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Farm Justice: Questions for the Food Movement


I’ve been asked to summarize the key points of some of my work for people in the Food Movement who have a hard time understanding some or other part of it. Here I’m attempting to respond to that with QUESTIONS rather than with my own bullet points. That puts the shoe on the other foot. (Ok, first I start off with a brief summary and a list of bullet points.)

DEAR FOOD MOVEMENT ADVOCATE:

The basic issue of “Farm justice” isn’t one of supporting farmers better. It’s much worse than that. It’s a call to stop siding with agribusiness against farmers, (and against a wide range of basic Food Movement goals). In part the general issue is well known and widely taught in the Food Movement as follows:

• cheap farm prices provide cheap ingredients to junk food makers, in effect subsidizing them; and

• cheap feeds for CAFOs; and

• they hurt farmers in other countries by driving down prices and causing poverty and hunger.

In another part, the issue is almost never understood. Here’s why:

• It’s thought that giving SUBSIDIES to farmers causes the cheap prices. That’s false. Subsidies are like fire trucks at fires. They correlate with the problem but they don’t cause it. They come after the fact to prevent further damage. (Cf. Food Subsidies correlate with poverty but don’t cause the poverty.)

• The ECONOMIC cause is that farm prices don’t self correct in ‘free’ markets, (in contrast to conservative ideology). Subsidies have no practically significant impact on this for farming as a whole.

• The POLITICAL cause is as follows. The economic problem was fixed politically by the New Deal, by the invention of the Farm Bill, which had minimum PRICE FLOORS, (like minimum wage, not like subsidies). Price Floors were set at what was essentially a “living wage” level (called “parity”) from 1942-1952. Then Congress gradually reduced Price Floors, more and more, (1953-1995) and then ended them, (1996-2018), which is like having no minimum wage at all.

• The Food Movement calls for mere “SUBSIDY REFORMS,” (i.e. equivalent to taking subsidies away from big Food Stamp recipients,) while having no proposals for restoring Price Floor programs (beyond occasionally treating it as a minor side issue). Since that does nothing to raise farm prices, it’s support for the cheapest of cheap farm prices. It’s support for the cheapest of cheap junk food ingredients and CAFO feeds, and for the most exreme export dumping on poor farmers in other countries.

• This then LEADS TO MANY OTHER PROBLEMS, such as U.S. and global environmental damage, by the harm done to sustainable agriculture, in part from the loss of livestock from diversified farms and into CAFOs, which has been hugely caused by cheap farm prices.

QUESTIONS

1. HAVE YOU HEARD of this issue as a FLAW IN THE FOOD (Hunger, Environmental, Sustainable Agriculture, Public Health, Race and Food, etc. MOVEMENT sectors)?

2. Have you READ ANYTHING about it as a FOOD (Hunger, Environmental, etc.) MOVEMENT CRISIS? By anyone other than Brad Wilson? Have you heard anyone say this at a Food CONFERENCE?

3. Have you EVER HEARD OF the (false) idea of “SUBSIDY REFORM” (i.e. in food books, films, short videos, web sites or conferences, or in Mainstream Media)? For example, have you heard that CUTTING CORN SUBSIDIES would somehow fix “cheap corn?” (which is false, by the way) Who are the top SPOKESPERSONS you’ve heard on this (false) view?

4. Have you ever CONTACTED CONGRESS regarding Farm Bill “reforms?” Were these mere subsidy reforms or were they market management reforms (i.e. calling for the restoration of adequate Price Floor Programs)?

5. Have you WRITTEN any ARTICLES on either “Subsidy Reforms” or Market Management Reforms (restoration of Price Floors)?

6. Have you TAUGHT WORKSHOPS on either “Subsidy Reforms” or on Market Management Reforms?

7. In any of these activities, did you support “Subsidy Reforms” because YOU DIDN’T KNOW about Market Management Reforms?

8. Has it been your belief that there was EVIDENCE supporting “Subsidy Reforms?” What evidence?

9. Do you know of any EVIDENCE proving that “Subsidy Reforms” do NOT help the issue in any practically significant way?

10. Is the issue, as outlined here, DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND? What would it take to get people in the Food Movement to write about it?

11. What specific QUESTIONS do YOU HAVE about the issue?

12. If you act on general food issues, (or not,) what would it take for you to act on this issue?

13. HOW can the Food (etc.) Movement ever WIN an a big set of issues like this IF it’s advocating on the WRONG SIDE of them?

14. I’ve suggested that this puts the SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT. For example, I didn’t start out with the moderate assumption that it’s about how the Food Movement could better “support” farmers. Instead I used the radical concern that the Food Movement sides unknowingly with agribusiness on this huge set of issues which are among their highest priorities. Any thoughts on this?

15. I’ve set out two contrasting points of view, and then argued that one (subsidy reforms) had no evidence backing it up, while the other had a lot of evidence supporting it. How important is EVIDENCE in settling a dispute like this? Is there something else that is more important? (i.e. relationships, saving face) Do you see dilemmas that prevent resolution of these differences?  For example, I’ve laid this out as steps in an argument, perhaps as an uppity lawyer would do it.  Any comments on that?

CONCLUSION: I’ve been studying and working on this issue for 30 years, (i.e. in 1985, here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2UY2jXvYfM&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767&index=3) and specifically with regard to the new Food Movement (etc. various sectors) over the past 8 years (i.e. 100 blogs here, [http://zcomm.org/author/bradwilson/], thousands of tweets here [@FarmJustice], videos here [https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767]). I think there’s still a lot that isn’t known about why it’s been so hard for the Food Movement to communicate with the specific “subsidy reform” critics who’s views I’ve summarized. Perhaps these questions, (with the shoe on the other foot,) could help.

FOR FURTHER READING

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/06/1391151/-What-s-a-Good-Farm-Bill-Ask-Me-Anything

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