Congressional Subcommittee Criticizes USDA Civil Rights Settlement

At a Subcommittee hearing September 28, Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH 1st) and other members supported the main findings in Environmental Working Group's (EWG) July 2004 investigation, which reported that the landmark 1999 civil rights settlement of black family farmers' discrimination claims against USDA (Pigford v. Glickman) has been almost a complete failure and must be redressed.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, together with Chairman Chabot, called the hearing to examine evidence that the settlement process has "shut out nearly two-thirds of all who wanted to have their discrimination claims heard," according to Mr. Chabot.

"We applaud Chairman Chabot's assertion that the settlement is not working for black farmers," said Ken Cook, president of EWG.

The Congress of Black Farmer Organizations, which includes the National Black Farmers Association and the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, had initially expressed concern that the hearing would not include any critics of the settlement. Concerns deepened when Environmental Working Group, which has been highly critical of the settlement process, was invited then dropped from the witness panel just one business day before the hearing. But Rep. Chabot indicated in his hearing statement that a second hearing will be held so that the Subcommittee can hear testimony from some of these groups.

"Chairman Chabot's work to initiate a second hearing on the flawed settlement and hear testimony from organized black family farmer groups and researchers is an important and welcome step," according to EWG General Counsel Arianne Callender. "We praise the Chairman's support for giving the tens of thousands of black family farmers who were shut out of the settlement a chance for their discrimination claims to be heard on their merits, and for providing access to the information that USDA has withheld."

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

Rep. Chabot's Statement

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