2018 Bellingham Declaration – US Food Sovereignty Alliance IV National Gathering Oct. 12th

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) held its IV National Assembly from October 12th thru 14th in Bellingham, Washington with the participation of 117 members, allies, and individuals from 71 organizations and 7 countries.  The theme “Defending Mother Earth for an Agroecological Life:  No Walls, No Capitalism” was enacted through art, drama, music, dance, organizing, debate, analysis, healthy locally-sourced food, and spirited “mística” ceremonies.

Anchored by the farmworker-led organization Community to Community Development (C2C), the assembly overflowed with a joyous, intelligent, and diverse rainbow of origins, identities, and organizers of all ages from various sectors of the food system, including farmworkers, food chain workers, fishers, family farmers, urban agriculturalists, food providers, and social justice advocates fighting for their livelihoods, freedom, and dignity through food sovereignty, and an end to patriarchal, capitalist, and colonial ways of thinking and acting.  Building on regional assemblies in the Northeast, the South, the Midwest and the West, the IV National Assembly vibrated with an expanding and deepening energy!

Challenged by the current political and ecological moment—characterized by the rise of right-wing, racist populism allied with neoliberal, corporate economics, coupled with massive impoverishment and oppression of peoples, and the threat of climate catastrophe—our motivation intensified.  Those assembled discussed and the Alliance’s national coordination proclaims the following solidarity positions of the USFSA:

* In solidarity with La Via Campesina, we call on the United States and other members states to support the Declaration of Peasants Rights being pushed forward at the U.N.  The struggle for Food Sovereignty depends on the protection of the rights of peasants and small- and medium-sized family farmers.

* We oppose the expansion of the H2A visa guest worker program, particularly when used as a means of displacing farmworkers organizing themselves into unions.  H2A workers tied to a single employer have not been able to unionize themselves, and are often subject to wage theft, extortion by labor contractors and foremen, and other abuses.  We denounce in the strongest terms efforts to expand and weaken existing safeguards and housing provisions in guest worker programs by establishing a proposed H2C visa, which would spread and intensify the defects of H2A to food processing industries.  We also support the boycott of Reynolds American Tobacco VUSE e-cigarettes until that corporation signs an agreement to guarantee the right to organize without retaliation to all farmworkers in the tobacco fields, whether H2A or undocumented.

* We denounce the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in implementing the racist policies of mass detention and deportation, and stand in solidarity with immigrant and refugee peoples currently residing and working in the U.S.

* We add our collective voice to the Call to Protect Food Systems from Genetic Extinction Technology and call for a global moratorium on any release of engineered gene drives, which could contaminate ecological systems, species, and food webs with genetic traits designed to create species extinction.

We denounce proposals in the Farm Bill that would increase work requirements for SNAP eligibility, end the Double Up Bucks farmers market program, defund critical conservation programs, and reduce support for beginning and socially challenged farmer programs.

* We reject the King amendment in the House Farm Bill, which would give agribusinesses greater control and restrict state and local governments from regulating agricultural products, and could nullify the Food Sovereignty Ordinances passed in Maine, as well as laws that curb pesticide use, regulate farmworker safety, prevent cruel livestock practices, and label GMO foods.

* We call for an expansion of agroecological practices and the protection of our agroecological biodiversity in food, fiber, forest and aquatic systems across the planet, as one of the essential solutions to the climate catastrophes humanity faces.  We know that small farmers, family fishers and foresters all cool the planet.  Agroecology cools the planet!

* Lastly, the USFSA stands in solidarity with our global allies, particularly members of La Via Campesina, suffering the overthrow or threat of overthrow of popular, democratic governments.  Whether in Honduras, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Venezuela or elsewhere, these “soft coups” are a threat to democratic processes and to food sovereignty everywhere.
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The IV Assembly debated and affirmed the formation of the following national Collectives:  Political Education, Agroecology: Land and Water, Narrative Strategy, International Relationships, and Youth.   These collectives together with the regional bodies will carry forward the work of USFSA, coordinated by representatives from grassroots organizations from the regions, with the help of grassroots support organizers.

