HEAL Statement on USDA Equity Commission’s Final Report

February 26, 2023: Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Equity Commission issued its final report of recommendations for the USDA to “address historic and current discrimination and promote equity.” The Commission’s report provides the USDA and Congress with a guide to righting past wrongs and ensuring it provides programs and services equitably to all those working in agriculture including farmworkers, immigrant farmers, and farmers of color. 

Below is a statement from Nichelle Harriott, Policy Director at the HEAL Food Alliance, on the report’s recommendations.

“While the HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance applauds the Commission’s work and urges USDA to quickly implement its recommendations, we strongly suggest the agency and Congress also work to ensure that all people working across the U.S. food system, from farmworkers to warehouse workers and those working in meat and poultry processing plants, are treated equitably, and with dignity and respect in the workplace.

The final report highlights 66 recommendations focused on nine core areas that address the USDA’s historic record of discrimination. For many years, the USDA has failed to adequately serve Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), many of whom were denied service and even lost their farming operations as a result. To right these wrongs, the Equity Commission’s recommendations include institutionalizing equity, accountability, and improving staff diversity at the USDA; equitable funding for community-led land access and transition projects, technical assistance and translation services to help applicants submit applications for programs; support for farmworkers and their families; and improved access to nutrition for disadvantaged and underserved communities. Additionally, the report asks the USDA to make changes to specific programs like conservation and procurement services by increasing set-asides for minority farmers and minority-owned businesses to participate in and partner with the agency. The Commission also highlights the need for the USDA to support climate justice solutions targeting women and BIPOC farmers while protecting farmworkers from hazardous climate-related working conditions.

The HEAL Food Alliance wholeheartedly supports these recommendations, many of which are reflected in our Platform for Real Food and Farm Bill Policy Recommendations. We encourage the USDA to work quickly at prioritizing the implementation of these recommendations to improve equitable access and resource allocation to USDA programs and services. However, there is still much work to be done to account for the 21.5 million people working in the food and agriculture system who are not adequately protected or equitably served by the USDA and other federal agencies. These workers, responsible for processing, packaging and putting food on our tables, continue to be overlooked and left behind. 

The agriculture system doesn’t have to be dangerous or discriminating. There’s a clear pathway forward, with many pragmatic measures before Congress that would also make a major difference for food and farm workers. We urge Congress and the USDA to take action to protect these workers and provide them with safe and dignified working conditions through the upcoming farm bill and other legislative action like the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act, the Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act, the The Agricultural Worker Justice Act, and ROC-United’s Restaurant Workers Bill of Rights.” 

The HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance is a national multi-sector, multi-racial coalition. HEAL is led by its member-organizations, who represent about two million rural and urban farmers, ranchers, fishers, farm and food chain workers, Indigenous groups, scientists, public health advocates, policy experts, and community organizers united in their commitment to transformed food and farm systems. www.healfoodalliance.org