Amid speculation that President-elect Joe Biden may select former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture despite her ties to agribusiness and fossil fuels, more than 50 progressive advocacy groups on Wednesday urged Biden to instead choose Democratic Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio.
"Now more than ever, we need a champion like Rep. Fudge to restore common-sense food safety standards in America," Food & Water Action executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement. "She has been an unsung hero of our food system workers, who are forced to deal with some of the most dangerous working conditions of any industry in the country."
Food & Water Action and Family Farm Action led the coalition of animal welfare, environment, farm, and food safety organizations that sent a letter (pdf) to Biden detailing why they want Fudge to run the USDA.
"Congresswoman Fudge is a skilled and compassionate leader of unparalleled reputation and integrity," the letter says. "She has long been an ally to farmers, food-chain workers, consumers, and rural communities. She is best positioned to help the department navigate today's unprecedented challenges—from the ongoing rural crisis, to climate change, to the pandemic's rupturing of our food system."
We’re proud to join @FarmActionUS & 50+ other groups in endorsing @RepMarciaFudge for Secretary of Agriculture in the Biden administration! Rep. Fudge is the ally we need for food & worker safety, especially after four years of Trump.
Read the letter: https://t.co/E55ztm9Iop
— Food & Water Action (@fwaction) November 18, 2020
The letter highlights promising pieces of her political history, from urging federal agencies including the USDA "to strengthen workplace protections for slaughterhouse workers at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic" and fighting against industry-led attempts to speed up lines at processing plants to introducing bills "to increase local procurement for the National School Lunch Program and to increase scrutiny of foreign investment in U.S. farmland."
The groups praise Fudge as not only a supporter of working people, family-scale farms, and regional food systems, but also someone who "understands the central role farmers play in fighting climate change and protecting natural resources." Additionally, the letter notes, she is "an advocate for farmers and communities historically underserved by USDA."
While celebrating her "unparalleled track record of protecting and strengthening nutrition programs," the letter also says that "as the first Black woman to serve as agriculture secretary, Congresswoman Fudge would address the department's legacy of discrimination against Black and other historically-underserved farmers, and ensure these groups have full access to USDA programs and resources."
"Congresswoman Fudge has a vision for our food and agriculture system that is inclusive of America's farmers, food-chain workers, and local and regional businesses."
—Joe Maxwell, Family Farm Action
Family Farm Action president Joe Maxwell—whose group recently released a roadmap outlining how the incoming Biden administration can revitalize rural America—emphasized that "Congresswoman Fudge has a vision for our food and agriculture system that is inclusive of America's farmers, food-chain workers, and local and regional businesses."
"What we need in a USDA secretary is a leader who will root out the historical discrimination within the department's farm programs, who will lift up all farmers not with government handouts but with markets that work, who will work to restore food security for all families, and who will restore Abraham Lincoln's vision for the department as 'The People's Department,'" he added.
Other signatories include national groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Mercy For Animals, Oil Change U.S., Open Markets Institute, People's Action, and 350.org, along with state and local organizations like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
"Independent family farmers in Iowa are calling for Rep. Fudge as the next secretary of agriculture," said Adam Mason, state policy organizing director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. "Family farmers know we need a different direction, one in which USDA takes on seed and chemical mega-mergers and the lack of competition in livestock markets. Industrial agribusinesses have been writing the rules for too long, and we believe we can work with Rep. Fudge at USDA to change that."
Open Markets Institute executive director Barry Lynn concurred that "it is high time for a secretary of Agriculture who is not beholden to Big Ag."
"Rep. Fudge has a strong track record of fighting for those on the front lines of our monopolized food systems; including workers, independent farmers and ranchers, and Black, Latinx, indigenous, and other communities of color," Lynn said. "Fudge can help reverse years of Wall Street-backed exploitation and consolidation, address the systemic racism that has long warped American farm policy, and create a more equitable, competitive, and safe food system for all."
Lynn's group was among the more than 160 organizations—led by Friends of the Earth—that came together Tuesday for a letter to Biden's team opposing Heitkamp. They warned that the former senator from North Dakota "is the wrong choice for the USDA because she has aligned herself with corporate agribusiness at the expense of family farmers, supports fossil fuel interests, and holds views that are out of step with the Democratic Party and the majority of Americans."