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CAMPAIGN-LAND Jul-12-2004 (1,070 words) Backgrounder. With logos posted March 10 and photo posted today. xxxn

Use, quality of land for farming, for future at issue in campaign

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The passage in Chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis detailing how God gave man dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, plus seed-bearing plants and trees and green plants for food, has evolved in Catholic social teaching into concerns about assuring that there continue to be birds in the air, fish in the sea and untainted plants and trees.

The principle applies as well to the land cultivated by farmers for food, allowed to lay fallow for recreation and enjoyment, or built upon and paved over for shelter and work.

"Eco-theology is a product only of the last 30 years," said L. Shannon Jung, director of the Center for Theology and Land and professor of rural ministry at the University of Dubuque, in a book titled "Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating."

Yet translating a theology of ecology into effective public policy is a tough nut to crack on both the theological and political sides of the equation.

"The world that God created has been entrusted to us. Our use of it must be directed by God's plan for creation, not simply for our own benefit," the U.S. bishops said in their quadrennial election-year statement, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," issued in September 2003.

"Our stewardship of the Earth is a form of participation in God's act of creating and sustaining the world. In our use of creation, we must be guided by a concern for generations to come," they said. "We show our respect for the Creator by our care for creation."

On agricultural concerns, the bishops said, "The first priority for agriculture policy should be food security for all."

They added, "Those who grow our food should be able to make a decent living and maintain their way of life. Farmers who depend on the land for their livelihood deserve a decent return for their labor. Rural communities deserve help so that they can continue to be sources of strength and support for a way of life that enriches our nation. ... We urge that public policies support sustainable agriculture and careful stewardship of the Earth and its natural resources."

The bishops augmented their agricultural stand when they unanimously approved "For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers" at their fall general meeting last November.

In the document, the bishops noted that "increasing concentration and growing globalization" of agriculture are having the effect of "pushing some ahead and leaving others behind." They added, "We stand with farmers, particularly those who own small and family farms here and abroad, in their struggle to live with dignity, to preserve a way of life and to strengthen rural communities."

Bob Gronski, a policy analyst with the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, said voters in rural states rank agriculture issues behind only the Iraq situation, gun control and abortion among their priorities. How they would vote based on the candidates' platforms and statements is the key question.

Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy for the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, called President Bush's record on environmental and agricultural issues "not good, not bad, but not great." He added farmers and ranchers in critical swing states in the West would be "scared to death" if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., were to win the White House because of his environmental policies.

Bush, in an August 2002 speech in California, linked agriculture with trade. "Here's my attitude about trade: If you're good at something, you ought to promote it. If you're good at growing crops, you ought to figure out how to sell more of the crops. And we're the best in the world at farming and ranching."

A policy memo posted on the Bush campaign's Web site July 2 said Bush is working to pass a comprehensive energy bill, which it estimates would increase U.S. net farm income by an estimated $2 billion-$4 billion per year by 2012. (Kerry also backs increased use of renewable fuels from corn, soybeans and other sources grown on farms.) The balance of the memo points to policy initiatives and laws enacted during Bush's term in office.

The memo mentions increased farmers' equity and sales, including exports; the 2002 farm bill, which restructured commodity payments to farmers; $18 billion in investment in rural infrastructure; a $25 billion commitment over the next 10 years for rural health as outlined in the new Medicare prescription drug law; and the elimination of the estate tax, which it said is "helping farmers keep family farms."

The Kerry campaign completed an Independence Day weekend swing through farm states touting the candidate's views on agriculture. Kerry favors a ban on meatpackers' ownership of livestock as well as discriminatory pricing practices; improving the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers better manage their lands; and ensuring more prompt and fair disaster relief. He also said the Nurse Reinvestment Act, which he introduced and helped to pass, is designed to help rural hospitals and health care providers find qualified nurses.

On environmental matters, Kerry is behind a "Green and Clean Communities" initiative that would remove the threat of toxins from communities, reinvigorate the Superfund cleanup program, improve parks, and take on traffic congestion and sprawl.

If elected, he said he will create a task force on toxic substances at the Environmental Protection Agency. He would also create "environmental empowerment zones" to ensure that environmental justice is considered in decisions that affect these communities, and enter into a "conservation covenant" for cleaner air and water.

Bush has had to defend the Healthy Forests initiative which became law last year; critics have contended it's a blank check for loggers to take timber from federal woodlands. The same criticism had been lodged against Bush's Clear Skies initiative, not yet law, which opponents say would cause more pollution, not less. The president has also had to take flak for not signing the Kyoto Accord on global warming; Bush holds it would destroy jobs, cost hundreds of billions and have a negligible effect on climate.

Bills in the hopper favored by Bush on his environmental platform include a hydrogen fuels initiative, a program to cut emissions from diesel-powered heavy vehicles by 90 percent and funding for the technology to produce a no-emissions coal plant.


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