WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Nutrition, and Foreign Agriculture today heard complaints of discrimination from minority farmers and those of limited means, as Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said there was no room in any federal program for racism.
"The USDA has done its own review and, well-intentioned as it might be, we nonetheless have an obligation to exercise our oversight responsibility into these charges. This has implications not just for the complainants, but for all of USDA as we look into prospects for the Department's reorganization," Rep. Goodlatte said.
"This issue will certainly require further review in the near future. We look forward to hearing from Secretary Glickman or his representative regarding USDA's efforts to correct any discriminatory practices. But today, we have an obligation first to hear the complaints. There is no room in any federal program for racism. We must, and we are, treating these charges seriously," Goodlatte said.
"There are several reasons why the number of minority and limited resource farmers are declining so rapidly, but the one that has been documented time and again is the discriminatory environment present in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the very agency established by the U.S. government to accommodate the special needs of all farmers and ranchers," said Rep. Eva Clayton (D-NC), the Subcommittee's ranking Democrat.
"It is terribly important that we do all within our power to ensure that each and every producer is able to farm without the additional burden of institutional racism rearing its ugly head," Rep. Clayton said.
Officials of the General Accounting Office testified concerning their report, issued on January 24, 1997, on the treatment of minorities by USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). GAO's review found 28 cases in which discrimination was alleged on the basis of race or national origin, though GAO found that in 26 of those cases, no discrimination was indicated.
However, minority and limited resource producers - including representatives of the National Black Farmers Association, the Land Loss Prevention Project, Women Involved in Farm Economics, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the California Highlander Cooperative, and Hmong National Development, Inc. - testified that they frequently feel discriminated against in USDA operations and programs.
Goodlatte, whose subcommittee has jurisdiction over USDA's internal operations, represents Virginia's Sixth Congressional District, which includes Roanoke, Lynchburg, and the Shenandoah Valley.