A while back I coined the term “Farmie” to balance out the popular term “Foodie” in the discussions of current farm/food politics.1 Recently I wrote a 250 word (unpublished) essay on Iowa Senator Tom Harkin stepping down as Senate Ag Chair. Then last week I coined the phrase: “Farmie Foodie Coalition.” I ironed a “placard” description of it onto a tee shirt, and wore it around at the recent conference of the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC, a group listed on the tee,) in Des Moines, Iowa. Here I’ve revised and lengthened the Harkin essay for placement here, and added a couple of footnotes to clearly prove at least partial truth in my provocative (and outrageous?) claims about these large and diverse movements.
Here’s a photo of the Tee Shirt: “Farmie Foodie Coalition: A Winner for Ag-Biz.”
It’s very brief, of course. I should have added, with reference to work on the 2007-8 U.S. farm bill, that the Foodie column groups:
Do Not Support
Price Ceilings and Grain Reserves
to address the food crisis,
including food speculation.
Now the Harkin Essay, through which I developed this way of making my case:
Harkin’s Foodie-Farmie Coalition
A curtain has fallen. Senator Tom Harkin has left his chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
As chairman Harkin never advocated for his Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill (from the 1980s and 1990s), with it’s crucial, food sovereignty oriented Commodity Title. Harkin-Gephardt called for four food sovereignty policy tools: price floors, price ceilings, grain reserves and supply management.
A main reason for these tools was to enable the U.S. to make a profit on farm exports. Due to the well known, extremely weak “price responsiveness” of major farm commodities, that rarely happens under free markets and free trade. USDA’s Economic Research Service data show that U.S. farmers almost always lost money (vs. full costs, excluding subsidies) on corn, wheat, cotton, rice, soybeans, grain sorghum, barley and oats 1981-2006. ERS’s occasional inclusion of commodity subsidies (farm “safety nets,”) in the equation also showed losses overall for each crop/time period studied. (“Safety nets,” it turns out, always seem to hurt farmers.)
Instead, of Harkin-Gephardt, Harkin developed compromises favored or tolerated by major/mainline exporters and processors, commodity and farm group leaders, and livestock factories on one side, and mainline environmental, sustainable agriculture, hunger and food groups on the other. The compromise provided increased funding for certain food and sustainability issues, such as subsidies for organic farming. At the same time, however, it maintained huge, “below cost gains” for processors, export dumping corporations and CAFOs (animal factories) in the U.S. and in foreign countries.
All of this must be significantly qualified, of course. Leaders of mainline farm commodity groups (ie. those allied with the corporate complex, ie. buyers) and organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, (those I’ve labeled “farmies), are greatly alarmed by the food movement (“foodies”). They see them as enemies, not allies. Likewise the food movement largely sees these conservative farm groups as the enemy. The crucial issue on which they both often substantially agree, however, (though perhaps neither would admit it,) is some kind of a farm “safety net,” (a farm subsidy with some level of a subsidy cap), instead of a return to traditional farm programs, which were based upon the principles of food sovereignty (with no subsidies) like the Harkin-Gephardt proposals of recent decades. They often agree, that is, on a farm “safety net” that fits the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) rules for free trade. As stated (negatively, as a “not,”) by the Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, (an upstanding member of the Foodie side of the coalition), for example, they sought a farm bill that would “provide transitions for farmers to alternative forms of support that are more equitable and do not distort trade in ways that fuel hunger and poverty.”2 Or, alternatively, as the National Corn Grower’s Association, (in some ways the major leader on the “farmie” side of the coalition, since they were the lead group behind the new ACRE subsidy “safety net,”) stated, they favor commodity title policy tools that are not “Trade Distorting [under] WTO,” that are “(WTO) Compliant – Fits within the Green Box,” that provide “a more effective and efficient safety net…”3
Continuing supporters of the specific Harkin-Gephardt (food sovereignty) policy tool bag include the National Family Farm Coalition (including Iowa CCI), Food and Water Watch, Grassroots International, The American Corn Growers Association, The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the world peasant movement La Via Campesina.
Harkin’s compromise of foodie and farmie interests, (crucially excluding all of the specific U.S. food sovereignty policy tools,) dovetailed with free trade agreements like NAFTA and WTO, which enabled exporters to force below cost commodities into local farm economies world wide. Among the biggest losers were diversified U.S. livestock producers, rural towns and regions, and “Least Developed Countries.” LDCs average more than 70% rural. The reduction and elimination of food sovereignty tools in the U.S. and elsewhere, combined with free trade agreements, has led to massive farm export dumping, and again recently, a volatile farm/food price spike.
2. faithprinciples.pdf, Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, Principles, http://www.networklobby.org/issues/alsoofinterest/RWG_FarmBIll_principles.pdf and on web pages of mainline denominations. See also, Bread for the World, “Healthy Foods, Farms and Families: Hunger 2007,” for support of “safety nets” that do not distort trade, chapter 1; American Farmland Trust, “Healthy Farms, Healthy Food, Healthy People: AFT’s 2007 Farm Policy Campaign: Agenda 2007: A New Framework and Direction for U.S. Farm Policy,” May 8, 2006, “new safety net … that would be less distorting … compatible with global trading rules.” http://www.farmland.org/documents/AFT_Agenda2007_May06.pdf
3. “National Corn Growers Association, National Farm Security Act proposal,” http://www.balancedfoodandfuel.com/FarmDev/main/PDF/12_01_06NFSA_FB_Brief.pdf
Last word: To clarify my underlying values and perplex you further, here’s another of the 6 items (front/back) on my XXL “billboard” tee shirt. I may explain the latter point one of these days.
By the way, others participating in my workshop included two farm/rural leaders out of Africa, a representative of La Via Campesina, (winner of the first ever World Food Sovereignty Prize, and alternative to the World Food Prize), and another corn farmer. My specific assignment was to give an Iowa corn farmers angle on the food crisis. Finally, Curt from the documentary King Corn was in the audience!
Disclaimer: none of this has been endorsed by any of the organizations listed on my tee shirt and in my essay as supportive of my stand on the farm crisis and the food crisis. This is an independent effort.