By KEN JEROME-STERN
Ralph Nader in St. Paul on July 14 called for a major food policy initiative to encourage sustainable farming to promote rural prosperity while producing quality food for consumers. He made the announcement in Minnesota, home to major agribusinesses such as Cargill and General Mills as well as a strong citizens-farmers alternative movement embracing food co-ops, organic farming, and sustainable agriculture.
"The so-called Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 has failed miserably," Nader declared. "It has encouraged consolidation and farmers are squeezed by giant suppliers and buyers." Sectors such as poultry, livestock, grain, and flour milling have seen control concentrated in four to six companies, Nader claimed. Farmers are squeezed between oligopolies of suppliers and seed companies on the one hand and buying conglomerates on the other.
"Why buy the farm when you can buy the farmer?" Nader asked. "It is called contract farming, and farmers work dawn to dusk for $12,000 a year in income."
Nader supports family farmers and the rural communities of which they are a part. His policy calls for broadly dispersed ownership and decision making policy. Nader promoted an agriculture that will provide healthy, natural, and sustainable food rather than focusing on cheaper food for consumers. That starts with supporting family farms, he said.
US farm policy has resulted in historically low commodity prices, severe decline in farm income and the number of farmers, and grand profits for grain merchandisers, according to Nader. Congress responded by putting farmers on "welfare," making direct payments to them. Not only are farmers getting income from the government, instead of the marketplace, but the biggest farms are getting the biggest payments, Nader said.
Nader called for improving the agricultural system by having federal policy integrate justice and sustainability for consumers, the environment, workers and family farms. America must "take a multifunctional view of agriculture," he said "recognizing the value not only of economic and nutritional benefits, but also environmental stewardship, beautiful landscapes, and stable communities. Our abundance of land resources should not be a path to profligacy and destruction."
Today, rural communities are depressed because the profit in the food industry is sucked out by giant corporations headquartered in big cities far away. Rural America is a basket case, like the inner cities, experiencing massive poverty, declining school enrollments, shuttered business districts, and withering civic institutions.
"We must stop the misallocation of resources caused by the growing concentration of power over the food and fiber economy by agribusiness, chemical, biotechnology, and financial corporations," insisted Nader. "Governmental policy must shift to provide research and information relevant to sustainable and independent food producers; enforcing the antitrust laws ensuring open and competitive markets; promoting new food infrastructures, and preventing pollution and degradation of natural resources."
Nader promoted the Organization for Competitive Markets, a coalition of farmers, ranchers, consumers, academics, and politicians fighting agri-corporate domination across the country (their address: P.O. Box 6486, Lincoln, NE 68506, phone 662-476-5568; website: www.competitivemarkets.com).
Nader also raised $9,000 for his campaign at an early evening $100-a-person fundraising dinner. Another $16,000, raised from $5 admission donations and passing boxes through the crowd before his speech on the University of Minnesota campus, went to the Minnesota Green party. Republicans and Democrats might have garnered $9 million with similar efforts, but Nader is not accepting corporate or political action committee contributions or soft money of any kind. "A supine, PAC-greased Congress servicing Lockheed MartinMarietta and other military contractors," funding a missile defense system 10 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, is perhaps the most egregious example of our overdeveloped plutocracy and underdeveloped democracy, Nader said.
Over 2,000 Minnesotans jammed Willey Hall to hear Nader end his long day with a 90-minute speech. Scott Raskiweicz, Green Party candidate for the 4th US Congressional District in St. Paul, reminded the audience that the Greens are "not just a major party, but a party with major plans," in remarks preceding Nader's.
Nader showed that in his wide-ranging address. He started with a litany of corporate abuses and their overreaching power in our lives, saying that "addiction is a way of life, turning generation of Americans into spectators instead of doers," consuming TV, fast food, consumer goods, and all kinds of legal drugs. "Did King George [III] have anything over King Corporation?" he asked.
Over and over he called for the building up of civil society, reminding the crowd that "we are always told that the people in this country get what we deserve. We got to organize and demand" that things be different, because democracy is at risk.
"We need to start thinking about power in terms of voter power and building a deep democracy that goes beyond election and includes participation in taking back what we own from the corporations, foremost the air waves and the public lands," he said.
"It isn't often that we get an opportunity to start something that will last despite the two parties opposition. We now have a foothold. Let us now move to November and beyond November, so 10, 20, 30 years from now it can be said that it really got its start here in America with a new sprout called the Green Party," Nader said in closing to a sustained standing ovation.
Nader's Minnesota performance proves that he is running seriously. He is also thinking about the future, as his closing remarks show. Nader has always been serious about democracy, creating Public Citizen and other interest groups covering consumer and at-work issues ranging from autos to drugs to the environment to watchdogging Congress. Now he is appealing to citizens electorally, to "non-voters, disenchanted voters, as well as Democrats and Republicans."
Nader tells his audiences his "objective of the campaign is to break up the two-party duopoly." He believes this is the beginning of the end of two party domination, that the major parties will either change or shrink. "After November the Greens will become a significant third party," Nader predicts.
If the Greens are able to organize and support Nader and give him the opportunity to reach people, and their pocketbooks, in every city he campaigns in, the electorate will see that an exciting alternative is available. Nader is delivering for the Green Party. The Green Party now needs to make sure their presidential candidate's message gets spread far and wide in the next 90 days.
Nader believes Minnesota will be one of his top ten states in November, along with Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts. If Nader is able to be this productive with every stop, he will surely provide a November surprise.
Ken Jerome-Stern is a writer in Minneapolis.