The US Forces Its Flawed Food System on the World

We ignore the fact that efforts, like AGRA, have failed and we refuse to support and fund Agroecological solutions that will work.

By Jim Goodman, FFD board member and retired WI dairy farmer

Originally published by Common Dreams, April 22, 2022

Ukraine – the Bread Basket of Europe

Even before the war in Ukraine, the sanctions on Russia, and the shipping blockade of the Black Sea, farmers across the US were getting ready for higher prices on seed, fertilizer, and crop chemicals. All winter, major farm media was warning farmers to book supplies early as prices would be high and supplies would be short. The war in Ukraine has only amped up the concern among farmers, input suppliers, and those who erroneously proclaim that we, the US, must feed the world.

Here in the US, farmers are told they can and must feed the world by growing more corn, more soy, and more livestock in confinement, even if that is not what the world wants or can afford to eat.

The farm media offers suggestions as to how farmers, despite relatively higher crop prices, might deal with the even steeper increase in input costs. Use less, get your old tillage equipment out or, heaven forbid, consider manually pulling weeds like farmers used to do—of course, years ago, farmers didn’t run thousands of acres.

While oil companies used the sanctions on Russian oil to steeply ramp up their prices, even though Russian oil continues to flow almost without interruption, corporate agribusiness also has a convenient smokescreen to ramp up input prices even further—nothing short of blatant corporate profiteering.

Despite the war, Ukrainian farmers continue to plant and shift their production to feed Ukrainians locally. But, like Ukraine, farmers all over the world cannot farm if they are under fire, so, acreage planted and tons harvested in 2022 will be down significantly from years past. With grain and fertilizer tied up by Russian blockades of Black sea terminals, severe drought and flooding, and aftereffects of the COVID pandemic, food prices will continue to climb as the consolidated global agricultural system is faced with problems they are unable to deal with.

Ignoring its obvious faults and clear failures, the industrial food system is touted as the only way forward. Our consolidated food system is immensely profitable for the multinationals that supply the inputs and for those that buy, process and distribute the crops and livestock into the global supply chain. For the farmers, not so much. They buy at retail, sell at wholesale, all while competing against each other in a rigged marketplace. Here in the US, farmers are told they can and must feed the world by growing more corn, more soy, and more livestock in confinement, even if that is not what the world wants or can afford to eat.

Industrial agriculture requires ever larger and more expensive equipment, larger farms, more fragile land put into production and it will continue the trend of depopulating rural America as small farms, rural communities, and local food systems are destroyed by corporate big ag.

And what of farmers in the rest of the world? In the Global South the situation is ever more dire and more unfair. Farmers are pressured by governments, the World Bank, and philanthropists like Bill Gates to follow the industrial model of the US, nevermind its failures, nevermind its cost.

Efforts like the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), despite billions of dollars spent and promises to double food production and increase farmer income, have proven to be a failure. Africa does not have better access to food, the farmers are poorer and are being driven off their land, victims of technology, the cost of inputs they cannot afford, and land grabs by foreign governments and corporations. Perhaps if African countries were not at the mercy of international lending institutions and their farmers the victims of climate change and agri-colonialism, they might feed themselves?

There will always be food for those with money, energy for those with money, needed vaccines for those with money— the multi-national corporations will see to that, even as they continue to extract profit from countries least able to afford it. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres likened the ongoing and increasing crisis to “a Sword of Damocles now hanging over the global economy—especially the developing world”.

The failures of the system in the US are easily seen—fragility of the supply chain, the emergence of herbicide-resistant “super weeds,” failure of the “promise” of genetically modified crops, loss of farms, unrestrained water use and pollution, staggering farm debt, and climate change, driven in part by the agricultural system itself.

We don’t know who really said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” but they had a point. We have a high-tech industrial food system that is in crisis and has over and over shown its flaws and failures, yet we carry on in denial. We throw good money after bad, trying to push the same failing systems on Africa and countries across the Global South. We ignore the fact that efforts, like AGRA, have failed and we refuse to support and fund Agroecological solutions that will work.

Crisis should drive efforts for change. Why do we insist on more of the same?

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Don’t be Fooled Wisconsin by TIAA’s Greenwashing!

Farmers, Students, Teachers, and Unions Deliver a “Thank You” Cake to UW-Madison Chancellor, Rebecca Blank, Asking Her as a Board Member of TIAA to No Longer Allow the Global Pension Fund’s Investment in Land Grabbing, Fossil Fuels, and Climate Injustice!

For Immediate Release – 3/30/2022

Info? Contact: John E. Peck, Exec. Dir., Family Farm Defenders #608-260-0900

Fri. April 1st, 3:00 pm UW-Madison’s Bascom Hall (500 Lincoln Dr.)

Delicious carrot cake with cream cheese frosting delivered to UW Chancellor, Rebecca Blank – but, alas, she was not there, so her staff had to enjoy this in her absence – hopefully, they saved a slice for her…

Climate activists, union members, UW students, and WI farmers gathered on April Fool’s Day outside UW-Madison’s Bascom Hall to deliver a “thank you” cake to UW-Madison, Chancellor, Rebecca Blank, calling on TIAA – the trillion dollar global pension fund where she serves on the board of governors – to divest from land grabbing, fossil fuels, and climate injustice. Concerned citizens are also urged to call/email the Chancellor Blank on Fri. April 1st: #608-262-9946 chancellor@wisc.edu

Similar coordinated weeklong actions will be happening at colleges and universities across the U.S. as students, staff, faculty, and retirees become increasingly upset that their institutions and pensions have been misappropriated to bankroll irresponsible practices without their permission. A petition with 20,000+ signatures is being delivered to TIAA headquarters in New York City on Fri. Other actions will be happening at Claremont College, CA; Cornell Univ., NY; and Univ. of Pittsburgh, PA. In WI, this action is part of a larger March Forth to Earth Day series of events coordinated by Building Unity.

Besides being the manager of many WI public employee pension funds, TIAA has also been given charge of the state’s $4+ billion Eduvest fund for future college students – meaning that many young people are now unwittingly implicated in practices that drive family farmers off the land, destroy tropical forests, perpetuate dependence upon fossil fuels, and aggravate climate chaos.

“When I found out that my own retirement money as a part-time college professor was being used by TIAA to gobble up 50,000 acres in Mississippi, making it harder for black farmers to survive there, and also being used for agribusiness deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples, I must admit I was pretty upset,” noted John E. Peck with Family Farm Defenders, a UW-Madison graduate and one of the cake delivers. “We hope that as Chancellor Blank and her staff enjoy this delicious carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, that they will also reflect upon the Wisconsin Idea and their own leadership role as public servants in averting the demise of our planet.”

Way back in Oct. 2017 the WI American Federation of Teachers (AFT) passed a resolution calling upon TIAA to “Refrain from further investment and begin a process of divestment from land grabs that are known to have displaced family farmers, triggered deforestation, and aggravated climate change.” A similar resolution was passed by the UW-Madison Faculty Senate in April 2019, calling for greater transparency and accountability from TIAA for its investment decisions leading to land grabbing and forest destruction. In May 2021, TIAA announced that it would take action on climate change, with a plan to achieve “Net Zero” emissions by 2050. However, over 100 organizations wrote a letter to TIAA in September 2021, calling their plan “too little, too late.”

For more info, visit: Stop Land Grabs Campaign: https://www.stoplandgrabs.org/en-us/ TIAA Divest: https://tiaa-divest.org/ Family Farm Defenders: https://familyfarmers.org/?page_id=1388 Building Unity: https://buildingunitywisconsin.org/

Uprooted and Rising has also produced a great story map about the land grabbing issue, check it out here: https://www.uprootedandrising.org/slg

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CO2 Pipelines – More Corporate Profits From Another Fake Climate Solution

By: George Naylor, farmer from Churdan, IA, and board member of Family Farm Defenders

Forthcoming article in the Spring 2022 FFD Defenders newsletter

I’ve often said that climate change is not a hoax, but thinking that our state and federal governments will do what it takes to combat climate change—that’s a hoax. I don’t mean to sow pessimism that “we the people” can’t demand change, but I think recent events show that making the changes necessary is beyond the intensions of these governments. Right now, their intension is and has always been to clear the way for or subsidize the way for wealthy corporations to make more money, no matter what the cost.

The champions of free market “solutions” for agriculture are bellying up to the bar to get tax credits to stop climate change—or so they say. They are now climate converts proposing multibillion dollar pipelines for CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) to prevent CO2 escaping from ethanol and fertilizer plants and entering the atmosphere.

One such pipeline is the 1300 mile Navigator pipeline which will scar Iowa farmland, and store CO2 indefinitely deep below the state of Illinois. Another project is by Wolf Carbon Solutions, partnering with ADM, to run a carbon dioxide pipeline from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Clinton, Iowa, and then onto Decatur, Illinois. 

Notorious describes the other pipeline, the Midwest Carbon Express, which will scar Iowa Farmland to the tune of over 700 miles. The whole 2000 mile pipeline will be connecting ethanol plants in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska to deposit their CO2 a mile underground in North Dakota. I call it notorious because of its cozy relationship with people in power. Former Iowa governor and ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, serves the company as a senior policy advisor. The parent company, Summit Energy Solutions, has as general counsel none other than corporate lawyer, Jess Vilsack, son USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The CEO of parent company Summit Energy Solutions is Bruce Rastetter known for his large campaign contributions and being appointed to the Iowa Universities Board of Regents by Branstad.

Editor’s note:

For more on the public conflict of interest, see Tom Phillpot’s Mother Jones article: https://www.motherjones.com/food/2022/01/usda-secretary-vilsack-jess-vilsack-ethanol-pipeline-summit-carbon-solutions/ )

For more on the documented dangers of CO2 pipelines for rural communities, see Dan Zegart’s Huffington Post article: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gassing-satartia-mississippi-co2-pipeline_n_60ddea9fe4b0ddef8b0ddc8f

Many farmers in Iowa object to the Iowa Utilities Board possibly ruling that these pipeline companies can use eminent domain despite the farmers’ not wanting the pipeline to cross their farm. There are bills in the legislature to prevent this. The boards of supervisors of twenty Iowa counties have sent letters telling the IUB that it should not issue eminent domain provisions.

Besides the tragedy of burying these potentially dangerous pipelines under farmland against the farmers’ wishes, there are many other concerns that argue against public policy that justifies their construction.

One of the stated goals is to make the ethanol created from around 40% of the nation’s corn crop more carbon neutral to supply states that mandate low carbon fuels. (Today’s more than 13 billion gallons of U.S. fuel ethanol replaces only 10% of gasoline usage, while the US exports approximately 1.3 billion gallons to 50 countries. See U.S. Energy Information Administration) The free marketeers thus depend on clean energy mandates in states like California.

Another outrage is the Internal Revenue Code 45Q spelling out the tax credits. These credits are explained in a posting by the prestigious BakerHostetler law firm: “For carbon capture equipment originally placed in service on or after Feb. 9, 2018, the Section 45Q credit increases yearly from (i) $34.81 per metric ton in 2021 up to $50 per metric ton in 2026 (adjusted for inflation afterward) for disposal in secure geological storage, and (ii) $22.68 per metric ton in 2021 up to $35 per metric ton in 2026 (adjusted for inflation afterward) for EOR, enhanced gas recovery or other qualified utilization.” In other words, the tax code subsidizes carbon sequestration and “enhanced oil and gas recovery” at the same time! Does that sound like Congress is taking limiting fossil fuel use seriously? Notice also that after 2026 the credit will be adjusted for inflation. That’s the parity principle, yet almost no member of Congress will even say a farm parity program is worth understanding.

Numerous bills in Congress intend to increase the tax credits for years to come. As reported in the February 5th Albuquerque Journal, a Princeton University study published in December, 2020, projects the need for a nationwide system of 65,000 miles by 2050, 13 times the number of miles in existence today. Even this massive system will only transport 15% of today’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some of my thoughts: First of all, boiling the climate crisis down to just CO2 emissions is reductionist thinking—claiming a very complex question can be addressed by simple answers. The long standing assault on the environment involves many facets and indicts the common notion that multinational corporations can do whatever they want without any democratic process to hold them accountable. The farmers at various educational meetings have many, many questions about this pipeline crossing their farms, but who is available to give them honest answers?

Here are some important questions relevant to all our citizens: How much energy does it take to build such a pipeline? How much energy will it take to compress the gas? How much water will it take to cool the compressed gas into a liquid? How much energy will it take to ship ethanol all the way to California? Why does the CO2 really have to be pumped all the way to southern Illinois and North Dakota? (Some have conjectured the CO2 won’t be sequestered at all, but will be used to force more dirty crude oil out of depleted oil deposits.) If limiting CO2 emissions is the BIG GOAL how can it make sense that we allowed the Dakota Access pipeline to cross Iowa farmland to ship crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois and beyond?

Agribusiness has family farmers cornered. Because of their single minded drive for unlimited profit, we family farmers have become simply the raw material procurement arm of corporate manufactured food, livestock feeding operations, and ethanol plants.

This didn’t need to happen. We could have democratic farm policy solutions that make these corporations pay a fair price—a parity price—for our bounty. CAFOs and ethanol plants would be totally uneconomical with parity prices. Instead of producing more and more for less and less, this would make farmers prosperous and return farmer-owned livestock to family farms. Hay and pasture can sequester carbon with deep roots the natural way. A parity system will restore family farms, rural communities, and democracy!

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Helping Small Processors Won’t Work Unless We Break Up Big Meat

By Anthony Pahnke, Vice President, Family Farm Defenders

Originally Published by Civil Eats, Jan. 13th, 2022

The U.S. faced this same problem over a century ago….

As an organizer working with farm groups in Wisconsin, I have asked many poultry farmers about the conditions they’re working under. Sadly, no one will speak to me.

It’s not that I’m unfriendly. In fact, I regularly speak to dairy and vegetable farmers about their problems, and most producers are more than willing to talk about their challenges and share their experiences with me.

But poultry farmers display a unique type of fear. Not of me—but of their industry. Poultry farmers work on contract with larger companies and the contracts they sign require that they raise the birds provided by the company, to the specs it provides and in a set window. The poultry industry is so concentrated, that the lack of competing buyers allows agribusiness processors total control to dictate the price, the farm conditions, the building specifics, and the feed every farmer must use. And farmers often go deeply into debt to meet those requirements.

In this environment, farmers are scared, not just to speak to me, but to talk to anyone about how hard it is for them to get by. And yet, most feel they have no choice but to continue working for the small handful of companies that now control the industry.

Concentration in agriculture is—and has been—a problem in American agriculture for years. The documentary Food, Inc. famously featured several contract poultry farmers trapped under crippling debt and unable to change their practices for the better. In 2010, many former and current farmers testified at public hearings that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held on the poultry industry. They spoke out about consolidation, vertical integration, and the debt they had taken on to stay in the business.

John Oliver also ran a powerful segment about the conditions back in 2015. And yet nothing significant has changed since then.

So, it was a promising development when, earlier this month, President Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and representatives from a number of farm groups came together to announce a plan to “boost competition in the meat industry.”

At the core of the plan is the allocation of $1 billion to assist independent meat processors and ranchers to become more competitive within the larger industry. In Biden’s own words, “capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism, it’s exploitation.”

While it’s a good first move, not only in recognizing the problem, but also in dedicating resources to the matter, the truth is that it’s far from enough. In addition to supporting independent producers, the administration, and more specifically the USDA, must make a sincere attempt to improve the rules of the game. Or rather, to ensure that our agricultural markets ensure fair competition.

We know that our food and farm systems lack such dynamics.

A study out of the University of Missouri found that when four firms control more than 45 percent of any given sector of the economy, those entities with market share show a proclivity to engage in anti-competitive practices that hurt farmers, workers, and consumers. Such practices include price and wage fixing, as well as dictating conditions to buyers and sellers. Additionally, innovation declines as, with fewer and fewer actors involved in some market, competition is replaced by collusion.

According to the Open Markets Institute, over the last three decades, the four largest poultry processors went from holding 35 to 51 percent of total market share, while in beef processing, that figure went from 25 to 85 percent, and in hogs, it went from 33 to 66 percent. The dairy industry, as of 2017, saw its four largest cooperatives control over 53 percent of all unprocessed raw milk sales.

Biden isn’t proposing paying farmers directly—his $1 billion investment is to help create more processing facilities, which could improve competition by offering farmers and ranchers more options when it comes to processing and sell their livestock.

But $1 billion in new investments may turn out to be a drop in the bucket considering the larger scope of consolidation within the meat and dairy industries.

The last few U.S. Agricultural Censuses show these dynamics, as there were 1.2 million cattle ranchers in 1997, and now they number just over 880,000. This decline by about a third over a span of 15 years pales in comparison to what we see in dairy, when in 1997, there were more than 125,000 licensed herds and in 2017 just about 54,000.

Technological changes, from genetics to improvements in milking, play a partial role in how the number of farms around the country has decreased at the same time as consumers stay fed. Yet, there’s also the fact that consolidated supply chains are prone to price-fixing, which leads powerful actors to depress prices for farmers and pay for workers. This is why, according to the National Farmers Union, U.S. farmers receive just 14 cents of every food retail dollar.

There’s also the series of supply chain disruptions that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, which should make us rethink the wisdom of letting our food and farm system become so consolidated.

From workers at meatpacking companies who have to remain on the job and risk serious illness and death, to the exorbitant amounts of waste that came from processors unable to adapt to changes in consumption patterns, U.S. agriculture has shown itself as exploitative and irrational over the last two years.

As Attorney General Merrick Garland pointed out in his comments at the January 3 roundtable, “too many industries have become too consolidated,” partly because the DOJ has been chronically underfunded. Real attention to antitrust law enforcement helps us out in this regard, principally in potentially breaking up larger companies into smaller entities. Corporations also need to be monitored more closely to assure that worker rights are protected and that attempts to fix prices are thoroughly investigated.

Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minnesota) bill to reform the already existing Progressive-era Sherman, Clayton, and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Acts would help regulators to investigate and potentially punish corporations for anti-competitive practices—such as mergers, price fixing and rigging contracts—that hurt farmers, workers, and consumers.

Biden’s billion is a good first step. At the very least, it sends a signal that his administration is willing to look critically at markets and competition in agriculture.

Still, to really get at the root of our problems in the food and farm system, we need enforcement of our existing antitrust legislation and some actual legal reform that would affect the rules of the game. How are farmers supposed to organize for change, when they’re fearful of piping up, worried about the corporate power that could come crashing down on them, destroying their livelihood?

On these points, the administration should invest billions more to rebuild the depleted antitrust division of the DOJ, and staff up with more regulators and lawyers willing and ready to research, investigate, and potentially prosecute corporate actors that sacrifice the public good on the altar of profit. If they do, we can envision a day when poultry farmers—and everyone else who toils away to put food on our tables—can once again speak freely about the companies they work for.

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Save the Date! – Sun. Dec. 12th 3:00 pm (CDT) FFD Annual Mtg followed at 5:00 pm (CDT) 2021 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony!

FFD founder, John Kinsman

To accommodate as many folks as safely as possible, this year’s event will be a hybrid, both in-person and online.

The in-person version will be at the Branding Iron Roadhouse (32 S. Main St., Lime Ridge, WI)

The online virtual version will be held via GoToMeeting and Zoom – login details are at the end of this post!

Join us to learn about the successes of Family Farm Defenders over the last year, for a celebration of the legacy of John Kinsman, FFD’s founder, and to be inspired by the stories from our three 2021 Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty prize winners!

Jenny Hoople and Raul Casique-Montes with Bountiful Beloit (Beloit, WI)

Tacumba Turner with Oasis Farm and Fishery (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rachel “Nami” Kimura with Hinata Farms (Chicago, IL)

Jenny Hoople – Bountiful Beloit

Tacumba Turner – Oasis Farm & Fishery
Rachel “Nami” Kimura – Hinata Farms

Both events are free and open to all FFD members, as well as the general public (donations are also most welcome towards future John Kinsman prizes – any sponsor donating more than $100 will receive a complimentary FFD t-shirt!). To support this effort, you can mail a check to: FFD, P.O. Box 1772 Madison, WI 53701 Or you can make an online donation through Mighty Cause on this website. All donations to FFD are also tax-deductible.

Family Farm Defenders 2021 Annual Meeting
Sun, Dec 12th, 2021 3:00 PM (CST)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/450740613

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (224) 501-3412

Access Code: 450-740-613

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/450740613


2021 John Kinsman Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony

Sun. Dec 12th, 2021 5:00 PM Central Time
Join Zoom Meeting https://us06web.zoom.us/j/85426239758

Meeting ID: 854 2623 9758
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Thanks for Supporting & Celebrating Beginning Food Sovereignty Farmers this Holiday Season!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Save the Date! – Sun. Dec. 12th 3:00 pm (CDT) FFD Annual Mtg followed at 5:00 pm (CDT) 2021 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony!