Farmers and Eaters Lose, Corporate Money Wins in Budget Deal

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Farmers and Eaters Lose, Corporate Money Wins in Budget Deal

"The icing on the corporate donor holiday cake is a rider to expand the influence of big political donors well into the future," the author writes. (Photo: Light Brigading/flickr/cc)

The amazingly terrible new spending agreement reached by the House and Senate this week illustrates the heavy price we all pay for a government increasingly influenced by big corporate and financial industry donors.

This backroom deal has been marketed by some in Congress as a “monumental achievement” demonstrating how Washington can get things done. Instead, it’s really a stocking full of early Christmas gifts for corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. Here are just a few examples relevant to food and agriculture issues:

  • In a loss for the environment and farmers, it cuts $402 million over ten years from the critically important Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), including a reduction in 2.3 million CSP acres around the country. CSP rewards farmers for practices that protect natural resources, including those that improve soil quality and protect waterways.
  • In a big win for agribusiness, it prevents the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing regulations on the livestock and poultry industry to prevent deceptive, anti-competitive and retaliatory practices against farmers and ranchers.
  • For the big meat companies, it sets the stage to weaken, and possibly eliminate, rules that require mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat and poultry products.
  • For the Wall Street speculators, it rolls back financial regulation of the highly volatile derivatives market that helped cause the 2008 financial crisis and continuing economic devastation—including destabilizing markets for farmers and the world’s hungry.
  • For the oil and coal companies, it strips away efforts to stop funding coal-fired power plants abroad, and blocks any contributions to the international Green Climate Fund, wounding a critical step toward achieving a global climate agreement.

The icing on the corporate donor holiday cake is a rider to expand the influence of big political donors well into the future. Congressional negotiators, though no one will admit who, slipped in a provision at the end of the 1,603-page bill that would vastly increase the amount of money donors can give to national political parties to more than $777,600 each year, from a current limit of $129,600 per year, according to Common Cause. “These provisions have never been considered by the House or Senate, and were never even publicly mentioned before today,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

This reckless deal needs to be rejected immediately. And we need to get on with cleaning up our democracy from the corruption of corporate money. The good news is that a growing number of organizations in the union, environmental, social justice and food movement are recognizing that reform of our democracy is urgently needed. Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the enormously damaging Citizen United ruling is gaining momentum. Strong reforms are also being won at the state-level, including some big wins in this last mid-term election.

Those working for a more fair and sustainable farm and food system have everything at stake in this fight to reform our democracy.  

Ben Lilliston

Ben Lilliston oversees programmatic work at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and is the co-author of the book Genetically Engineered Foods: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers.

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