For the Rights of Humans and Nature, Line 3 Fight Must Continue!

By: Anthony Pahnke, vice president of Family Farm Defenders, and assistant professor of international relations at San Francisco State University in San Francisco.

Originally published by the Cap Times (Madison, WI) on Aug. 28th, 2021

Right to Rice = Indigenous Food Sovereignty!

People who grow and harvest food know the many ways nature communicates. For instance, if you plant corn but no cobs appear, then there’s probably a lack of nitrogen in the soil. Likewise, when your tomato plants turn yellow and die, you may have a problem with water.

These conversations show how a continuous dialogue takes place between farmers, ranchers and gatherers, and the land, water and air that connect us together in the food system.

Such a recognition, in the most basic way, is part of the lawsuit filed by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to halt Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 oil pipeline expansion. The expansion, which is underway and has been the focus of months of protests from Indigenous people and allies, would pump an estimated one million barrels of tar sands oil per day out of Alberta, Canada, through northern Minnesota to Superior for processing and export.

What makes the lawsuit worthy of our attention is that not only is the White Earth Band of Ojibwe a plaintiff, but so is Manoomin (otherwise known as wild rice). This legal move is derived from the rights of nature doctrine, evoked around the world to protect lakes, rivers and other non-human actors in nature. Recognizing wild rice as a plaintiff gives it a legal space with which it can communicate with everyone to make its case.

And what does wild rice tell us? It reminds us of the many challenges that climate change poses. For example, wild rice is integral to the Ojibwe’s food system. It is also part of traditions that predate the Euro-American court system that has allowed the expansion of Line 3. Wild rice also expresses to us that it needs water to grow, live and flourish. That the Ojibwe have filed their lawsuit with wild rice is to remind us that people also need water.

Yet the Minnesota DNR issued a permit of questionable legality to increase to amount of water needed to construct the pipeline from 500 million gallons to 5 billion. This move threatens the water source for the rice and its human neighbors.

Wild rice has more to tell us.

We are being told yet again that producing fossil fuels contributes to an energy system driving extreme weather patterns. Droughts, floods and hurricanes are not new. What has changed is their frequency, which is connected to the burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, tar sands companies are looking to become ‘net zero’ carbon emitters by 2050. That may appear good, even a way to rein in certain companies. Yet the devil is in the details.

‘Zero net emission’ is tantamount to allowing a company to pollute in one area while promoting environmentally friendly practices in another. This would allow tar sands companies to continue to extract their product in the most wasteful ways in one area while at the same time, planting trees in some faraway place.

Such a problem is found in the recently passed Growing Climate Solutions Act, which made its way through the Senate in June. This legislation, even as it professes to deal with climate change, actually provides agribusiness and fossil fuel companies leeway to dictate the direction of environmental and agricultural policy.

In this way, wild rice forces us to acknowledge that it grows not all over the world, but only in certain places, one of which is in northern Minnesota. For this reason, the Ojibwe made wild rice harvesting central to treaties that the nation made with the U.S. government in the 19th century. In these documents, the U.S. agreed to allow the Ojibwe to harvest wild rice on ceded lands. This is why the expansion of Line 3 threatens treaty rights.

Wild rice also has lots to say to President Joe Biden.

In what seemed a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump, Biden was going to seriously deal with climate change. The president nixed the Keystone pipeline, which would have sent tar sands oil through the southern U.S.

But now what? End one pipeline to let another one operate? That doesn’t make sense.

Some may note that Line 3 is nearing completion, and, so, the fight has been lost. But the reality is that pipeline accidents are frequent, which even after their construction, spill oil into the environment. As much has been seen in the Dakota Access pipeline, which is found to have leaks upon completion.

Wild rice is trying to tell us that Line 3 must come to a halt. If its construction reaches completion, then no oil should pulse through it. And if it were to turn operational, then no other pipelines should be constructed or renovated.

