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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

Clinton, Obama Must Answer to Farmers

Jim Goodman

The Wisconsin primary is less than a week away, and I have some questions for the Democratic candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

I would like to be enthusiastic about this election, I really would. After the past eight years, who wouldn't be ready for the "change" that they talk about? Even the Republicans are talking about change.

It seems, however, that the American people may have little to say about what that change will be. The media have already decided who the viable candidates are, and the superdelegates may decide who the Democratic nominee will be. We are supposed to act like a nation of sheep and just go along, but perhaps this time we won't.

Wisconsin is a state where agriculture is still important, and while farming may not be as glamorous as, say, politics, we still have more people engaged in agriculture-related jobs than any other occupation in the state. Still, when politicians come to Wisconsin, they may do the obligatory photo op on a farm, but they spend their time courting the voters in the big cities. So what are Clinton and Obama promising people like me -- people who spend more time worrying about cows than poll numbers?

Many farmers in Wisconsin don't have health insurance. I'm lucky because I do. It's not very good insurance; it's expensive, and it doesn't pay for much of anything. I need to be really sick before I can collect. Clinton and Obama both say they have a health care plan. I don't think they do; they have another insurance plan. They want people to have insurance, but insurance is not health care. They're looking out for the insurance companies, not the people. They should support giving us the same coverage they have. Put everyone in the plan -- if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for us.

As farmers, we are told we need to compete in the global marketplace. They have both said they want to level the playing field so we can compete fairly with farmers around the world and we will win. No, we won't; we won't win, and neither will farmers anywhere else in the world. Clinton has some history with agri-business corporations Monsanto and Tyson and the world's largest food retailer, Wal-Mart. Is it part of their corporate philosophy to let farmers win?

Both Clinton and Obama support biofuels as a means to end our dependence on foreign oil, yet corn and soy production is based on oil -- diesel fuel for tractors, oil to manufacture crop chemicals and fertilizer, oil for transportation and processing. They both want to increase auto fuel economy standards, but not for 18 or 20 years! Why not now?


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They both support local and regional food systems -- buy fresh, buy local. Good, but what will they do to make it work? Will they take food out of trade agreements and encourage American farmers to grow food instead of commodities? Or will food, like health care, be just another money maker for corporations?

Will they cap subsidy payments and give responsible farmers a chance? Will they encourage a set-aside for marginal land that should never be farmed? Will they restore government purchase of surplus crops to establish fair and stable farm and consumer prices?

Do they plan to do anything to rein in the power of multinational grain corporations? Those corporations now dump our cheap subsidized grain on southern nations, undermining the local economy and, as in Mexico, driving farmers off their land and across the border to work in the United States. There's your immigration problem; our corporations created it, and walls and fences won't cure it.

Do they know the term food sovereignty? It is a simple concept. It recognizes the right of people, all people, to grow the food of their choice -- food that is nutritious, safe and culturally appropriate. Food sovereignty demands that food be healthful, green, fair and affordable. The only problem some might see with this idea is that people would profit, not corporations.

The candidates' support for local and regional food systems is sorely needed, and I hope they agree that we need to let the rest of the world feed themselves.

Obama's campaign recently told the Bush administration that he didn't really need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy in a generation. Bush's agricultural policy is just as bad. Change it.

Jim Goodman is a farmer in Wonewoc and a policy fellow for the Food and Society Fellows Program.

© 2008 Capital Newspapers

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