Coalition Urges Biden to Change Approach to Global Food, Agriculture

A coalition of farmer and food justice advocates is urging the Biden administration to revamp its approach to international food and agricultural policy into one that breaks “with the U.S. government’s historical alignment with corporate agribusiness and neoliberal, unregulated trade orthodoxy.”

The letter — addressed to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Chargé d’Affaires ad interim to the United Nations agencies in Rome Jennifer Harhigh — was sent last week and is signed by nearly 70 groups including ActionAid USA, the National Family Farm Coalition, and Oxfam America.

Jim Goodman, board president of the National Family Farm Coalition, said in a statement that it’s time for a clear break from the agriculture policies under former President Donald Trump.

“The previous administration did everything possible to further entrench the stranglehold of corporate agribusiness over the world’s food supply by trampling worker rights and denying small scale farmers worldwide their right to grow the crops they wish, in the manner they wish to feed their own populations,” he said, adding, “We demand better from the Biden administration.”

Crucial to the overhaul, the groups said in their letter, is how the U.S. engages with the U.N.’s three Rome-based Agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP) — as well as the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), all of which are “critical spaces” to small-scale food producers.

“The CFS in particular,” the groups wrote, “addresses some of the most challenging and central issues facing rural communities, and develops policy guidelines and scientific research for national governments through an inclusive process that provides producers, workers, and other frontline constituencies an autonomous and institutionalized ‘seat at the table,’ therefore providing critical political legitimacy to this multilateral space.”

“For too long,” they added, “our constituencies’ needs and interests have been unrepresented, unsupported, and undermined by the U.S. government in these policy-making spaces, as the U.S. government has promoted a policy agenda that reflects the narrow interests of the corporate agribusiness sector.”

That was particularly true under the Trump administration, according to the coalition. From the letter:

Over the last four years, the U.S. delegation to the U.N. food and agriculture agencies has been openly defiant and obstructionist of the CFS policy processes, damaging not only the reputation of the United States but also the integrity of important global policy instruments. The Trump administration’s ambassador to the U.N. agencies for food and agriculture issues was particularly divisive, attacking civil society organizations, government representatives, and the U.N. itself, while U.S. officials undermined support for small-scale producers, local and regional markets, community food systems, ecologically-based farming, and human rights standards.

“This pro-corporate agriculture agenda must change under your watch,” the groups said.

The letter lays out a suite of recommendations, including for “the administration to articulate its commitment to advancing: food workers’ rights, as enshrined in ILO Convention 98; Indigenous People’s right to sovereignty and self-determination as enshrined by ILO Convention 169 and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); the rights of peasants and other rural peoples, as enshrined by the UN Declaration on Peasant Rights (UNDROP).”

Additional steps detailed for domestic and international action are for the administration to support racial justice in agriculture and to publicly support agroecology, which would help address the climate and biodiversity crises.

The U.S. government must also “refrain from trade challenges to other countries’ efforts to advance food sovereignty, the right to adequate food, biodiversity protection, and confront climate change.” The letter also calls for transparent, public disclosures of any engagement between corporate agribusiness representatives and U.S. officials.

Taking such steps for “transformative change,” the groups wrote, would help “protect our food systems from the climate and biodiversity crises and ensure an end to hunger globally.”