The point is that not only does wild rice have lots to say, but that nature has rights. To claim this is to recognize and respect nature. The question is if we are ready to acknowledge nature and engage in real communication with it so that we work together for our mutual benefit

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F-35s, Toxic Sludge, and PFAS – Oh My! The Sorry Legacy of the Military Industrial Complex

F-35s, Toxic Sludge, and PFAS – Oh My! The Sorry Legacy of the Military Industrial Complex

By: John E. Peck, executive director, Family Farm Defenders

Version of this article will be appearing in the Summer 2021 FFD Defenders Newsletter

FFD joins anti F-35 rally in Madison

As I write this article, the “sound of freedom” (to paraphrase our former Republican WI Governor, Scott Walker) is roaring over my home as F-16 fighter jets practice their take-off maneuvers from the nearby Truax Air Base. None have crashed (yet) in my neighborhood, though one did go down killing the pilot in a remote area of the UP of Michigan just last Dec. I recall how when I arrived at UW-Madison for grad school back in the 1990s that Amish farmers had submitted an unprecedented petition to state elected officials, requesting the end of low level military flights (100-300’) in WI’s Driftless Region. The number of livestock miscarriages, buggy accidents, and cattle stampedes were almost too many to count. For a community built around pacifism, the ominous presence of such infernal war machines must be a constant spiritual challenge.

The latest proposal to base F-35 fighter jets in Madison and other communities across the U.S. has renewed the public debate over the utility of our military, as well as its legacy. As part of his 1961 farewell address at the height of the Cold War, Republican Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the insidious influence of the military industrial complex. In another speech he lamented excessive military spending as a waste of scarce public resources – “the jet plane that roars overhead costs three quarters of a million dollars. That’s more than a man will make in his lifetime. What world can afford this kind of thing for long?” Half a century later, the F-35 has now become the most expensive weapon system ever developed – $1.7 trillion and growing, a final price tag per plane of $100 million. It costs twice as much ($40,000 per hour) to fly a F-35 compared to a F-16. Some branches of the military have already balked at this boondoggle and cancelled their Pentagon orders.

Retired Air Force Colonel, Rosanne Greco, who spent 30 years on active duty, is a prominent voice in Save Our Skies, the community organization opposing the F-35s being based in Burlington, VT. Her opposition to the plane is based upon its complicity in perpetuating a dangerously obsolete airborne nuclear triad (including the B2 and B52 bombers). Unlike a bomber, though, the F-35’s capacity for armageddon with its two 50 megaton bombs is in the hands of a single pilot. Given its stealth capacity, the F-35 is also designed for offensive capacity – for example, Israel recently used the F-35s it received from the U.S. to carpet bomb targets in Gaza as part of its ongoing deadly conflict with Palestine.

Of course, today the perceived enemies of the U.S. have changed and the supposed wars we wage have become even vaguer. Who is a terrorist – and how does one even defeat terrorism? Is that just the name the big army calls the little army (no doubt, the rebellious colonists at Bunker Hill would have been terrorists in the mind of King George III if he had that word in his vocabulary back in 1776…) Shouldn’t we consider global climate change to be a major threat to our national security? Little did our ancestors realize that the military itself could prove to be one of the greatest threats to humanity. As the largest single consumer of fossil fuel and producer of toxic waste in the U.S., the Pentagon has assumed a lot of responsibility for its existence.