With our collective strength, we shout “No!” to injustices in the food system everywhere and “Yes!” to the people rising up to radically transform unjust systems and practices, for the betterment and survival of humanity and defense of Mother Earth.   And to the inspiring sister movements across the planet working for food sovereignty, we sing out a resounding ¡VIVA!  WE STAND WITH YOU!  WE ARE PART OF YOU! 

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Farmers are Hurting, but Don’t Blame Mother Nature

Current farm policy sacrifices stewardship on the altar of profitability.

By: Jim Goodman and Anthony Pahnke (FFD board members)

The Progressive, September 25, 2018

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Monsanto-Bayer merger hurts farmers and consumers

By: Jim Goodman and Tiffany Finck-Haynes

Published in the Des Moines Register, Sept. 1st, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a stern warning in its lawsuit against the conditionally-approved mega-merger between Bayer and Monsanto in June.

The anti-competitive price effects of the merger would, according to the DOJ, “likely result in hundreds of millions of dollars per year in harm, raising costs to farmers and consumers.” The Justice Department warned that the combining of Bayer and Monsanto would reduce competition for vegetable seeds, likely driving up prices. Further, farmers might see prices for GMO cotton, canola, corn and soybean seeds increase, as well as price increases for herbicide and seed treatments.

After imposing some limited divestments on Monsanto, the DOJ approved this merger, enabling Monsanto to hide its controversial name brand while giving Bayer anti-competitive control over seeds, pesticides, farmers and consumers worldwide.

But the harm to consumers and farmers will still exist.

The DOJ is on the brink of essentially authorizing a monopoly. This is bad news for nearly everyone on the planet except Bayer and Monsanto executives and shareholders. Aside from a combined Bayer-Monsanto, only three other seed companies will be in the market manufacture and sell these products.

Farmers overwhelmingly object to the merger. Ninety-three percent of farmers expressed concern that the merger will harm independent farmers and farming communities. Farmers’ top three concerns were that Bayer/Monsanto “would use its dominance in one product to push sales of other products;” “control data about farm practices;” and that the merger will create “increased pressure for chemically dependent farming.”

Aside from the overwhelming number of farmers that have already voiced opposition to the merger, the DOJ has received petitions from over 1 million Americans urging the agency to block the merger. This month, thousands of farmers and Americans resubmitted comments urging the agency to reverse its harmful conditional approval. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joined a letter with the state attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Oregon submitted a letter opposing the merger.

Bayer and Monsanto’s merger comes at a moment when powerful companies push farmers into dependence on their products, locking farmers into long-term contracts.  A consolidating food system means less choice for consumers.

“This mega-merger will give the company a stranglehold on the vegetable seed, cottonseed, corn and soy seed markets, which will only increase prices and put farmers’ livelihoods at risk,” noted Ben Burkett, a Mississippi vegetable farmer and past board president of National Family Farm Coalition.

For farmers, the merger will likely push up production costs. Farmers’ concerns are backed up by history, in which mega-mergers have diminished competition and options for both farmers and consumers while promoting more chemical-based farming — in turn harming our environment and health.

As seed and GMO companies have consolidated over the past 20 years. Much of that price increase comes from companies increasing fees for seeds as they genetically modify new traits into our food. The cost of these new technologies has exploded the price of seeds; between 32 and 74 percent of the price of seed for corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets in the United States and the European Union was estimated to reflect technology costs or the cost of seed treatments.

Farmers’ net profits continues to shrink. Reduced earnings have forced most farmers to take on second jobs; 82 percent of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year, up from 53 percent in 1960.

As the Trump administration moves to give another handout to corporate agriculture, family farmers will pay the price.

Farmers aren’t fooled by claims that Monsanto divestments will make this merger beneficial and non-monopolistic. Consumers and policymakers shouldn’t be fooled, either. On our farms, in our soil and on our supermarket shelves, the merger of Bayer and Monsanto means fewer options for a cleaner, healthier and more farmer-friendly food system.

