More food, less regulation: Project 2025’s alarming vision for agriculture

Thirty years ago, Richard Nixon’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Earl Butz delivered a message to farmers that transformed American agriculture: “Grow or get out.”

Butz cut New Deal policies that were supposed to protect family farmers from corporations and openly supported the interests of the agribusiness giants that control our current food system. Butz’s ideal agricultural system valued decentralization, efficiency, and production above all else.

Project 2025 has a similar idea.

A set of far-right policies developed by the Heritage Foundation aims to reshape every aspect of the US federal government – ​​from trade to education to justice.

The bill’s proposal to the Agriculture Department — detailed in a 22-page document on the Project 2025 website — aims to eliminate virtually all USDA regulations on farms so they can produce as much as possible, as cheaply as possible, regardless of the consequences.

He praises the consolidation of American agriculture, citing the fact that agricultural production has nearly tripled from 1948 to 2019, while the area of ​​land under cultivation has fallen significantly. More yield, less cost. True, but that is not a good thing.

According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, from 1978 to 2017, U.S. farmland declined by 13%, but the area planted on large farms nearly doubled.

Increasing yields by any means necessary is partly what led to the proliferation of factory farms that control American agriculture today. Many small and medium-sized farms couldn’t afford to invest in the necessary technology needed to produce commodity crops like corn and soybeans at the rate they needed to compete. Others that did went into debt, opening the door for large agribusiness corporations to take over.

In 1990, small and medium-sized farms accounted for almost half of U.S. agricultural production. Thirty years later, it was less than a quarter.

To combat this consolidation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented a variety of programs and policies over the years to help small farmers, regulate factory farms, diversify the industry through racial equity, promote food security, and support climate-smart agriculture (though critics say it’s still not enough).

“A fair and climate-smart food and agriculture economy that protects and improves the health, nutrition, and quality of life of all Americans, produces healthy lands, forests, and clean water, helps rural America thrive, and feeds the world,” reads an excerpt from the USDA’s mission statement on agriculture transformation.

Project 2025 assumes the abolition of almost all regulations.

Race to the bottom

The proposal, put forward by Project 2025, believes that any form of regulation (and even most forms of voluntary incentives) on farms is a “threat to farmer sovereignty and food availability.” It recommends that the USDA “remove obstacles placed on American farmers and individuals throughout the food supply chain.”

While the document does not specify the “obstacles” it addresses, it does criticize USDA’s efforts to promote organic farming and climate-friendly technologies, which the agency does through various programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides funding to farmers who implement climate-friendly practices, various organic farming incentives, and others. It is these programs that encourage the sustainable types of farming necessary for a viable food system in the future.

The USDA also regulates pesticides, antibiotic use, manure disposal, food labeling and other issues that help protect public health, animal welfare and soil health.

By Project 2025, each farm will independently decide on animal breeding and food cultivation.

“Farmers and the food system should be free from all unnecessary government intervention,” the document reads. The USDA should instead prioritize “individual liberty, private property, and the rule of law.”

It’s a race to the bottom.

Climate change is “speculative in nature”

Project 2025 says focusing on climate change and renewables is a waste of time, even though agriculture accounts for a third of the country’s methane emissions. The proposal is disturbingly anticlimactic, recommending eliminating any program that addresses climate issues that are “speculative.” In other words, precautionary.

The 2025 bill would eliminate the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to “remove ecologically sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.” The program’s goals are to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce the loss of wildlife habitat.

“Farmers shouldn’t be paid so much” NO “to cultivate their land” – we read in the Project 2025 proposal.

The document also suggests eliminating conservation requirements for farms to participate in various USDA programs. Such a focus on climate change distracts from the focus on producing affordable, safe food, the document says.

Feed the poor, but not with food stamps

Without regulations, Project 2025 means the country will produce more food for less, which would supposedly lower food costs for millions of low-income Americans struggling to feed themselves and their families. But when it comes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a benefit program that feeds more than 40 million Americans, Project 2025 wants to eliminate it. Lowering the cost of antibiotic-laced factory-farmed meat is a viable way to feed low-income families, but food stamps, food assistance, and school lunch programs are not, according to Project 2025.

Like many other Republicans, Project 2025 would make cuts to SNAP, a historic point of contention between liberals and conservatives. It would impose stricter work requirements to qualify for SNAP benefits, and it would also waive SNAP eligibility if someone receives benefits from another social program.

The document also includes proposed cuts to school meal programs, which it says reflect “the ever-expanding federal reach into local school operations.” In fact, the proposal recommends moving all nutrition assistance programs out of USDA jurisdiction and instead placing them in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Genetically modify, well, everything

Project 2025 aims to remove all obstacles to agricultural biotechnology, such as labeling requirements for genetically modified foods and “barriers imposed by other countries to block U.S. farm products” that have been genetically modified.

Just as Butz has pushed for the use of genetically modified seeds and synthetic fertilizers, Project 2025 argues that these measures are crucial to agricultural innovation and feeding a growing population.

This is not an unusual trope. Biotechnology has often been portrayed as a cutting-edge innovation that produces more food and helps feed the world’s growing population. But most biotechnology—like genetically modified seeds—is controlled by just a few corporations. And as research from the Agricultural Trade Policy Institute shows, most biotechnology innovation in agriculture is driven by profit, not need. The world is producing more food than ever before—the problem isn’t production, but access to food.

In addition to these changes, Project 2025 also proposed changing the USDA’s dietary guidelines to “maintain a focus on nutrition and not deviate from the mission by focusing on unrelated issues, such as the environment, that have nothing to do with nutritional advice.”

“The federal government does not need to transform the food system or develop a national supply chain intervention plan. Instead, it should honor America’s farmers, truckers, and all those who make the food supply chain so resilient and effective,” the proposal concludes.

Although former President Donald Trump — the presumptive GOP nominee — has recently tried to distance himself from Project 2025, most of its policy proposals remain similar to the project’s policy ideas. If he were to win the November election and even a portion of these USDA changes were implemented, it could have serious consequences for small farmers, the climate, food quality, animal welfare and public health.

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