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Bust Up Big Ag

Taking on corporate power in our food system.

John Otte 1, Economics Editor

March 12, 2010

5 Min Read

Today's USDA\U.S. Department of Justice hearing on concentration and market power in agriculture in Ankeny, Iowa promises to be a raucous affair. That's judging by the fervor and enthusiasm of the more than 250 family farmers, consumers, workers and everyday people who turned out for a town hall meeting last night on the eve of today's hearing.


Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Food Democracy Now!, the National Family Farm Coalition plus Food and Water Watch sponsored last night's meeting.


Too few, too big. "The corporate control of our food system by multinational corporations has driven independent family farmers out of business and off the land, put unsafe and unhealthy food in our supermarkets, created dangerous working conditions in our factories and caused environmental destruction to our air, water and soil," Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer from Dexter, Iowa and an Iowa CCI board member declared as she launched the meeting.


"Decades of bad farm policy and unchecked corporate mergers have driven independent family farmers out of business and created powerful corporate factory farms and agribusiness giants," she explained. "With fewer players involved at every step in the food chain, consumers pay more and farmers and workers get paid less, while the multi-national corporations' share of the retail food dollar continues to rise.


"We are here today to send a simple but powerful message to our government regulators and elected officials," Kalbach declared. "Bust up big ag. Pass policies that promote sustainable agriculture and local markets."


An energetic interaction of meeting participants ensued.


Change the casino system. "Our government chose not to enforce patent and anti trust law," says George Naylor, a Churdan Iowa, grain farmer.  "The result is the system is rigged against the family farmer and not rigged against big business.


"It's impossible to know whether GMOs are a danger to the environment or whether the benefits will pay for the extra costs," he says. "I have found I can grow perfectly good non GMO crops if I hunt around for seed long enough. Plus I can get $2 premium for soybeans if they are not contaminated with GMOs."


Talk, then take action. "Farmers are forced to stand by and watch as giant corporations have bullied their way into both input supply and product purchases," says Paul Rozwadowski, a Stanley Wisconsin dairy farmer. "Dairy farmers are very much affected by consolidation in agriculture. Genetically engineered seed will not improve my crops, save me money or boost production of my cows."


He urges USDA and the Department of Justice to not only conduct a comprehensive investigation of anti-competitive practices in seed industry, but to also take appropriate action.


Get consistency in policies. Ronda Perry, an Armstrong, Mo. livestock farmer, sees USDA policy as being schizophrenic by buying pork to tighten supplies to lift prices and simultaneously providing low interest facility loans to producers to expand production.

She urges USDA to:

* Write rules that define what undue preference is to stop packers from giving better deals to big producers than they give family farmers.

* Suspend loans to build facilities that are upping output and driving down prices.

"We're not asking for a handout, we're just asking for the ability to compete," she says.


The best line of the night.  Today's hearing schedule calls for prepared presentations from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. An hour of public testimony begins at 4:15.


Kalbach asked the legislative representatives in attendance to rewrite the schedule to put the people most affected by agenda should be at beginning of agenda, not at the end.


"Policymakers get to hear from big ag all of the time," she says. "They hire the lobbyists and send them to Washington."

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