2013 Food Movement Resolution: Stop Supporting AgBiz in Farm Bill!

This is really quite simple but, of course, almost entirely unknown.  Food Leaders have done an excellent job of mobilizing people against cheap corn and soybeans.  Well, in principle they have.  It’s in the food books and films, blogs, footnoted reports and short videos.

Unfortunately, haven’t haven’t known about the longer history of the farm bill fight against cheap farm prices.1  They didn’t tell you about the “Hidden Farm Bill,” the biggest and most damaging part.2  They didn’t explain the “ecology” of farm bill economics, which includes the full range of farm markets, not just the small domain of farm bill spending, such as on subsidies.3  They certainly haven’t told you about the biggest US farm bill victims (historically all commodity farmers, crops like corn, states like Iowa, and increasingly in recent years, dairy farmers).4

Instead, all they have usually done is to call for penalties to the victims, (those commodity farmers and commodity states,) with no action at all taken against the exploitation by the (hidden) beneficiaries:  food and feed mills like General Mills, Kelloggs, Nestle Purina, ethanol processors like ADM, Exporters like Cargill, grocery chains like Walmart, animal factories like Smithfield and Tyson, dairy processors like DFA, Kraft and Dean Foods.5

So it’s simple.  Instead supporting these exploitative agribusinesses in the farm bill, by calling for mere subsidy changes against farmers, Food Movement Leaders (#FoodLeaders) should oppose their subsidization.

Here’s how it works.  

1. Farm commodity markets lack price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides.  Consumers don’t eat 4, 5, 6 meals when farm prices are cheap, and it makes no economic sense for individual farmers to stop planting their whole farms under these conditions.  That’s the economic problem.6

2.  This was all fixed by the New Deal Farm Bill (such as that scandalous 1949 law that these chicken little corporations are sooooooo afraid of, and want you to be sooooo afraid of, lest you learn how to hold them in check.  Unfortunately, under corporate pressure, Congress reduced (1953-1995) and eliminated (1996-2012, 2013) the needed programs, (price floors and ceilings, supply reductions as needed, plus reserve supplies, to balance supply and demand) even to the point of the US losing money on farm exports for decades (just to secretly subsidize the US and foreign corporations with underpriced farm commodities).  Thats the political problem.7

3.  Farmers, let by commodity farmers, fought against this for decades, all the while pleading for support from a consumer-side “Food Movement,” support which never came in any significant way during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.  But then the massive new Food Movement arose, and took on as perhaps it’s biggest issue the fight against cheap corn, cheap soybeans, and other cheap farm prices. Unfortunately, Food Movement leaders have mistakenly believed that compensatory farm commodity subsidies, (compensating for ? of the massive reductions in farm prices, were the cause, not the result, of the problem.  Basically, it’s as if they saw a problem of house fires, and did a study, and found that firetrucks showed up at all of the house fires during the study period, and concluded that firetrucks caused fires.  That’s the Movement problem.8

So, after five decades of waiting for urban consumer support against all of these cheap food and farming problems, the Farm Justice Movement today has remained almost totally unknown inside of the Food Movement, even as it prepared for work on the 2008 and 2012 Farm Bills.  The major specific “Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill”9 remain almost totally unknown in the food movement, as leaders instead mobilize support for false solutions, for reducing the number of farm subsidy firetrucks that show up to fight against the massive, hidden farm injustices that Congress has foisted upon US farmers, and through our leadership as the single dominant farm commodity exporter, upon farmers all around the globe.  

So food leaders:  Enough already!   2013 is here!  It’s time to put up or shut up. If you don’t know how the farm bill works in it’s full, “ecological” (economic) context, stop teaching about it.  If you can’t lead or follow, get out of the way. 

But of course, the Food Movement has enormous virtues.  It can do all of this, at least it could.  So Food Movement Leaders, it’s time to go on the record, to take a public stand on your values.  

First, stop siding with agribusiness, with farm commodity buyers, against their victims.  Translation:  Stop ALL Farm Bill advocacy that adds up to zero Price Floors and zero Supply Management.  Just say no!

Second, start siding with the Farm Justice Movement on this, the biggest farm bill issue, (which is bigger than all of the Nutrition Title, bigger than all of farm bill spending10).  

