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News Release #312

Released to Media on January 25, 1999


Bishops Speak Out On Farm Crisis

New Ulm – In this final year before the new millennium, we reflect on the fullness of God's creation and give thanks for the bounty of the land and natural resources of Minnesota. Ours is a state with fertile areas ranging from the Red River Valley of the North through the valleys of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to the Blue Earth River in the South. We are blessed with rich soil and clean water. Generations of Minnesota farmers have tilled this land to provide a healthy sustenance for themselves and for hundreds of rural communities. These gifts are a support to all of Minnesota binding us together in a web of life.

But Minnesota's web of life is threatened. Our clean air, fresh water, and rich soil are being tainted. Thousands of farmers on small and medium size farms are forced to leave the land, no longer receiving an adequate income to compensate them for labor and cost of production. Some of our rural communities are dying. These changes have moral and ethical implications, which cannot be ignored. As religious leaders, we call on the people of Minnesota to reflect on what is happening to our land, our farmers, and our rural communities. We invite all Minnesotans to meet the challenge of our stewardship of God's gift of creation.

It is not crop failure alone that forces the closure of small farms, but faulty policy decisions favoring large agri-business operations concentrating both land and means of production into the hands of fewer and fewer while taking control out of the local community. The shift toward large animal confinement operations in rural Minnesota raises serious concerns for the quality of land, water, and air in our state. The continued overuse of chemicals and the lack of land stewardship adversely affect both environment and health.

Pope John Paul II has challenged Catholics throughout the world to highlight justice and peace in this final year of preparation for the millennium. This preparation calls us to pray, reflect, and dialog on what justice demands for our rural brothers and sisters. As participants in a democracy, we must also bring to those who form public policy the call for both justice and stewardship.

The Church offers several principles to help us in this dialog and to guide policy decision-makers. We call on our tradition of respecting the life and dignity of the human person, promoting the common good, practicing stewardship of the land, and expressing a preferential option for the poor.

• Ultimately, the test of any agricultural policy is its concern for human life and dignity. The good of people is always first.

• Human dignity demands just compensation of farmers and rural people for their labor and capital expenses.

• The preferential option for the poor urges that we judge policies concerning rural communities by how they affect the least among us. The "poor" today includes many people living in our rural communities, not only because they are economically poor, but because they are among the least powerful and their way of life is marginalized, ignored or easily forgotten.

Finally, we ask public policies that:

• Ensure farmers a just income that adequately compensates them for their labor and cost of production;

• Promote sustainable agriculture practices;

• Restrict vertical integration practices which place ownership and control of production, processing and marketing operations outside of the local community;

• Protect and preserve agricultural land;

• Create opportunities for beginning farmers;

• Support health care access, education, jobs, housing, and other services in rural areas.

Farming is about production. It is also about people and a way of life. As we have stated on many occasions, the bottom line in economic justice is people - not the dollar. The rights of those on the land and in farming communities demand just policy that respects the dignity of their work. The rights of all demand stewardship of land and environment.

 

Bishop Raymond A. Lucker

Diocese of New Ulm

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Archbishop John R. Roach (retired)

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Bishop Victor H. Balke

Diocese of Crookston

Bishop Bernard J. Harrington

Diocese of Winona

Bishop John F. Kinney

Diocese of St. Cloud

Bishop Roger L. Schwietz

Diocese of Duluth

Bishop Lawrence J. Welsh (recently deceased, January 13, 1999)

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

 

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