As the Department of Justice moves to make a final decision, they should stop this merger and save farmers and consumers from this new monopoly.

Jim Goodman is the Board President of the National Family Farm Coalition.

Tiffany Finck-Haynes is Senior Food Futures Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

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Trump’s $12 Billion PR Stunt

Instead of posturing to look like he supports farmers, the president should be pushing for reforms in agricultural programs that would actually help the little guy

By: Jim Goodman, President, National Family Farm Coalition (Wonewoc, WI)

Published by the Daily Yonder, Aug. 2nd, 2018

Despite strong continued support for President Trump in rural America, farmers fear they will bear the brunt of the retaliatory tariffs from the president’s trade war. 

Farm country can ill afford it: In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted 2018 crop profits would hit a 12 year low. Dairy farmers’ prices have fallen 30% in two years, while pork producers have seen a price drop of roughly $20 per head. Overall farm incomes are down nearly 50% from 2013. Long before the trade war began, I and many other farmers feared we were in a farm crisis as bad as that of the 1980s. Now we know it will be even worse. 

While the president has said he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose support, he also knows who butters his bread. And so, we have a new $12 billion emergency aid package for farmers to ease the sting of the tariffs, clearly designed to keep his rural base firmly behind him. But will it actually solve farmers’ problems? I doubt it. 

Twelve billion dollars is a lot of money, but spread across all the major agricultural commodities, it will be a drop in the bucket. Details on how the money will be dispersed are still hazy, but I suspect most of it will not find its way into the pockets of struggling farmers. 

 The proposed scheme divides the funds into three pots. One will be used for direct incremental payments to producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and hogs, for losses sustained from the tariffs. A second will use USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) authority to purchase commodities of fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, beef, pork and milk and distribute them to food banks. The third will use CCC funds to partner with the private sector to develop new export markets for agricultural commodities. 

So what’s wrong with that? Well, plenty. First, direct payments will supposedly replace projected income lost due to the tariffs – as if everything was going along fine in farm country before the president’s little trade war. The whole plan ignores the full-blown farm crisis – complete with farmers struggling to pay their electric bills and buy food, forced to sell their farms, and in some cases taking their own lives – that has been quietly growing in the countryside for years, with virtually no recognition or corrective action from Washington. But now they’re playing politics. 

Second, after the bailout gives an unknown share of $12 billion to make up for farmers’ low prices and feed the working poor through a donation program, it hands the rest to big agribusiness for export market development. Farmers are already forced to pay a tax on every animal or bushel of grain we sell. This checkoff goes to agribusiness trade groups for product promotion and market development. But apparently that’s not enough, so this deal gives them another pound of flesh – this time from the taxpayers. 

The real problem facing farm country is not international tariffs. It is that we produce too much. Farmers are told that to survive, we must produce every possible bushel, every gallon of milk or pound of meat, no matter what it costs to buy the inputs, no matter the toll on the environment. When prices are low, we must produce more – and of course that means even lower prices and a never-ending death spiral. 

The small farms go first in hard times; the land merged into bigger operations, and the small dairy herds, like mine, sold off. My state of Wisconsin is losing 1.5 dairy farms every day – that’s 1.5 farmers out of a job. We can only guess at the economic impact the loss of these small farms will have on the businesses in their rural communities. 

There is another way: not a bailout, but a minimum wage. For many years, federal farm policy included a grain reserve. The government bought grain in times of low prices, sold it back into the market when supplies were low, and ensured farmers a floor price to keep them farming at a profit rather than producing below their cost of production. This stabilized the food supply and food prices, and farmers were required to maintain good environmental practices – no fence-row to fence-row planting. 

We could do the same for livestock producers. Rather than forever chasing new export markets, we could, like Canada, simply keep our production in line with domestic consumption. Canada’s supply management program guarantees farmers a fair price and guarantees consumers adequate food supplies grown locally – with no taxpayer subsidies required. We could still export excess production where there was demand, but US farmers would no longer compete with every farmer in the world over who can produce the cheapest product. Farmers, like everyone else, do better with a fair price for their work rather than emergency handouts. 

