More food, less regulation: Project 2025’s alarming vision for agriculture

SNAP cuts, little regulation, the project’s proposal for the Department of Agriculture is a race to the bottom

Published July 10, 2024 12:30PM (EDT)

Chickens gathered for water. (Edwin Remsberg/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Chickens gathered for water. (Edwin Remsberg/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Thirty years ago, Richard Nixon’s secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Earl Butz, relayed a message to farmers that transformed American agriculture: “Get big or get out.”

Butz cut policies from the New Deal that sought to protect family farmers from corporations, and openly supported the interests of agricultural giants that control our food system today. Butz’ ideal agricultural system valued decentralization, efficiency and production above all else. 

Project 2025 has a similar idea.

The collection of far-right policies developed by the Heritage Foundation seeks to reshape all aspects of U.S. federal government, from commerce to education to justice.

The project proposal for the Department of Agriculture – which is detailed in a 22-page document on Project 2025’s website – seeks to eliminate virtually all USDA regulations on farms so they can produce as much as possible, for as cheap as possible, regardless of the consequences.

It praises the consolidation of American agriculture, citing that farm output nearly tripled from 1948 to 2019, while the amount of land farmed decreased significantly. More yield, less cost. It’s true, but it’s not a good thing.

From 1978 to 2017, U.S. farmland acreage declined 13%, but the amount of harvested cropland in large farms nearly doubled, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Increasing yield by any means possible is in part what led to the spread of factory farms that control American agriculture today. Many small and medium-sized farms couldn’t afford to invest in the necessary technology needed to produce commodity crops like corn and soy at the rate that needed to compete. Others that did fell into debt, opening the door for large agri-corporations to take over. 

In 1990, small and medium-sized farms accounted for nearly half of agricultural production in the U.S. Thirty years later, it was less than a quarter.

To combat this consolidation, the USDA has implemented various programs and policies over the years to help small-scale farmers, regulate factory farms, diversify the industry through racial equity, promote food safety and support climate-smart agriculture (though critics say it’s still not enough). 

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“An equitable and climate smart food and agriculture economy that protects and improves the health, nutrition and quality of life of all Americans, yields healthy land, forests and clean water, helps rural America thrive, and feeds the world,” reads a part of the USDA’s mission statement for transforming agriculture. 

Project 2025 wants almost all of that regulation gone.

A race to the bottom

The proposal put forward by Project 2025 views any form of regulation (and even most forms of voluntary incentives) on farms as “a threat to farmers’ independence and food affordability." It recommends that the USDA “remove obstacles imposed on American farmers and individuals across the food supply chain.”

Though the document doesn’t specify the “obstacles” it is referring to, it criticizes the USDA’s efforts to promote organic agriculture and climate-smart technology, which the agency does through a variety of programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides funding to farmers who implement climate smart practices, various organic farming incentives and others. It’s programs like these that encourage the types sustainable agriculture necessary for a viable food system going forward.

The USDA also imposes regulations on pesticides, antibiotic use, manure disposal, food labeling and more, all of which help protect public health, animal welfare and soil health.

Left up to Project 2025, it would be up to each farm's own discretion when it comes to raising animals and growing food.

“Farmers, and the food system should be free from any unnecessary government intervention,” the document reads. The USDA should instead prioritize “personal freedom, private property and the rule of law.” 

It’s a race to the bottom.

Climate change is "speculative in nature"

To Project 2025, focusing on climate change and renewable energy is a waste of time, despite agriculture accounting for one third of the nation’s methane emissions. The proposal is disturbingly anti-climate, recommending the elimination of any program that addresses a climate issue that is “speculative in nature.” In other words, preventative. 

Project 2025 would nix the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which pays farmers “to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.” The goal of the program is to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce the loss of wildlife habitat.

“Farmers should not be paid in such a sweeping way not to farm their land,” the Project 2025 proposal reads. 

The document also suggests eliminating conservation requirements for farms in order to participate in various USDA programs. Such a focus on climate change takes away from the focus on producing affordable safe food, the document reads.

Feed the poor, but not with food stamps

With no regulation, Project 2025 implies the country will produce more food for less, which would supposedly lower the cost of food for millions of low-income Americans struggling to feed themselves and their families. Yet when it comes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the benefit program that feeds over 40 million Americans, Project 2025 wants it gone. Lowering the cost of antibiotic-ridden meat from industrial farms is a viable way to feed low-income families, but food stamps, nutrition assistance and school lunch programs are not, according to Project 2025. 

Like many other Republicans have proposed, Project 2025 would make cuts to SNAP, which is a historical point of contention between liberals and conservatives. It would implement stricter work requirements to qualify for SNAP benefits, as well as waive SNAP eligibility if one receives benefits from another social program. 

The document also includes proposed cuts to school meal programs, which it states represent the “ever-expanding federal footprint in local school operations.” In fact, the proposal recommends moving all nutrition assistance programs outside the USDA’s jurisdiction all together and instead placing them under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Genetically modify, well, everything

Project 2025 wants to remove any and all obstacles for agricultural biotechnology, like the requirements to label genetically modified food and “the barriers imposed by other countries to block U.S. agricultural goods” that have been genetically engineered.

Just as Butz pushed for the use of genetically engineered seeds and chemical fertilizers Project 2025 says these inputs are critical to agricultural innovation and feeding a growing population.

It’s not an uncommon trope. Biotechnology has often been framed as a novel innovation that produces more food and helps feed the world’s growing population. But much of biotechnology- like genetically engineered seeds- is controlled by just a handful of corporations. And as research from the Institute of Agricultural Trade Policy shows, most biotechnology innovations in agriculture are profit-driven rather than need-driven. The world produces more food than ever before- the problem isn’t production, it’s lack of access to food. 

Alongside these changes, Project 2025 also proposed changing the USDA dietary guidelines to “focus on nutritional issues and do not veer off-mission by focusing on unrelated issues, such as the environment, that have nothing to do with nutritional advice.

“The federal government does not need to transform the food system or develop a national plan to intervene across the supply chain. Instead, it should respect American farmers, truckers, and everyone who makes the food supply chain so resilient and successful,” the proposal concludes.

Though former President Donald Trump — the presumptive GOP candidate — has sought to distance himself from Project 2025 in recent days, much of his platform proposals remain similar to the project’s policy ideas. Should he win the election in November and even a portion of these changes to the USDA be implemented, it could have serious impacts on small-scale farmers, the climate, food quality, animal welfare and public health.

By Marin Scotten

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