Our system of agriculture is built on shaky politics, a shaky market and a shaky genetic base. With all that, what really could go wrong?
Politico recently described the inability of the House to pass a Farm Bill as a “massive legislative failure.” Not even a self-described “grassroots” Capitol Hill rally of some of the nation’s largest farm groups could generate sufficient attention to break political gridlock.
So what else is new?
For decades, most Farm Bills, proposed as well as approved, have been massive legislative failures.
Farm Bills have been written and directed increasingly by and for special interest agricultural organizations and corporate agribusiness. Reported direct political contributions and Congressional lobbying by agribusiness totals about $200 million annually.
We can only speculate on the millions, or hundreds of millions of unreported contributions allowed under the Supreme Court’s “one-dollar, one-vote” decision known in legal terms as Citizens United.
Opensecrets.org has detailed information contributions. Here’s the rundown:
Why do giant agribusiness corporations and ag organizations contribute hundreds of millions annually? Are these contributions made out of the goodness of their corporate hearts and concern for the common good?
Powerful special interests lobby, send their people through the revolving door, and make political contributions because they expect a good return on their investment. Typically they get an outstanding return; otherwise the corporations and organizations would not continue to “invest” in politics.
You do. In one-way or another.
Rural America is not well represented. Even the average urbanite is not well represented in farm bills. Indeed, the “public interest” is not well represented in farm bill legislation.
Agribusiness contributions lean Republican; nevertheless, the fundamental problem applies to all political parties. In a sense, it is a DIRT problem–Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and Teas (with or without dregs). There is too much special interest DIRT, too little representation of the public interest.
Welcome to the Plantation
To a great extent, special interest farm bills have promoted and propped up what is now called “industrial farming.” This industrial model of vertical integrated and horizontal concentrated firms controlled by a few corporate executives is not sustainable.
Industrial farming is not sustainable because it relies heavily on fossil fuels and mined phosphorous and potash fertilizer. Our world is finite. Resources are limited. Population, use of fossil fuel, mining of fertilizer, and drawdown of aquifers cannot continue to grow exponentially.
The industrial system is also increasingly based on a very narrow plant and animal genetic base. If Mother Nature does not get angry and retaliate against this narrow genetic base, bioterrorists will have a most vulnerable target made to order.
The industrial system is also environmentally undesirable, as it has highly concentrated livestock and poultry production, leading to pollution and waste of plant nutrients. Yes, food is cheap at the grocery store, but society will eventually pay the full social price for that food — like it or not, 2012 Farm Bill or not,
The system is socially undesirable — at least to 99% of us — because it is basically a 21st century plantation. Yes, it is a return to indentured servants in a feudalist agricultural system.
Corporate agribusiness money goes not just to influence Congress but also, as Richard Oswald (in Letter From Langdon) points out, they should be arrested for identity theft, having stolen or attempted to steal the good name of U.S. farmers and ranchers.
It is also curious that many giant agribusinesses owe their early economic success to offering products that consumers demanded. Now they are spending huge sums to “tell” consumers what they should want. Advertising that moves beyond informing the public to strong-armed persuasion or deception are arguably not in the public interest.
Farm Bills will continue to be “massive legislative failures” until the public interest, not special interests, becomes the focus and intent of farm legislation. People need a democratic food and agricultural system.
C. Robert Taylor is the Alfa Eminent Scholar and Professor of Agriculture and Resource Policy, Agribusiness and Concentration at Auburn University.