National food self-sufficiency is as important to national security as military power, underscoring the need for Congress to pass a farm bill that ensures a stable domestic food production system. Unfortunately, both the House and Senate 2002 farm bill proposals are a continuation of current failed farm programs that rely on income subsidies.
This warped policy leaves taxpayers hung with a cost that should be borne by agri-business giants that buy our grain at far below our cost of production. Last year, taxpayers paid out $71 billion in farm and ranch subsidies while the corporate giants laughed all the way to the bank. Cargill recently reported profits up 67%, ConAgra raked in a 55% increase in half-year profits, while Tyson's profits tripled since the acquisition of IBP, to almost 24 %.
I am a farmer who supports the recent release of information quantifying the dollar amount received by farmers and ranchers. It exposed the absurdity of the current and past misguided farm programs that have not effectively served the best interest of either farmers, taxpayers, consumers, the poor, or the environment, at home or around the world. But keep in mind, farmers did not write this misguided farm program, or the 1985, 1990 or 1996 farm bills. Congress did -- with full support of the Cargills of the world.
I have been an active participant in farm policy legislative debate since the 1985 Food Security Act was passed. The National Family Farm Coalition, made up of 31 statewide farm organizations, has been a leader in drafting an alternative farm program proposal that would place a fair purchase price for grain squarely where it belongs -- on the expense side of the agri-business' ledger.
This concept is embodied in "The Food From Family Farms" proposal, which was distributed to various members of Congress well before they began the debate on the 2002 farm legislation. It was written on the premise that all countries, including the United States, must retain the right to develop domestic farm programs that respond to the needs of their people, without the risk of foreign challenge.
Sounds like a no-brainer, except that Congress no longer has that authority. It was traded away through "free trade" agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. That concession makes the reality of "homeland security" rather limited!
Furthermore, multi-national corporate buy-outs and mergers have left producers without competitive markets to sell into. Given the lack of farmers' bargaining power, in order to avert a total collapse of US production agriculture, Congress opted to intervene. We have evolved to the point where Congress has two options. They can choose either to pass an historically effective program that would stabilize the market price of grain through a floor/support price (which has an effect similar to the minimum wage law for labor), or they can choose to transfer that cost to taxpayers through a complicated formula, designed to reward certain growers, in certain geographic areas based on who has the political power to reward his or her own constituents.
"Food from Family Farms" provides for the first option -- a fair price at the marketplace. Using USDA calculations support price for wheat would be $4.72; corn -- $3.21; soybeans -- $6.87. The immediate response from one member of the Senate Ag Committee was that we couldn't expect a support price that high or we would get killed with imports! So where is "Section 22" which protected US producers from grain being "dumped" into the domestic market at below their cost of production? It was recently traded away by negotiators in a frenzy to globalize!
I am angry that while servicemen and women, past and present, hold high the American flag and vow to protect this nation from all dangers, we have negotiators converging in places like Seattle and Montreal and Doha, trading away our right to feed ourselves by promoting the multi-national corporate agenda of global exploitation.
Meanwhile, I am aware that America is at war. The tragic "surprise" of 9/11 has been likened by some to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then-President Roosevelt was outspoken in his conviction that in order to win a prolonged war, it is essential to have strong and stable manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Today, the US manufacturing sector is in the pits. It is clear that "free trade" has allowed the deterioration of our manufacturing industry by the relocation of millions jobs to foreign soil, only to flood our shores with imported goods. Lack of commitment to a rational long-term food and farm policy has caused the exodus of hundreds of thousands of farm families from the land since 1980.
The question that American citizens must answer is "How can we establish an economically and environmentally sustainable food production and distribution system in this country that will provide wholesome food at affordable prices? This is the on-going question that family farm organizations have been wrestling with. The National Family Farm Coalition's answer comes in the form of the "Food from Family Farms" proposal. Please join with farmers in support of this alternative, sustainable system of food production that will meet the needs of our people.
Helen Waller is a wheat farmer from Circle, Mont., chair of the Farm Policy Committee of Western Organization of Resource Councils (www.worc.org) and past chair of the National Family Farm Coalition.