U.S. farm, food and trade justice advocates call on Pres. Biden to end the pro-corporate agriculture agenda in U.S. international policy and work more collaboratively with partners at UN food agencies. This article was published in the November-December 2021 issue of NewsNotes.
On World Food Day (Oct. 13), the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and 66 other U.S. civil society, food producer, and environmental organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden expressing the urgent need to transform U.S. priorities at UN agencies addressing global food systems.
The U.S. farm, food and trade justice advocates urge Pres. Biden to “fundamentally reorient the U.S. government’s approach to global policy development on food and agriculture issues, breaking with the U.S. government’s historical alignment with corporate agribusiness and neoliberal, unregulated trade orthodoxy.” In particular, they call for the Biden administration to mandate a new policy direction for engagement with the three UN food and agriculture agencies based in Rome —the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP).
This reform is urgent, the letter says, and must “prioritize the rights and livelihoods of workers, food producers, and frontline communities, ensure food security through food sovereignty in the U.S. and abroad, while mitigating climate change, restoring biodiversity, and addressing corporate power in global food systems.”
Acknowledging the actions the Biden administration has taken to address failings of the corporate food sectors in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic – investing in local food systems and family-scale food providers, decentralizing food supply chains and the agricultural processing sector, strengthening competitiveness and anti-trust standards, and promoting racial equity in the U.S. food system – the advocates express dismay that the Biden administration’s efforts “have not extended beyond our national borders.”
The letter describes the Rome-based UN agencies as the places where “some of the most challenging and central issues facing rural communities” are addressed, and where policy guidelines for national governments are developed “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.”
Looking back at the four years under President Trump, the advocates describe the U.S. delegation to the UN food and agriculture agencies as “openly defiant and obstructionist” of the agencies’ policy processes, damaging “not only the reputation of the United States but also the integrity of important global policy instruments.” They conclude, “[t]his pro-corporate agriculture agenda must change under your watch.”
In-line with the Biden administration’s public commitments on human and worker rights, racial and gender justice, trade reform, and addressing the climate crisis, the advocates call on Pres. Biden to adopt new commitments when engaging with the UN agencies:
Human rights: Articulate a commitment to advancing food workers’ rights, Indigenous People’s right to sovereignty and self-determination, and the rights of peasants and other rural peoples. Also, work with Congress to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (which enshrines the Right to Adequate Food, Right to Water, and Right to Health).
Racial Justice: Strengthen the rights and livelihoods of communities of color, regardless of nationality and geographic location, in UN food and agriculture policy negotiations.
Address the climate, biodiversity, food and water crisis through agroecology: Publicly commit to supporting agroecology in alignment with 10 elements on agroecology developed by FAO, and 13 principles developed by the High-Level Panel of Experts of the UN Committee on the World Food Security.
Trade: Publicly commit to a comprehensive review of how U.S. food and agriculture trade policy can advance a rights-based Just Transition. Refrain from trade challenges to other countries’ efforts to advance food sovereignty, the Right to Adequate Food, biodiversity protection, and confront climate change. Engage the civil society organizations of this letter and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food on how to both leverage and reform U.S. trade policy.
Strengthen participatory, multilateral policymaking: Demonstrate U.S. dedication to democratic policymaking in international fora by establishing mechanism for public comment from U.S. constituents on U.S. priorities in international food and agriculture policy negotiations. Take decisive action to strengthen the UN Committee on World Food Security. Institutionalize transparency and disclosure procedures for U.S. officials’ engagement with corporate agribusinesses.
The 67 food and agriculture experts see these transformative changes as the “best hope” protecting food systems and ensuring an end to hunger globally.