haaland has been, and will continue to be, a champion for rural communities and equitable rural economic development. Farm Action Fund recognized Senator Haaland’s potential as a national leader in 2018, and was the first major farm group to endorse Secretary Haaland during her bid for congress. During her time in Congress, she was a sponsor of trailblazing legislation such as the Climate Stewardship Act and a Farmers Bill of Rights. As a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, she is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet Secretary in our nation’s history. We look forward to supporting her as the head of the Department of Interior in her efforts to protect and improve our public lands and rural areas as she serves in the Biden Administration.
Kumar Chandran, Senior Advisor, Nutrition, in the Office of the Secretary, USDA
Chandran most recently led the Washington D.C. office of FoodCorps as their Policy Director. Prior to that, he served as Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in the Obama Administration and worked at the national nonprofit Share Our Strength. Chandran’s deep understanding of food and nutrition policy, and dedication to nutritional equity for marginalized communities will bring strong insights and leadership to the Office of the Secretary.
Eyang Garrison, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Deputy Secretary
Before joining the USDA, Garrison served as the Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio. She previously held roles at USDA, like Program Analyst for the Food and Nutrition Service, and Legislative Analyst in the Office of Congressional Relations. Outside of the USDA, she worked as a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst for the Food Research and Action Center and as a Legislative Assistant for Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin. Far too often, USDA’s agriculture and nutrition policies are developed in isolation. Garrison’s broad understanding of both agriculture and nutrition make her a valuable resource in the office of Deputy Secretary.
Zach Ducheneaux, Administrator of the Farm Service Agency
Zach Ducheneaux is the former Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the largest, longest-standing Native American agriculture organization in the United States. The Council represents all Federally Recognized Tribes and serves 80,000 Native American producers. Since serving with the council for almost three decades, Ducheneaux has taken on various leadership roles including tribal council representative for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Throughout his career, Ducheneaux has educated people about the importance of improving our food system, and how food policy can be leveraged to address the ongoing social and economic challenges Native Americans are facing. Ducheneaux operates his family’s ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north-central South Dakota with his brothers. Through his unique experience working with tribal communities and intimate understanding of the barriers farmers of color face when accessing financial resources, Ducheneaux will be able to dismantle the roadblocks that have denied Native Americans fair and equitable access to USDA programs.
Janie Simms Hipp, USDA General Counsel
Janie Simms Hipp, J.D., LL.M, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, grew up in a small southeast Oklahoma community. In the 1980s, she began her legal career, advocating for farmers and ranchers in the midst of a tumultuous farm financial crisis unrivaled since the Great Depression. Hipp established a national presence as a farmer and rancher advocate while serving within the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office. Following this, Hipp earned an LLM in Agriculture Law from the University of Arkansas, joining what was to become a new specialization focusing on the legal complexities of agriculture. Hipp continued to work with farmers, ranchers and food businesses across the U.S. She spent decades teaching agricultural law and food policy and authored numerous domestic publications on agriculture and nutrition law. Her work expands to international engagement on matters related to food policy. Hipp is positioned to bring her decades of legal expertise and advocacy to the USDA to advocate for all farmers and ranchers in an age of unprecedented consolidation.
Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary at USDA
Dr. Jewel Bronaugh has served as the commissioner for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services since 2018. Prior to this, she served as the state’s executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency and the dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University. Dr. Bronaugh holds a Doctorate Degree in Career and Technical Education from Virginia Tech University. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to serve as the Deputy Secretary. Bronaugh’s varied career experiences position her to work effectively with states, universities, and colleges in leveraging the USDA’s resources and serving the American people.
Monica Rainge, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Monica Rainge is an agricultural lawyer and mediator. She has worked in multiple agricultural sectors doing public and private mediation for more than 25 years. Most recently, Rainge served as the Director of Land Retention and Advocacy at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. There, she led the development and management of outreach and technical assistance programs that supported regional land retention and advocacy initiatives for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Rainge’s diverse skill set and knowledge of agricultural policy make her an ideal candidate to further the civil rights of farmers and ranchers in the agrifood system.
Katharine Ferguson, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Secretary
Katharine Ferguson has experience working on issues from racial equity, community economic development, conservation, food and agriculture, public health, and nutrition. Most recently, she served as Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group. Before this role, Ferguson served as Chief of Staff for the Obama Administration’s White House Domestic Policy Council and Rural Development at USDA. Ferguson has also worked on the Senate Agriculture Committee and as staff to several U.S. Senators. There is simply no one better than Ferguson to fill this vital role and have the ear of the Secretary. Her deep knowledge of food and agriculture policy, past experience working with the White House and USDA, and talent in listening and collaboration, will serve all people.
Lina Khan, Federal Trade Commission
Lina Khan is a leading scholar and voice in antitrust with a bold legal and policy vision for protecting farmers and ranchers, workers, small farms and businesses, and bolstering an economy where all have a right to share in the prosperity they help build. In a letter to support Khan’s confirmation into the role of FTC commissioner, a coalition of 33 food and farm organizations, led by Farm Action Fund, agreed that “Khan distinctly realizes addressing concentrated power in agriculture and labor is dire to protect all farmers, ranchers, and workers, especially those who are socially disadvantaged, limited-resource, or smaller-scale.” As a leading federal antitrust agency, FTC has been in need of a true anti-monopoly champion for many years. Lina Khan is that champion we have been hoping for. She has the ability to take former FTC Commissioner Chopra’s antitrust work to the next level.
Andy Green, USDA Senior Advisor for Fair and Competitive Markets
Green brings an extensive market career history to this newly formed position. Before accepting this, Green was a fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), serving as the Managing Director of Economic Policy. Prior to joining CAP, Andy was counsel to Kara Stein, a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) commissioner. While at the SEC, his priority areas of responsibility included implementing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. He was also a former aide to Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. During the Biden administration transition, he served on the Treasury Department team. Throughout his career, Green has demonstrated his well reasoned and thoughtful approach to economic change in this country. The Secretary would be wise to listen to his senior advisor.
Rohit Chopra, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Rohit Chopra has provided long standing support for fairness in the agrifood system. As a commissioner at the FTC, he continuously fought to reign in corporate monopolies and create a more just, inclusive economy. The recent elevation of Chopra to the position of Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau gives him the opportunity to continue to fight for fairness in the agrifood system and beyond. In his previous positions, Chopra has proven he will not back down when taking on corporate power. That is what we need in the agency protecting all of us against the abuses within the financial sector.
Written by Anna Straus; designed and edited by Angela Huffman; concept developed by Joe Maxwell, Angela Huffman, and Anna Straus.