Third, since virtually no one in the Food Movement has been exposed to any information about these specific proposals, and the reasoning behind them, do not limit your advocacy to generalizations11 about, for example, “fair farm prices.”  That doesn’t work at all, since the food movement has been hugely and falsely taught that mere subsidy tinkering (moving around the firetrucks) somehow brings fair farm prices.  That’s false, a false paradigm. Instead refer to the specific proposals by name.  These are:12

1. The Food from Family Farms Act, National Family Farm Coalition.

2. The Market Driven Inventory System, National Farmers Union.

3. The “Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act,” SB 1640, National Family Farm Coalition.

These proposals are much stronger than any proposal from the new Food Movement.  They directly stop agribusiness exploitation, (cheap food,) they don’t subsidize the exploiters with cheap market prices, like mere subsidy reforms ALL do.  They support major food movement goals better than any proposals from the food movement itself.  

The year is still early.  Resolve for Justice today.  Resolve to stop supporting agribusiness exploitation, cheap prices for agbiz buyers, such as we find in all proposals to merely move around farm subsidies (firetrucks).  Resolve instead to support Farm Justice, (to put out the fires, and keep them out, by addressing the larger, underlying “ecology” of Farm Bill economics).  Farm Justice is Food Justice.  It’s time the food movement came on board.

1.  “Missing Food Movement History: Highlights of Family Farm Justice: 1950-2000,” Brad Wilson, La Vida Locavore, Feb 26, 2012, http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/5106/missing-food-movement-history-highlights-of-family-farm-justice-19502000.

2.  “The Hidden Farm Bill: Secret Trillions for Agribusiness,” Brad Wilson, ZSpace, Jul 16, 2012, http://www.zcomm.org/the-hidden-farm-bill-secret-trillions-for-agribusiness-by-brad-wilson.

3.  “Farm Bill Economics: Think Ecology,” Brad Wilson, ZSpace, Jan 03, 2013, http://www.zcomm.org/farm-bill-economics-think-ecology-by-brad-wilson.

4.  “Corn is the Biggest Farm Bill Loser, and Other Surprises,”  Brad Wilson, La Vida Locavore, Aug 21, 2012, http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/5209/corn-is-the-biggest-farm-bill-loser-and-other-surprises.

5.  A prominent recent example of this is the effort led by Anna Lappe, Dan Imhoff and Kari Hamerschlag, and featuring 70 food Leaders:  “Experts Tell Congress: Support Healthy Food System, Not Big Ag,” Common Dreams, 6/5/12, http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/06/05-6.  Note that they oppose “Big Ag,” which means big farmers, those who have had the largest impact from price reductions to benefit agribusiness.  Their sign on had no price floors or supply management, thus preserving full agribusiness exploitation of all farmers, a maximum of cheap corn, soybeans, cotton, milk, etc.

6.  On this point see Daryll E. Ray, U.Tenn., APAC, Policy Pennings columns: “Are the five oft-cited reasons for farm programs actually symptoms of a more basic reason,” 10/27/06 http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/325.html, “It’s Price Responsiveness! It’s Price Responsiveness!!  IT’S PRICE RESPONSIVENESS!!!” 05/06/05, http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/248.html

7.  “Subsidies vs Price Floors in Farm Bill History, Brad Wilson, La Vida Locavore, Jan 02, 2010, http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/3018/subsidies-vs-price-floors-in-farm-bill-history;  “Foodies vs Farmies: A Look at Farm Politics,” ZSpace, Brad Wilson, Jan 02, 2009, http://www.zcomm.org/foodies-vs-farmies-a-look-at-farm-politics-by-brad-wilson.

8.  “Double the Size of the Food, Farm and Hunger Reform Movement Today,” ZSpace, Brad Wilson, Feb 24, 2009, http://www.zcomm.org/double-the-size-of-the-food-farm-and-hunger-reform-movement-today-by-brad-wilson.

9.  “Fact Sheet: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill,” Brad Wilson, ZSpace, May 11, 2012, http://www.zcomm.org/fact-sheet-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson.

10.  See Data charts documenting this point here, such as image or slide #9 in “Hidden Farm Bill Pie,” (http://www.slideshare.net/bradwilson581525/presentations, soon be here).  Compare that to slide 2 and the other slides.

11.  “Failed Food Principles: Firetrucks (Subsidies) Don’t Cause the Fires of Injustice.” Brad Wilson, ZSpace, Aug 15, 2012, http://www.zcomm.org/food-dialogue-fails-firetrucks-subsidies-don-t-cause-fires-of-injustice-by-brad-wilson.

12.  See detailed links and references to information on these proposals, plus references for a variety of econometric studies over several decades supporting these policy proposals, here:  “Primer: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill,” Brad Wilson, ZSpace, May 11, 2012, http://www.zcomm.org/primer-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson.

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