By Emma Sirois
We’re counting on the Biden-Harris administration to apply the many lessons we learned last year to create policy that supports a more inclusive, healthy, and resilient food system. From embracing food-related climate change solutions to supporting and empowering BIPOC farmers, here are the most important issues and policy actions we recommend the administration prioritize for the health of our communities and planet.
1) Embrace food-related climate change solutions
The food system is a key contributor to climate change from the way our food is produced, transported, consumed, and disposed. Interventions in this system are critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting our climate goals. We urge the administration to support policies that promote sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build healthy soil, and conserve natural resources; incentivise plant-forward dietary patterns to lessen our dependence on animal products which carry the largest climate food print; and incentivize food recovery programs so that edible food that would otherwise go to the landfill is recovered and redistributed to the community.
2) Support and empower BIPOC farmers and small businesses
Agriculture is deeply steeped in our country’s history of slavery and systemic racism. Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who are farmers and business operators still face gross inequities in access to land, capital, and other support needed to succeed in food and agriculture. Black farmers currently account for less than 2% of small- and mid-sized family farm owners. Health Care Without Harm supports The Justice for Black Farmers Act (S. 4929) introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), which will address historic land loss and discrimination. This act builds toward an equitable food system centering fair treatment, access, and opportunity to a population that has been historically denied. Additionally, the administration could take action to: stem Black land loss by fully implementing ‘heirs property’ provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill; and fully implement landmark tribal nation provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill delayed by the Trump administration.
3) Treat food as medicine
There is growing recognition — made all the more obvious by the COVID-19 crisis — that food is medicine and that our health care institutions and insurers can and must do more to address healthy food access and food insecurity as primary care prevention. The new administration should seek out opportunities to build healthy food access initiatives — like produce prescription programs, medically tailored meal programs, and referral and collaboration with emergency food providers — into health care delivery, starting with federal programs (Medicare and Medicaid) and federal facilities.
4) Prioritize ethical and sustainable purchasing practices
Institutional food purchasers are critical allies in advancing a food system that conserves and renews natural resources, promotes social justice and animal welfare, builds community wealth, and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all people. Values-based purchasing guidance is imperative to realizing this potential. The Foodservice Guidelines for Federal Facilities is an important resource for prioritizing sustainable diets and local and sustainable purchasing in federal food service operations, like the Veterans Administration. Health Care Without Harm has joined other public health advocates in calling on the Biden-Harris administration to sign an executive order to require the use of food service guidelines in all federal facilities.
Learn more about ethical food purchasing standards for health care and other institutions at our Feb. 11 webinar.
5) Protect food and farm workers
As we have learned through the pandemic, our agricultural workforce is essential. They are also the most exploited, endangered, and disempowered labor communities in our country. We urge the new administration to support policies that create just compensation and premium pay for workers regardless of immigration status, especially given the increasingly hazardous conditions due to COVID-19; and increase health and safety measures including provision of personal protective equipment and paid sick leave.
At the core of many of these challenges and opportunities is resilience: community resilience, food system resilience, and supply chain resilience, just to name a few. For more than 20 years, Health Care Without Harm has led the health care sector in understanding its important role in creating and sustaining resilience.