What Should the 2023 Food and Farm Bill Include—and How Do We Make It Happen?

April 4, 2023 | 2:13 pm
photo of a family picking strawberries in a field, with a house in the backgroundSrA Dennis Sloan, USAF/Department of Defense
Melissa Kaplan
Senior Manager of Government Affairs

NOTE: This post has been updated to remove the mention of a marker bill that had not yet been introduced at the time of publication.

Hello, UCS blog readers! My name is Melissa Kaplan and I joined the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) as senior manager of government affairs back in January. I’m excited to publish my first-ever blog post at UCS on the food and farm bill, and tell you a bit about myself, my background, and—most importantly—how UCS hopes to shape this important legislation to help build a better food system for everyone. 

For many years now, my professional life has revolved around food security, and often, that’s included the food and farm bill—that behemoth piece of legislation Congress produces every few years to address a multitude of domestic agricultural and nutrition issues. But, did you know that this same legislation also covers international food security programming? That’s right—important US programs that work to alleviate global hunger, such as the Food for Peace program, are authorized through this bill.   

In my previous jobs, I focused on securing strong funding and support for international food security programs that address global hunger and malnutrition, which have unfortunately been trending upward over the past several years due to a combination of factors. These include conflicts around the world, climate change, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the outbreak of war in Ukraine, which has profoundly affected world hunger since both Ukraine and Russia are global breadbaskets that typically produce much of the food that’s exported to developing countries. 

Now that I’ve joined UCS I’ve plunged into the world of food security within the United States, which means I’m looking at the food and farm bill in a whole new light. This legislation covers everything from crop insurance to conservation to forestry to nutrition, so over the past few months I’ve been learning a lot! 

An Opportunity to Do a Lot for Many

The food and farm bill is due to be reauthorized by Congress over the next few months, and discussion about what to include in the legislation has already begun. This provides experts, advocates, and people like you with an opportunity not just to tweak agricultural programs, but to bring about meaningful, transformational change in how the US food system operates. UCS is working to ensure that the next food and farm bill will reflect the impact of key issues such as racial equity, climate, conservation, and nutrition. We’ve spent the past few months fine-tuning our list of goals for the bill.   

So, what exactly does UCS hope the next food and farm bill will accomplish? We want to see it: 

  • Build a climate-resilient food and farm system. As the effects of climate change become clearer every year, it’s essential that we build a food and farm system that is resilient enough to withstand them. We can do this in part by strongly funding science, equity, and climate-focused federal research, as well as supporting government programs to protect land conservation and soil health. 
  • Bolster economic opportunities for farmers, particularly BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) farmers. Black farmers have historically faced discrimination, including by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and it’s essential that the next food and farm bill address these lingering harmful impacts and work to support BIPOC farmers. For example, the new bill should expand credit assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, ensure equitable access to crop insurance for BIPOC farmers, and make USDA programs accessible and accountable to the next generation of farmers, especially young BIPOC farmers. 
  • Ensure the safety and dignity of food and farm workers. The men and women who grow and produce the food we eat deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. We must ensure their safety while on the job; make sure they have access to sick days, vacation, and family leave; and require that the USDA only partners with companies that respect their workers’ rights. 
  • Increase access to nutritious food for everyone. Everyone should have the right to obtain nutritious, affordable food for themselves and their families. The next food and farm bill can help achieve this goal by strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and protecting it from any harmful funding cuts or changes, by supporting local-food programs and farmers’ markets, and by encouraging food and vegetable consumption in government food security programs.  

So, What’s Next? 

It’s clear that we have a lot of work ahead of us to make the next food and farm bill truly transformational. However, this legislation also offers us a golden opportunity to reinvent our food system into one that works better for everyone. 

Fortunately, many of the changes UCS hopes to see in the food and farm bill have already begun moving forward, in the form of shorter pieces of legislation known as marker bills. These marker bills are written prior to the food and farm bill itself, and can serve as a blueprint for text to be included in the larger legislation when it’s drafted over the next few months. Several important marker bills have already been introduced by food security champions in Congress and will hopefully be included in the food and farm bill.  

Here are the marker bills UCS has endorsed so far: 

UCS will work with our allies in Congress over the next few months to see that as many of these bills as possible are incorporated in the final food and farm bill. 

How can you help ensure that the next food and farm bill is a racial equity, climate, and nutrition bill? Reach out to your senators and representative and urge them to cosponsor and vote for the marker bills above, then support their inclusion in the food and farm bill.   

In the meantime, follow my blog and UCS’s social media accounts to stay tuned for more information on the food and farm bill over the next few months.