Trump’s trade war will cause irreparable damage to the farm sector, but we were bleeding long before he took to Twitter. If the president really wants to help farmers – and consumers, the environment, and taxpayers – he would lobby for a U.S. supply management program, not a $12 billion PR stunt.

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Donald Trump is Wrong on Dairy Policies

By: Anthony Pahnke, vice president of Family Farm Defenders

Published on July 6th, 2018, Capital Times (Madison, WI)

https://host.madison.com/ct/opinion/column/anthony-pahnke-donald-trump-is-wrong-on-dairy-policies/article_d8088dfc-9c2a-5c2d-9a1e-40135ff87f70.html

President Donald Trump is wrong on dairy because he supports free trade. At first, this may appear incorrect, especially with the trade disputes over tariffs with China and the European Union. Despite such views, his position on agriculture — dairy in particular — is entirely different, taking a page right out of the free-trading Democrats’ economic playbook of the 1990s.

Consider Trump’s tweet from early June that targeted Canada’s dairy industry. According to Trump, Canada places a 270 percent tariff on dairy imports, which Trump says is “unfair to our farmers!” What Trump is actually targeting is Canada’s supply-management system, a series of policies that stabilize the prices that farmers receive through setting production quotas and limiting supply. Comparing milk prices in the two countries shows a steady raise over the years for Canadian farmers, while in the United States, we find a veritable roller-coaster of sharp increases and decreases that vary every three years or so. As the current U.S. dairy crisis is now unfolding, characterized by low milk prices, a wave of bankruptcies, and in some cases farmer suicides, some have expressed interest in learning about the not-so-free market system in Canada. In fact, the Wisconsin Farmers Union hosted Canadian farmers earlier this year, who came to the state to discuss supply management.

Yet instead of praising a system that benefits rural communities, and that U.S. dairy farmers have expressed interest in understanding, Trump bashes it. Also, earlier this year Trump proposed that the U.S. could possibly re-enter the intercontinental free trade agreement, the Tran-Pacific Partnership, which he withdrew the U.S. from early in his presidency. The reason for this change would be to help U.S. exports find markets in foreign countries. In criticizing the Canadian system and potentially rejoining the TPP, Trump is voicing support for economic globalization and free markets.

Where else have we seen such support for free trade in agriculture? The answer is in the Clinton administration. After becoming president in 1992, one of Bill Clinton’s first moves was to sign into law the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA seeks to create a complete free trade zone among Canada, Mexico, and the United States. While certain areas in agriculture are exempt — for instance, Canadian dairy — the overall thrust is not to keep people farming, but to promote exports for the advantage of agribusiness conglomerates. Similarly, in 1994, the U.S. Senate ratified and Bill Clinton signed the treaty that created the World Trade Organization. In the WTO, the goal is the same as NAFTA, but with the difference that free trade is global and not merely regional.

What rural communities in Wisconsin and throughout the United States have painfully learned, especially since the 1990s, is that free trade and growing export markets do not keep people in the countryside. Since 1992, according to the USDA, the number of licensed dairy herds nationally has fallen from over 131,000, to 40,000. That 60 percent decline has not resulted in diminished supply — consumers have retained regular access to milk and other dairy products as farms have increased their production and size. The average number of cows per operation has doubled during this time, going from approximately 50 in the early 1990s to over 100 currently. Factory farms of thousands of cows are increasingly dotting the Wisconsin landscape alongside small farmers auctioning their land, equipment and animals because they cannot pay their bills.

Is promoting free trade through lambasting the Canadians and potentially rejoining the TPP the remedy to the current dairy crisis? The answer is no. Yet, instead of acknowledging this point that is apparent after analyzing the results of the Democrats’ free trade initiatives from the 1990s, Trump chooses to follow their policies and embrace their economic vision for rural America.

 

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