The synthetic chemicals known as PFAS were originally created because of their amazing versatility and longevity (hence their nickname “forever chemicals”). But PFAS exposure is now known to cause many adverse effects – according to the EPA these include cancer, immune system disorders, low infant birth weights, and thyroid problems. PFAS derivatives are now found in the blood stream of 98% of all U.S. residents, with nearly 200 PFAS hot spots in 39 states threatening the drinking water of 110+ million people. Fort McCoy in WI is one such site, that is also responsible for contaminating nearby trout streams. The DNR ordered the Pentagon to deal with toxic PFAS runoff from Fort McCoy back in 2018, but nothing has happened. Decades of use of PFAS-laced flame retardants, hydraulic fluids, and other chemical compounds at Truax Air Base and an adjacent fire fighting training site, led to the recent shutdown of Madison’s well #15 – from which I’ve been drinking city water for years – now deemed unsafe for human consumption. Runoff from Truax has thoroughly contaminated Starkweather Creek, too, that flows into Lake Monona – and the DNR recently issued fish consumption warnings for the entire Yahara River Lake Chain. For many struggling residents who rely on fishing to supplement their family’s diet, PFAS has become an environmental justice issue. Same goes for the predominantly lower income neighborhoods with many people of color who live in the Truax flight corridor. These folks will suffer excessive noise levels, adverse health consequences (especially for children), and face the costly prospect of trying to relocate to quieter neighborhoods with much higher rents. A huge swath of my community has been declared a de-facto “military sacrifice zone.”

Unbeknownst to many, PFAS also threatens our nation’s food supply. For example, in March 2019 it was reported that a New Mexico dairy farmer, Art Shaap, had to start dumping 15,000 gallons of milk per day from his farm, and laid off 40 employees because his well water had become so tainted with PFAS from the nearby Cannon Air Force Base. His beef animals and irrigated crops were also too contaminated to sell on the open market. The Madison Metropolitan Sewage District (MMSD) peddles its biosolids as as a fertilizer, with an estimated 37 million gallons per year being applied on 5,000+ acres of WI cropland. This material contains PFAS residues, but the MMSD along with 125 other sewage districts across the state have refused to start testing such, despite an explicit request from the DNR to do so. Is ignorance bliss? One is reminded of the chilling 1995 book, Toxic Sludge is Good For You, by longtime FFD member, John Stauber, and Sheldon Rampton.

The former DNR chief under Republican WI Gov. Tommy Thompson, George Meyer, has noted that members of Congress often prefer to spend more money building a new aircraft carrier than earmarking military funds for cleaning up the Pentagon’s toxic legacy. This carefree notion of weapons programs being a sacred cash cow for luring federal taxpayer dollars back into one’s home district is bipartisan – with both WI senators, Tammy Baldwin (D) and Ron Johnson (D) being ardent F-35 supporters. Other boosters such as the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce are quick to cite the many jobs and the subsequent economic multiplier effects provided by having the Air National Guard Base at Truax – implying that without the F-35s the base will close. Opponents of the F-35 counter that the Air National National Guard could certainly pursue a more peaceful less toxic mission – such as being the Midwest hub for rapid airborne response to address climate change induced disasters such as historic floods, storms, and wild fires. And Madison could also serve as a national model for a fullscale clean-up operation. Unfortunately, mitigation of the existing PFAS contamination is not a prerequisite for basing F-35s at Truax. Their presence will simply add to the ticking toxic timebomb.

In his Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell astutely remarked “you see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.” John Kinsman, the founder of Family Farm Defenders and reluctant WWII veteran (who passed away on MLKJ Day in 2012) was a lifetime peace and justice activist. When he urged the organization to join Farms Not Arms shortly after the outbreak of the Iraq War, I remember him saying that turning swords into plowshares was not enough. We needed to transform our entire economy and philosophy towards nonviolent conflict resolution. If we ever wish to achieve a just transition towards food sovereignty, then we will need to consign the reckless, toxic, and profligate F-35 to the dustbin of history. Think of all the actual good we could bring about in our world with $1.7 trillion dollars? A much better task would be to roll up our sleeves and restore planetary health and foster global friendship instead.

For more info on how you can join the grassroots anti-F-35 campaign in WI, visit:www.safeskiescleanwaterwi.org

For more info on PFAS and what you can do to demand phase-out and clean-up of these toxins, visit: www.cswab.org

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Family Farm Defenders Joins 300+ Other Allies to Oppose the U.N. Food System Summit (UNFSS)!

Family Farm Defenders joins the global call to action demanding #FoodSystems4People! Over 300 global civil society organizations of small-scale food producers, researchers and Indigenous Peoples’ will gather online (July 25-28) to protest against the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit. The People’s Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systems is the latest in a series of rejections of the UNFSS. Resulting from a partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum (formed by the world’s top 1000 corporations), the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is disproportionately influenced by corporate actors, and lacks transparency and accountability mechanisms. That is why FFD and many other allies are choosing not to participate in this process, and urge others to join is supporting the worldwide counter mobilization.

You can view the FFD video opposing the UNFSS here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j1BhwKDIZyzi4izGfzSnsaZiSPfaBEC0/view

For more info on the worldwide grassroots counter mobilization to the UNFSS, visit: (https://tinyurl.com/6f3tbx78).  

You can also read an excellent overview of the systemic problems with the UNFSS process from La Via Campesina (LVC) here: https://viacampesina.org/en/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/12/LVC-Position_EN_UN-Food-Summit_2020_LowRes3.pdf

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Billions for Farmers of Color Isn’t Racist – It’s Smart and Long Overdue

The failures of the food system during the pandemic showed us that the corporate-consolidated mode of farming inflexible and wasteful.

By: Anthony Pahnke, vice president of Family Farm Defenders, and Jim Goodman, retired dairy farmer and FFD board member

Originally published by Common Dreams, 5/15/2021

About 97% of all land in the U.S. is now owned by white people – how did this happen? There were one million African American family farmers just a century ago – now there are less than 50,000…

You’ve probably heard that $5 billion from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Stimulus Plan has been dedicated to farmers of color.

Specifically, that designation is for “socially disadvantaged farmers,” which according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is anyone who has been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group.

You should also be aware that the Biden administration is being sued by several white farmers for racial discrimination – not for the government’s past actions against people of color, but because the current administration is making an effort to address racism and the historic inequalities inflicted on people of color by the USDA.

Before we get into why Biden’s multi-billion-dollar designation to farmers of color is not racist, let’s get into some important details of this $1.9 trillion stimulus.

First, according to the Farm Bureau, Biden’s plan dedicates approximately $22.7 to nutrition and agriculture. Of that amount, $10 billion is solely for farming, $3.6 billion to purchase and distribute agricultural commodities along with $5 billion intended to provide debt relief for farmers of color.

Consider these numbers in the context of the Trump-era bailouts – the first for $12 billion in 2018, and the second, for $16 billion in 2019 – that funneled cash into the countryside, with the bulk of these payments going to large-scale white farmers, as well as to agribusiness corporations.

The need for such payments shows how agriculture has changed over the course of the twentieth century.

Some USDA policies, specifically, New Deal-era policies that helped guarantee fair prices (parity) for farmers of certain crops, from milk to corn, have been steadily eliminated over the past decades. Programs that guaranteed fair farm prices and adequate domestic supplies of food were replaced by a system of bigger farms, monoculture grain crops, and livestock confinement facilities designed to produce for a global marketplace.

This policy shift pushed small white and Black farmers off the land, hastening the decline of rural communities. To partially mitigate the disastrous up and down swings of commodity prices in a “get big or get out” global economy, a system of farm subsidy payments, funded by the taxpayer, was established.

Part of this story is how farmers of color in particular, have been systematically denied the same resources that white farmers received.

Pete Daniel, in his book, Dispossession: Discrimination Against Afraicn American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights, documents how Black lost their operations at a disproportionate rate when compared to their white counterparts. Central to the loss of Black farmers was the fact that they were either denied loans outright or were not provided adequate information of public policies to give them a fair chance to qualify for those loans.

