Farmers to DOJ -- "Break up Big Ag"

Monsanto does not have the right to dictate the value of my life
-Joel Greeno

While farmers were the star of the show at last Friday's antitrust hearing in Ankeny, Iowa, the debate over the monopolization of farming is one where all of our interests are squarely at stake.

Anyone who eats and has a brain should be downright terrified that just a few giant businesses control the vast majority of food available to us as consumers. Perhaps that explains why more than 15,000 people submitted comments in anticipation of the hearings - four more of which are scheduled this year as a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To his credit, Attorney General Eric Holder seemed to be trying not to mince words in Iowa - always tough for an attorney - and particularly so for one under the right's atomic microscope. Noting that farming "has been at the core of the American economy ever since there was an American economy," he went on to say, "[W]e've learned the hard way that . . . long periods of reckless deregulation can foster practices that are anti-competitive and even illegal. . . . We know that a growing number of American farmers find it increasingly difficult to survive by doing what they've done for decades. And we've learned that some of them believe the competitive environment may be, at least in part, to blame."

Farmers who attended a pre-hearing meeting Thursday evening made the case for themselves. Noting that farming goes back "forever in my family," Todd Leake, who grows wheat, soybeans, sunflowers and navy beans in North Dakota, said, "The crops we grow are the basis of civilization. If anything belongs to the public domain, if anything belongs to the people of the world, it's the crops we grow for food."

Iowa hog farmer Larry Ginter, a long-time opponent of factory farms, also made the connection between the plight of American farmers and the struggles of so many people outside our borders, saying," "Labor, family farms, democratic rights are in a pitched battle against the dictatorship of capital. We've got to understand that this is an international struggle. Those Mexican workers coming up here are family farmers. Those Sudanese workers in the packing plants are family farmers and workers being driven off by the big dictatorship of capital. We have to understand that we are not alone in America." Urging his fellow farmers to action, Ginter concluded, "Nothing can happen on the farms unless farmers turn the wheel and plant the seed."

Wisconsin dairy farmer Joel Greeno, said "My parents' 29th wedding anniversary was a farm foreclosure. Their 30th anniversary was a sheriff's auction on the courthouse steps. My neighbor's farm was stolen from him that was owned since 1942 by his family. He came to ask how to get food stamps because he'd always lived off his farm, no longer had that, and said that his social security of $9,000 a year couldn't feed him. This has got to end. Washington has got to step up. DOJ is our only lifeboat. They have to fix this. They have to correct it. Monsanto does not have the right to dictate the value of my life, my work, and the food I produce. Kraft Food does not have the right to set the price of my milk, which they do without question."

Patrick Woodall, a research director for Food and Water Watch, and a panelist at the hearings said, "At the end of the day, farmers and activists could speak truth to power and delivered a tough message to the regulators that action was long overdue, it was time to bust the agribusiness trusts and level the playing field for farmers and consumers. Many audience members, like Marcia Ishii-Eiteman from Pesticide Action Network North America, also challenged the reliance on agrochemical inputs and the false hope of genetically modified crops."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, "This is not just about farmers and ranchers. It's really about the survival of rural America."

He's right, of course, but that's not just some romantic Rockwellesque notion; almost anyone who eats depends on a shrinking number of farmers struggling at the other end of our fork. If they disappear, our freedom to eat what we choose will vanish as well.