Why Family Farmers Must Stand in Solidarity With Our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers and Oppose AB 190

Statement by:  John E. Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders

People’s Hearing Against Anti-Immigrant Bill AB 190 – Wisconsin State Capitol

Wed.  9/27/2017

Imagine being dragged from your home by armed men, beaten, and then thrown behind bars to await some horrible fate.   This is exactly what happened to Joshua Glover on the night of March 10th, 1854 in Racine, WI.  Glover was a runaway slave from St. Louis, MO who had escaped two years earlier to live in dignity in the north.  His former master, though, had offered a bounty for his capture and now a slave catcher posse – led by federal marshals – had tracked him down.  Thankfully, his plight was not ignored, and word soon spread about his abduction.  Close to a thousand anti-slavery activists converged on Milwaukee and broke into the jailhouse to free Glover.  Family farmers, many of whom were immigrants who had come to America fleeing violence in Europe, spirited Glover away and provided shelter for several weeks until he was able to stow away aboard a boat heading up Lake Michigan to Canada.  Over 100 other slaves took the Underground Railroad to freedom through WI prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Fast forward to 2017.  Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of undocumented immigrants have jumped from 9,000 per month at the end of the Obama Administration to over 13,000 today.  Once again, armed agents with state support are hunting down people simply because of their particular status.  Many of those detained end up separated from their families and friends.  Children are left abandoned at their school when parents suddenly “disappear.”   Others are assaulted and brutalized in the dehumanizing process leading to their deportation.  The White House has announced the termination of DACA, meaning thousands of “dreamers” will now confront a fresh nightmare. And now Pres. Trump is even threatening to take away federal funding from sanctuary communities, with the WI State Legislature and Gov. Walker all too eager to jump aboard this xenophobic bandwagon with AB 190.

Here in Wisconsin this is an especially critical issue since so much of our cultural heritage and economic vitality depends upon the strength and diversity found in our proud immigrant history.  Wisconsin’s $43 billion dairy industry could hardly function without 16,000+ immigrant workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, the vast majority of which are also undocumented.  Many other immigrants from Europe, Canada, Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere can be found working across rural and urban WI in the tourism, agroprocessing, manufacturing, construction, restaurant, and healthcare sectors.

With the golden dream of coming to America left so battered and tarnished, it is no surprise that some farm workers are packing their bags and abandoning WI altogether. And for those who do choose to remain, the climate of fear is making life much more difficult.  If you are worried about being deported, why even bother calling the police?   Even some of Wisconsin’s agribusiness giants – many of which supported Walker and Trump – are now starting to have second thoughts about the fallout from their choice.  Can you imagine where Wisconsin would be today if similar rightwing backlash movements led by the KKK a hundred years ago targeting Scandinavian, German, Polish, Italian and Irish immigrants had been successful?  How impoverished would WI be today?  Would we even have any agriculture without immigrants?

Family Farm Defenders is proud to stand in solidarity with Voces de la Frontera and our other allies in defense of the rights of immigrants to be our friends, colleagues, and neighbors here in Wisconsin.  If AB 190 manages to worm its way through the legislature, it will not only pull the rug out from under the WI dairy industry, but it will tear a huge hole in the rich fabric of our rural communities that depend so much upon immigrants for their very livelihood.  Some Wisconsin abolitionists who aided the escape of slaves prior to the Civil War were charged with felonies and spent years in prison for their moral stance.  Rest assured, some of us are willing to stand up one again for what is right – there is no place for hate in the dairy state.

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We depend on immigrants to feed us — and then blame them

By:  Jim Goodman, dairy farmer, Wonewoc, WI & Family Farm Defenders board member

Jorge, who recently arrived from Mexico and asked that his last name not be used, works in the milking parlor of a dairy farm in northern Buffalo County. Jorge is among the estimated 51 percent of all dairy workers nationwide who are immigrants. (Photo by Coburn Dukehart)

Resentment of immigrants in America probably began in 1492 when European explorers began the process of taming the wilderness in this “newly discovered” land. The Americans who were living here at the time always knew exactly where they were and, I am sure, had a decidedly different view of who needed taming.

Immigrant resentment has progressed ever since, with different ethnic groups targeted in different times for different reasons. Currently, Hispanics are targeted because they supposedly take our jobs and Muslims are targeted because many people cannot accept diversity.

Without a doubt, immigration issues affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The “big, beautiful” border wall, immigrants stealing American jobs, immigrant crime (immigrant crime rates are actually lower than the general population’s rate) — these lies had their intended effect.

Perhaps the current, intense resentment of immigrants began in the late 1980s when, as the U.S. economy faltered, Mexican immigration to the U.S. was increasing. The passage of the North American Free Trade agreement in 1993 and the subsequent dumping of subsidized U.S. corn into Mexico further hastened the migration of Mexican farmers to the U.S.

I remember driving in Phoenix Arizona, in 2006, a time when immigration had again become a hot button issue. I noted the Hispanic workers paving streets, building houses, working on power lines, mowing lawns, working in stores and restaurants — and wondered who would take care of these Arizonians if the immigrants were deported?

During this current wave of immigrant hatred, I again wonder: Who will do the work if immigrants are deported? The dairy industry is built on the shift to fewer and larger farms that depend on low-wage immigrants to produce the cheap food Americans demand.

People ask, “Why don’t farmers just pay more and hire American workers?” Wouldn’t this eliminate the need for immigrant workers?

It’s not that simple.

With the exception of the higher farm-gate milk prices of 2014, dairy farmers are generally paid below the cost of production for the milk they produce. Making a profit depends on keeping costs low — they need cheap feed for their cattle and cheap labor. So, granted, immigrant workers are underpaid with some reason. Fair farm prices might help, but, mostly, immigrants are underpaid because they have no recourse: to whom would they protest?

Then there is the problem that not many “American” workers are willing to do this kind of work. I have milked cows all my life and consider it to be the best job I could have asked for, but you either have to love it or really need the paycheck — and I mean, really need it.

Milking my 45 cows is vastly different than milking cows on today’s “modern” dairy farms with hundreds or thousands of cows. Ten- or 12-hour shifts are not uncommon, and the working environment is constantly wet, noisy and dangerous, cows being big animals that don’t always act in a congenial manner.

These immigrants are not unskilled; they are hardworking and good at their jobs. Most of them were farmers in Mexico and Central America. Without them, without their farming skills, U.S. domestic agricultural production would be in serious trouble.

Immigrants also do a disproportionate share of the work on fruit and vegetable farms nationwide.

I have watched immigrant workers in the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida, — men, women and children — paid minimum wage at best, few breaks, long hot hours, all stoop labor and constantly exposed to toxic crop chemicals. No one could love these jobs, but this is what immigrants do because no one else will and because immigrants have few options.

In a society like ours, where there is no such thing as a living wage for a good share of the population, we depend on a cheap food supply. It is unconscionable that we have such income disparity, that we have allowed this cycle of poverty to exist. Unconscionable that in a nation with so much, so many must survive on so little. We depend on poorly paid immigrants to feed us, and then point at them as the problem.

Immigrants are vilified when all they want is to be accepted for what they contribute. It is immoral. A Salvadoran immigrant noted: “We only want to live in peace, work, have a home, be a family.” Clearly, in Trump’s mind, they’re bad hombres.

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NAFTA Needs To Be Replaced, Not Renegotiated

By: Jim Goodman, Family Farm Defenders board member, and organic dairy/beef farmer near Wonewoc, WI                                       Published by Common Dreams, 4/25/2017

While the current structure of NAFTA increased trade between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, farm profit margins did not increase. And now, both farmers and consumers are at risk from a trade deal that puts corporate profits above the people who grow and those who consume. (Photo: CBC)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) must be replaced with a transparent trade agreement that ensures farmers in all three nations—Canada, Mexico, and the United States—receive fair prices for their production, that consumers are guaranteed the right to know the content and origin of their food, and that strong environmental protections are put in place to protect the sustainability of rural communities.

While the current structure of NAFTA increased trade between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, farm profit margins did not increase. Multi-national grain traders made huge profits dumping subsidized US corn on Mexico, crushing much of Mexico’s farm economy to the point that Mexican Catholic Bishops said that NAFTA was leading to the “cultural death” of their nation. Trade agreements should promote fair trade that that supports farmers of all countries, not just the financial interests of multi-national agribusiness corporations.

To give just one recent example of how rural communities suffer from reckless trade policies that promote corporate profit at the farmers expense, on April 1st of this year, Grassland Dairy Products, the nation’s largest butter maker, informed 75 Wisconsin dairy farmers that, as of May 1, their milk would no longer be needed since, due to changes in the Canadian milk pricing system, Canadian buyers had canceled contracts to import the equivalent of one million pounds of milk per day.

Grassland management had been aware of forthcoming changes in the Canadian milk pricing system for at least several months, but Grassland gave their farmers minimal warning and left them with very few market options.

US processors, like Grassland, had been exploiting a loophole in the trade agreement that allowed them to ship ultra-filtered milk to Canadian cheese plants tariff-free since it was classified as an “ingredient” at the border. Once it arrived at the plants its classification was changed to “dairy” to legally meet Canadian cheese production standards.

Canada imposed no new taxes or tariffs on US dairy imports, they simply created a new “class” of milk that is priced at the world market price, just as the US imports were. Given this price equalization, Canadian cheese makers can now buy Canadian milk.

Canadians wants to “buy Canadian” just as Trump says we must “buy American.” Canada currently imports US dairy products worth five times the value of its dairy exports to the US. Meanwhile, US processors and producers assumed NAFTA promised them a never-ending market for their excess production—a reckless trade policy.

As Canadians note, the real problem with the US dairy industry is massive overproduction.

Because dairy US farms continue to expand and push for ever greater production, at some point (aka now) there is no room in market, the market is saturated and farmers will suffer. Processors, like Grassland however will not. They decry Canada canceling their contract, but have no problem doing the same to their farmers.

Ironically enough, Grassland has also been bankrolling the 5,000 cow factory farm expansion of Cranberry Creek Dairy in Dunn County, Wisconsin to further flood the domestic milk market. And as noted by Darin Von Ruden, President of Wisconsin Farmers Union, Grassland was cutting its milk purchases as part of the plan to build this corporate-owned 5,000-cow dairy.

Trade deals like NAFTA thrive on commodity speculation that boosts corporate profits, while bankrupting family farmers, price gouging consumers, and destroying the environment.

NAFTA should be replaced with a new Fair Trade agreement, one that ensures farmers receive prices that, at a minimum, meet their costs of production plus a living wage. Farmers, regardless of which side of the border they live on, should not be pitted against each other in a race to the bottom. They deserve to have access to their own domestic markets and to be protected from imported commodities that are unfairly priced below the cost of production (dumping). Furthermore, people of all participating countries should not be subject to trade rules that restrict their right to reject imports that do not meet their preferences on GM content; regulate pesticide use; mandate food labels; or otherwise protect local food systems.

The basic human rights of farm workers—including fair wages and safe working conditions—must be protected by trade rules that support jobs and rural development in all three countries.

Food is a human right. Food sovereignty cannot be compromised by trade agreements designed by corporate interests. All nations have a right to decide what they will eat, how it will be grown, and who will control it. No one should be forced to accept agricultural products they do not want.

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International Day of Peasant Struggle – Farmers and Allies Converge in Chicago on Mon. April 17th to Demand an End to Price Fixing and Land Grabbing – Food Sovereignty Now!


Contact: John E. Peck, Family Farm Defenders #608-345-3918
12:00 Noon Chicago Mercantile Exchange (141 W. Jackson) Leaflet and Speakout Against Commodity Price Fixing and Demanding Food Sovereignty

2:00 pm TIAA Financial Services (200 N. La Salle Dr.) Leaflet and Speakout Against Land Grabbing by Pension Fund Speculators

5:00 pm DePaul University – Lincoln Park Campus, Rm. 103 McGowan South (1110 W. Belden Ave.) Community Potluck & Seed Swap;  La Via Campesina Video and Report Back on the International Conference on Agrarian Reform, held in Maraba, Brazil in April 2016 – the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Eldorado dos Carajas with Jeff Frank of the Friends of the MST (Landless Workers Movement) of Brazil; Food Sovereignty Forum with speakers: Joel Greeno (Family Farm Defenders), Jessica Fujian (Food and Water Watch) and Amy Mall (Family Farm Defenders), among others followed by audience discussion.  Hosted by the
DePaul University Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning and Community Service Studies.
For over a decade now FFD and its allies have protested outside the front door of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) to mark the International Day of Peasant Struggle in solidarity with La Via Campesina, the largest umbrella organization for family farmers, fishers, herders, hunters, gatherers, foresters, and indigenous peoples in the world.  As the dominant commodity trading platform, the CME determines farmgate prices that ultimately dictate the fate of people across the planet.  Without effective government oversight, this “thin market” is easily manipulated by agribusiness giants, which is why FFD will be holding a speak out against the CME’s complicity in bankrupting family farmers and price gouging consumers.
This year, FFD will also be shining a spotlight on another little known perpetrator of injustice in our food/farm system – namely TIAA, one of the world’s largest pension fund managers.  Given their vast investment clout, TIAA is now the second largest landowner in the U.S. and is pursuing other speculative landgrabbing from Brazil to Australia.  This callous “profit over people” strategy, however, is causing massive deforestation, aggravating climate change, and driving small farmers off their land.   On Thurs. April 20th a coalition of environmental, human rights, labor, and farm organizations will be delivering over 100,000 signatures to the head office of TIAA in New York City, calling on them to adopt a more responsible investment policy that does not entail destroying forests and evicting farmers. 
For more details on the April 20th NYC action, please visit:  https://www.facebook.com/events/989764984488091/
“The world can no longer tolerate such unethical mercenary behavior from the likes of the CME or TIAA if we want to guarantee the future livelihood of our family farmers and the basic right of everyone to enjoy nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food,” noted John E. Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders. “The only real solution to the global food crisis is to restore democratic control over our entire agricultural system – and that is why we will be coming to Chicago on April 17th to demand food sovereignty now.”
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Twice the Toxicity: Farmers and Public Interest Groups Sue EPA for Approving Dow’s Deadly Pesticide Combo


March 21, 2017


Courtney Sexton; 202-547-9359, pr@centerforfoodsafety.org

Paul Achitoff; 808-599-2436, achitoff@earthjustice.org

Stephanie Parent; 971-717-6404, sparent@biologicaldiversity. org

Linda Wells; 563-940-1242, linda@panna.org

Jay Feldman; 202-255-4296, jfeldman@beyondpesticides.org

EPA approval of Dow AgroScience’s Enlist Duo will lead to sharply increased spraying of toxic pesticides, harming farmers, neighboring crops, and wildlife

SAN FRANCISCO—Today farmers, conservation groups, and food and farm justice organizations stood up to protest against the contamination of rural communities, our food supply, and the environment by filing a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration. The groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under new administrator Scott Pruitt for approving Dow AgroScience’s Enlist Duo, a mixture of the weed-killing chemicals glyphosate and 2,4-D—both of which are known to be highly toxic. The novel combo pesticide is sprayed directly on corn, soybean, and cotton plants that are genetically engineered by Dow specifically to survive exposure to the pesticide. EPA approved the use of the pesticide in 34 states.

Farmers will be hit hard by the human health harms of Enlist Duo, and are put at risk financially by 2,4-D’s known tendency to volatize, drift, and damage neighboring crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects  that Enlist Duo’s approval will lead to as much as a seven-fold increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D—a component of the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant “Agent Orange”, which has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and other reproductive problems. The other component of Enlist Duo is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship pesticide Roundup. Glyphosate was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015.

This is the second lawsuit the groups have had to bring over the product. After the groups challenged its initial approval in 2014, the Obama Administration agreed to re-analyze some of its impacts. Unfortunately, EPA then re-affirmed its original approval and dramatically expanded it, allowing Enlist Duo to be sprayed in more than twice as many states and on cotton in addition to corn and soybeans.

Enlist crops and Enlist Duo are part of a disturbing, industry-wide trend where crops are genetically engineered to withstand multiple pesticides, allowing pesticide companies like Dow and Monsanto to sell both expensive GE seeds and large quantities of the pesticide cocktails that are sprayed on them. While these GE crop systems initially provide a quick-fix way to kill weeds, the intensive spraying triggers rapid evolution of weed resistance to the chemicals. Just as overuse of antibiotics breeds resistant bugs and more antibiotics to kill them, so these GE crop systems drive a toxic spiral of increasing weed resistance and pesticide use.

In addition to health risks, significant crop damage from pesticide drift, and increases in both weed resistance and pesticide use, spraying Enlist Duo on millions of acres will contaminate waterways and important wildlife habitat. EPA’s own assessments found that Enlist Duo is highly toxic to numerous plants and animals, including endangered and threatened species found in or near agricultural fields.

The petitioners bringing the lawsuit are National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity, represented jointly by legal counsel from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.



“Further industrialization of agriculture through Dow’s chemical solutions will lead to fewer family farmers, more pollution and more resistant weeds, but that will be okay for chemical companies like Dow with only one solution to every problem in agriculture—a sledge hammer of more chemicals and the GMOs immune to them.  Enlist Duo’s own label recognizes there may be weed biotypes already resistant to glyphosate or 2,4-D,” said George Naylor of the National Family Farm Coalition, who farms non-genetically-engineered crops in Iowa.

Jim Goodman, Family Farm Defenders board member and organic farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin, commented: “Roundup was initially touted as a replacement for older, more dangerous chemicals like 2,4-D. Now that Roundup, the widely used carcinogenic pesticide is failing to kill weeds, Dow is bringing back 2,4-D and teaming them up to create a more toxic mix than ever. Will the buffer strips on my organic farm be adequate protection from the more volatile drift-prone nature of 2,4-D? I should not be put in the position to find out.”

“Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are endangering farmers and the environment by caving to Big Ag and approving this highly toxic pesticide combo,” said Sylvia Wu, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety and legal counsel in the case. “Fortunately we have laws written to protect farmers and the environment, and we intend to have the Court enforce them.”

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented: “EPA knows that spraying a hundred thousand tons of this pesticide on millions of acres every year will threaten the survival and recovery of some of our most iconic endangered species, but it refuses to follow the law that protects them. We will hold EPA accountable.”

“The lack of vision and oversight by our federal agencies is outrageous,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America. “By continuing to defer to the pesticide industry’s every wish, EPA shirks its duty to protect the health of rural communities and the livelihoods of farmers. It also locks us into a failed and obsolete model of chemical-intensive agriculture, rather than spearheading a transition to the healthy, vibrant food and farming system that Americans deserve. ”

“EPA’s registration of Enlist Duo, which causes unreasonable adverse effects to health and the environment, is responsible for increased 2,4-D use –as much as a seven-fold increase to 176 million per year by 2020, without the economic return achieved by those who practice sustainable organic production,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

“In reissuing an expanded approval for this toxic chemical cocktail, the EPA has shown an utter disregard for human health, our drinking water and endangered species like the iconic whooping crane,” said Stephanie Parent, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The law requires reasonable safeguards and the EPA has left us with no choice but to force the issue in this suit.”



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