In response, Pigford v Glickman, which is the largest civil rights settlement that has been decided to date, sent about $1 billion to individual farmers who were found to have experienced racial discrimination by the USDA. Latino farmers, would follow suit, filing Garcia v Vilsack, shortly after the Pigford decision, as would Native Americans, in Keapseagle v Vilsack.

Socially disadvantaged farmers appeared as one group, first receiving resources in the 1994 Farm Bill.

So, taking all this into consideration, we are left with some questions – if white farmers feel disadvantaged, then where are the lawsuits against the other groups, such as veterans or women farmers? Why file a lawsuit that specifically targets farmers of color?

The lawsuit on behalf of a group of white farmers in Wisconsin, launched by the right-wing Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, (like a similar lawsuit in Texas), claims that dedicating resources to specific groups to which white farmers may not belong, is racist.

What such lawsuits really show, is not a concern with agriculture, but instead a shallow form of identity politics that is meant to rally poor, rural white people to the political right. Yet, as USDA Secretary Vilsack noted, “–it’s pretty clear that white farmers did pretty well,” referencing payouts in 2020 relief programs.

Let’s be honest – if those on the right really cared about agriculture and rural communities, rather than targeting cash payments to large-scale farmers and agribusiness firms as they chose to do these past few years, policymakers would have dedicated adequate resources to those truly in need and made a real attempt to reform the inflexible and wasteful system that currently feeds us.

The failures of the food system during the pandemic showed us that the corporate-consolidated mode of farming inflexible and wasteful. Creating the conditions that encourage diverse, small-scale farmers to enter the profession is one avenue to a better food system.

Farmers of color – particularly African American producers – have suffered from both the decimation of rural America as well as decades of systemic racism.

We can begin to reverse the racism against Black farmers not only through debt relief but also the $1 billion in outreach and training from the Biden stimulus bill which is necessary to ensure that current and beginning farmers of color acquire the necessary tools to produce food for themselves and their communities.

Most importantly, to address racism it must be confronted directly. Lacking that specific intent, history has shown us that Black people are always left behind.

There is no anti-white racism involved here, only further attempts to perpetuate decades of institutional racism against Black farmers.

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How Progressive Farming Groups Are Pushing Biden and Congress – A growing battle to push back against Big Ag

By Celia Wexler, Blue Tent, 3/17/2021

Tucked into the massive American Rescue Plan law is a provision that will deliver $5 billion to Black farmers, for decades the victims of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That addition to the bill may have surprised some progressive nonprofits inside the Beltway. But John Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, knew all about it. After all, he was part of a large rural coalition lobbying for the assistance.

“We pushed hard” for that reform, Peck says. He referred to a letter signed by 181 rural groups and their support for the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. “We were having conference calls about this,” Peck says.

He credits House Agriculture Committee chair David Scott (D-Ga.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) for leading the effort to get many of the major elements of the bill included in the final pandemic rescue package.

“It’s a drop in the bucket… compared to all the handouts corporate agribusiness got from all the previous COVID relief,” he says. Nevertheless, the provision was “definitely something,” and in part, the result of effective rural organizing.

Part of a global movement

Founded in 1994, FFD has 3,500 members across the country and an annual budget of between $50,000 and $60,000. Peck is the only staffer, and he works part-time. Peck grows flowers and many types of vegetables on his 1.5-acre farm. He also holds a doctorate and teaches economics and environmental studies at a local technical college. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, he may be miles away from Washington, D.C. and other world capitals, but his understanding of the issues confronting family farmers is far from parochial.

His group is part of a global movement of farmers who are united in their opposition to the growing power of a few agribusiness corporations that threaten their livelihoods and the future of the planet.

FFD wants to enforce antitrust laws to oppose those monopolies. It also wants trade policies that don’t allow big corporations to impose U.S. trade policies on other countries. And it endorses laws to restrict how much land foreign investors can own in the U.S.

FFD has an international reach. The group strongly supports Indian farmers, who are protesting new policies that would benefit large agribusiness operations at the expense of small farmers. “Food sovereignty is an important principle, and all farmers and workers have the right to be paid a just and living wage,” Joel Greeno, FFD president, told Indian rural reformers during a global webinar in February.

Peck said FFD and other rural reform and trade groups are contacting members of Congress to make their case. “We want the U.S. to stop imposing free trade on India. That’s why [Indian Prime Minister Narenda] Modi is doing that stuff. That’s U.S.-driven. That’s U.S. foreign policy and trade policy encouraging Modi to rip the rug out from under his farmers. Modi’s changes will allow U.S. corporations “to move in… Walmart wants to get in there, Amazon’s already in there.”

Global trade demonstrations are nothing new for FFD. In 1999, an FFD contingent joined massive protests disrupting a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

Solidarity with workers

Closer to home, FFD organized a farm tractorcade in 2011, opposing Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to strip collective bargaining rights from state and local government workers. Fifty-three tractors showed up at the state capitol, part of the state’s “largest demonstration” against Walker’s proposals. Those rights are something Wisconsin farmers understand. Most dairy farmers in Wisconsin belong to co-ops, which try to use the collective power of their members to negotiate the best price for their milk.

FFD used grassroots organizing and social media to launch the event. “Grassroots people power did that,” Peck says. But many reporters assumed the group must have used a D.C.-based consultant or spent millions of dollars to achieve the result, Peck says.

The fact that FFD’s membership is so active and engaged is also something that foundations find difficult to believe, he says. When the group applies for grants, program officers often doubt that such a small group and small staff can do what it proposes to do.

“A lot of work is being done by very small grassroots groups that don’t even qualify for big money from donors,” Peck says.

Most of its financial support comes from its grassroots fundraising, and donations from members and other small donors, he says. But FFD also has received steady support from Farm Aid, and recently received its first grant from the Bea Fund.

Unsure about Vilsack

FFD represents farmers who actually do the work—growing crops or raising livestock, either on land they own or rent. While the election of President Joe Biden as heartened many progressives, Peck worries that the problems farmers face may go unaddressed by Democrats.

Those problems are longstanding. In 1952, for every food product consumers purchased, farmers got about 50 cents on the dollar. Now, their earnings have been reduced to about 15 cents.

The demise of family farms has changed the agricultural landscape, Peck says. Wisconsin license plates depict a “little red barn with some cows outside. But that’s not what these corporate agribusiness operations look like… You don’t see any cows outside. It’s just giant barns. All the cows are locked inside, you see giant manure lagoons. And it looks like a factory… And then you have, next door, a bunch of trailer houses full of undocumented immigrants who are basically working at this farm and living in rather squalid conditions, in many cases.”

Peck is hoping that Sens. Booker and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) will reintroduce their proposal to impose an immediate indefinite moratorium on agriculture mergers and that Congress will pass it. “Three or four corporations control almost every major commodity in the food system. So that needs to stop,” he says.

But he doesn’t have much faith in Tom Vilsack, whom Biden selected to head the Department of Agriculture, a position he held during the Obama years. Vilsack is returning to the job after serving as the head of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, which primarily represents the interests of big dairy producers.

Hearings and then “nothing”

Peck recalls that early in his tenure in the Obama administration, Vilsack appeared at a Wisconsin county fair where FFD was protesting “dairy price-fixing.” He and his FFD colleagues “crashed” his press conference and asked him to enforce antitrust laws to prevent a few agribusinesses from determining how much farmers receive for their products.

Vilsack pledged to hold antitrust hearings on the issue, Peck says. FFD and other farm reform groups turned out small farmers to testify. The 2010 hearings were “the biggest thing happening for farmers ever,” Peck says.

At the Madison, Wisconsin, hearing, “hundreds of dairy farmers came to testify about how these corporations are ripping them off,” he says.

At hearings in other states, farmers complained about corporate monopolies dominating the market for seeds and controlling the prices they received for the poultry and livestock they raised. At a hearing on retail issues, “all these consumer groups showed up” angry about Walmart “controlling 25% of our groceries and setting prices,” Peck says.

“Tons of testimony” was taken, he adds. Justice Department lawyers took copious notes. “All these politicians showed up,” says Peck. In the end, he says, “nothing came of it. He surmises that “somebody got to the White House and said, ‘Can it. No anti-trust in ag.’”

Indeed, under Obama’s watch, food giants got even bigger. In 2015, H.J. Heinz was allowed to merge with Kraft Foods, creating a company valued at $80 billion. That same year, Brazilian-based JBS bought Cargill’s U.S. pork business, concentrating power in that market in even fewer companies.

If Vilsack and Biden wanted to, they have the hearing record to “dust off” and get serious about curbing monopoly power, Peck says. But he is concerned that history will repeat itself. “So that’s what we’re worried about. I mean, we’re just going to have a similar nothingness.”

Lessons of pandemic

Nevertheless, Peck does believe that the pandemic has brought home problems with a food system that results in Americans relying on food grown abroad, and the instability of global food chains.

“That exposed how brutal the whole corporate industrial globalized food system is,” he says. “Supply shortages at the store, farmers dumping milk, or killing their pigs because they had no market anymore, meatpacking plants shut down.” Peck says he saw people “desperately going to the farmers market” to seek the food they could no longer find at their “big box” store. They were welcomed. “We grew it here. We’re not dependent on that supply chain.”

The threat of climate change also demonstrates the problems of consumer dependence on food from around the globe, Peck says. “There’s sort of this misperception that farmers are benefiting from food trade. That’s just not true,” Peck says. “Farmers don’t export food. Corporations export food.”

Agribusiness giant Cargill may be based in Minneapolis, Peck contends, but it’s a “global business. They’ll dump corn on anybody, wherever they can get the most money for it.”

As a consequence, the global footprint of food exports can be enormous, he says. He notes that local supermarkets in the Madison area are now selling asparagus. It’s not locally grown, he says. “It is coming from Chile,” making an energy-intensive trek to the Midwest. “People are ready for spring. But do you really need to invest in a food system that does that?… Can’t you just wait and enjoy something in season?”

Gobbling up farmland

Another consequence of globalization is the rising price of American farmland, as global hedge funds and investment firms increase their land holdings in the U.S. In 2010, TIAA-CREF, the global firm that manages pension funds for public employees and those in the nonprofit and education sector, pronounced land “like gold” and embarked on a buying spree, driving up the price of farmland. That’s made it more difficult for farmers who rent their land, and made it far less possible for young farmers starting out to buy land, Peck says, adding that states must retain laws that restrict foreign and corporate ownership of farmland.

The recognition of global trade’s downsides seems to have made the media more receptive to rural problems. FFD members are getting their views published in beltway publications such as The Hill and Politico. Recently, even the vaunted New Yorker magazine has been interested in FFD, and interviewed Peck.

Peck praised an op-ed written by FFD member Bill Hogseth, which ran late last year in Politico Magazine. Hogseth, who also chairs the local Democratic party in rural Dunn County, Wisconsin, faulted Democrats for decades of neglect of rural voters.

Bring back COOL

Peck hasn’t given up entirely on the Biden administration. If the White House stood up to the WTO and permitted country of origin labeling (COOL), that would help change his mind, he says. In 2016, the trade body ruled against a U.S. law requiring meat and poultry producers to disclose on their labels where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The WTO’s judgement threatened the U.S. with $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs if it did not back down. Congress repealed the labeling law.

But if Peck is waiting for this validation from the White House, he may be disappointed. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Vilsack said he was open to trying to reinstate the labeling mandate. “Consumers want to know where their food comes from,” he told senators. But he added a note of caution: “We can ignore the WTO, but then we’ve got the retaliation, and then, you know, that’s just not a good thing.”

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