Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
As Catholic bishops, pastors, and teachers, we seek to address agriculture through the lens of our faith because so much is at stake in moral and human terms. Food sustains life itself; it is not just another product. Providing food for all is a Gospel imperative, not just another policy choice. For many, farming is a way of life, not just another business or industry. Agriculture is the way farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers provide a decent life for their families and help feed a hungry world. It is not just another economic activity.
Responding in Faith, Criteria for Agricultural Policy and Advocacy
II. Providing a Safe, Affordable, and Sustainable Food Supply.
Agricultural systems in the United States have been remarkably successful in providing sufficient, safe, and affordable food for consumers. These strengths should be directed toward serving better the needs and interests of hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad. Caring for land and water resources has become an increasingly important focus within U.S. agriculture.
Farmers should expand the use of environmentally sustainable methods so that farmland in the United States can provide food for generations to come. We are concerned that as a society we continue to lose productive farm land for development as communities and transportation expand. In other parts of the world, agricultural and food supply systems also need to be strengthened. An important measure of international trade and agricultural policies should be how they promote safe and affordable food and sustainable, environmentally sound farming practices.
III. Protecting God’s Creation.
Care for God’s creation is a central calling for believers. Agricultural and food policies should reward practices that protect human life, encourage soil conservation, improve water quality, protect wildlife, and maintain the diversity of the ecosystem. An essential measure of agricultural and food policies is whether they protect the environment and its diversity and promote sustainable agricultural practices in the United States and abroad.
Catholic Social Teaching and Agriculture
IV. Respect for Creation
All creation is a gift. Scripture tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it holds” (Ps 24:1). All of us, especially those closest to the land, are called to a special reverence and respect for God’s creation. Nurturing and tilling the soil, harnessing the power of water to grow food, and caring for animals are forms of this stewardship. The Church has repeatedly taught that the misuse of God’s creation betrays the gift God has given us for the good of the entire human family. While rural communities are uniquely dependent on land, water, and weather, stewardship is a responsibility of our entire society.
A Catholic Agenda for Action: Pursuing a More Just Agricultural System:
V. Stewardship of Creation
Protecting God’s creation must be a central goal of agricultural policies. We support policies that promote soil conservation, improve water quality, protect wildlife, and maintain biodiversity. Government resources should be targeted to farms and ranches that practice environmentally sound agriculture. We urge farmers to minimize their use of pesticides and other chemicals and, where they are used, to take strong measures to protect themselves, agricultural workers, and their families from exposure. Farmworkers who may be exposed to these hazards need greater access to information to prevent and treat exposure. Government policies and regulations should seek to reduce the use of toxic pesticides and promote safer alternatives. When farmworkers or their families are injured or become ill due to exposure, adequate health care and benefits should be made available.
Catholic teaching about the stewardship of creation leads us to question certain farming practices, such as the operation of massive confined animal feeding operations. We believe that these operations should be carefully regulated and monitored so that environmental risks are minimized and animals are treated as creatures of God.
Another important concern is the practice of focusing large acreages on one crop or a few strains of a crop. While economies of scale are associated with this practice, so are environmental risks. Unless managed properly, this limited approach to production can lead to depletion of the soil and destruction of fertile lands. This practice should be carefully assessed in light of its environmental impacts.
For additional information on Catholic perspectives, activities, and programs related to Food and Agriculture: