Published on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Agriculture, Corporate Greed and Bush
by Heather Gray
With Bush and his buddies in Congress, corporate America is in the driver's seat attempting to undermine our quality of life - all for profit, of course. But it's when health and food security are so blatantly at stake, through Bush's irresponsible corporate policies, that all of us need to cry "foul".
Food security is a major concern in America, and Bush claims to want to protect the American consumer, but the double standard implied by the Bush administration's recent statements about drug purchases out of the US and its "actual" agriculture policies are striking. What kind of protection is this?
Bush says he wants to protect us so he's trying to prevent us from buying cheaper drugs from other countries. The Bush administration says, purchasing cheaper drugs from Canada can threaten our health because the U.S. can't guarantee the drugs are safe - even though Congressional reports and hearings have found nothing of the sort. Consider the recent Tony Pugh (Knight-Ridder) article on the Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind) hearings where the FDA could not report "one" incident of harm from Canadian purchases. Other reports have indicated that Canadian drug policies might surpass the U.S. in quality concerns. Congress and Bush are clearly offering favors to their exceptionally greedy pharmaceutical friends and our seniors will suffer inexcusably.
By the same token, many are concerned about the threats to our food security through the Bush domestic food policies and trade policies that expand food imports, combined with concerns about safe agriculture in other countries and U.S. inspection and grading practices. Bush, like his predecessors, prefers to consider food and its production like any other commodity, which many agriculture advocates consider totally inappropriate given agriculture is so critical to our survival as humans. But Bush goes a step further as he favors self-regulation by corporate America, even with something as precious as our food supply.
Ralph Nader's "Public Citizen" says that the fallacy and danger of this corporate self-regulated policy was demonstrated in July 2002 when 19 million pounds of ConAgra's contaminated ground beef was recalled. Also, the grading of imported meats is a concern. In a July 2003 Public Citizen report it states that "Under the trade pacts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared the meat inspection systems of 43 countries to be equivalent to the U.S. system, even though some of these nations did not meet core requirements of the U.S. law. Despite critical discrepancies, the meat imported under this process shows up on grocery shelves bearing a USDA grading sticker."
Mr. Bush, you can't on the one hand arrogantly proclaim you want to protect American consumers while simultaneously demonstrating that you don't care a whit. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
While there are many other concerns about food imports, such as the chemicals used in other countries on imported produce, there are countless other food security issues in America. The stakes are immense due to the increased corporate intrusion into this most essential facet of our lives - the food we eat.
Experts tell us agriculture began 13,000 years ago in the "Fertile Crescent" in the Middle East. All of our ancestors were farmers at some point and thanks to their creativity and ingenuity up to the present day, farmers have developed sustainable agriculture, cultured seeds from thousands of plants, fed us, maintained biodiversity and sustained the environment. We can ill-afford to lose the expertise of our family farmers throughout the world - most of whom are women, in fact - who have maintained us these thousands of years. Honoring them and supporting them would be far more appropriate!
All humans eat food. There is no question of the marketability of food - it's guaranteed. The promise of profits is immense. American agribusiness, such as Monsanto, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), has wanted, therefore, to control all aspects of food from its production to distribution. What have invariably got in the way of agribusiness are family farmers throughout the world who are largely small independent business folks and agribusiness has attempted to undermine and control them every step of the way. It is well known they consider family farmers a nuisance.
After World War II the relationship between farmers and corporate America began to radically change. American business, such as DuPont, Shell and Dow Chemical, had tons of nitrogen left over from making bombs and came up with the idea of selling it to farmers for fertilizer. Thus began the so-called "green revolution" and the downfall of the American farmer, our environment and likely our health as well. American corporations decided to increase their production of everything from pesticides, to fertilizer, to seeds, along with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress. The consequences have been devastating in any number of ways. The American farmer has became more dependent on additives from these companies, resulting in their expenses rising and their profits falling…we have witnessed a degradation of our environment and contamination of our water systems…and we, as consumers, are ingesting far more chemicals then we did prior to World War II.
GMO's (genetically modified organisms) are the latest in a chain of devastating agribusiness products. By taking genes from entirely different species, inserting them in traditional seeds and then patenting these seeds, agribusiness has developed another scheme to control farmers along with questionable benefits for consumers. There has simply not been enough research performed on GMO's and their effect on the environment and human health. Agribusiness also consistently tries to prevent us from labeling these foods.
Since the advent of agriculture thousands of years ago, farmers throughout the world have set seeds aside for next year's crop and have cooperatively shared seeds with other farmers. In this way they have assured an essential diversity in our food chain by adapting seeds to both the soil and environment. Now these new interlopers whose interest is profit - U.S. agribusiness - are arrogantly telling our farmers that because they (agribusiness) own the seeds through patents, farmers can no longer set the seed aside for next year's crop or share the seed with other farmers and if they do they'll get sued. This is yet another way to enslave farmers - essentially make them tenant farmers to agribusiness - and it also serves to lessen our diversity of the food chain.
Through U.S. government trade agreements, such as NAFTA, as well as the WTO and the financial muscle of the IMF and the World Bank, U.S. agribusiness is trying to force the devastating U.S. agriculture policies down the throats of other countries. As a result, American agribusiness chemicals are now poisoning the world and forcing thousands of farmers out of business. As Raj Patel of the Institute for Food and Development Policy has stated, "The world has been dragged toward an export model of agriculture - an industrial system in which crops are grown with machines and chemicals, without regard to the health of the soil, the farmers who grow it or the rural communities that support them…. Countries that have seen the most serious increases in hunger, such as India and those in Central America and the Near East, are those places that have shifted most rigorously to export agriculture." Some farmers and consumers in the Philippines are now demanding "poison free land and food."
It's not that American agriculture advocates have taken all this sitting down. Much has been done overtime to ban some of the most egregious chemicals, such as DDT; they have tried to develop appropriate inspection policies; much has been done to try to prevent huge government subsidies to corporate agriculture; they have tried to prevent "dumping" of food on poor countries which undermines the small farmers there and leads to more poverty; they have tried to prevent consolidation of agribusiness ventures; they have tried to educate the American public about GMO's and the abuse of agribusiness on the whole; they have tried to implement "country of origin" labeling on food; they have launched seed saving projects; they have tried to develop sustainable agriculture policies and, as a result, organic production is now one of the fastest growing sectors in U.S. production agriculture. The above is just the tip of the iceberg on the work of advocates. But most Americans are yet to understand that the huge agribusiness is to the American farmer as is Walmart to the local businesses in rural communities - devastating and destructive. (Go to the National Family Farm Coalition www.nffc.net or Farm Aid www.farmaid.org for more information.)
Bush says he's interested in protecting the American consumer. Have you heard him saying anything about wanting to protect the U.S. and the rest of the world from more pesticide use and the abuse of agribusiness generally? Controlling agribusiness on GMO abuse and exports? The virtual slavery of farmers? Of the relaxation of meat import grading? About wanting to improve our food security? Well, don't hold your breath. The Bush administration has been dismal on all of the above.
Food Security? I would say that food is far too important to us humans to be left in the sweaty little hands of corporate greed and most of the world knows this. Food security is the people's responsibility because it certainly won't be achieved otherwise.
For 12 years Heather Gray has produced "Just Peace" on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She lives in Atlanta and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.