Who Do Regulators Work For?

Evaggelos Vallianatos, drawing not only from his proud Greek heritage and farming experiences but from his professional life in confronting government bureaucracy, sets forth two important premises in his rich and poignant book, This Land Is Their Land: How Corporate Farms Threaten the World [Common Courage Press].

First, in abandoning family farm agriculture to corporate agribusiness we place the very staff of life at peril along with our nation's rural culture; and second, in so doing we deny the age-old principles of economic and social justice without which democracy can not spread and flourish.

Vallianatos throughout his life has been a lover of nature and democratic family farming. The son of a Greek farmer, he learned first-hand the Cold War origins of US agricultural policy and how corporate agribusiness has hijacked our nation's agricultural policies while he was employed with the Environmental Protection Agency.

A humanist scholar with interests in Greek history and science and in how Greek culture became the foundation for Western civilization, he has authored From Graikos to Hellene, Fear in the Countryside and Harvest of Devastation.

Drawing from a variety of recent books and studies on corporate agribusiness, This Land Is Their Land shows that in such areas as agricultural policy, land ownership, agriculture financing and lending, seeds, chemicals, energy, farm machinery, crop milling and processing, food production, advertising and the wholesaling and retailing of food, corporate agribusiness has become the dominant force both in the US and throughout the world

In the 315 pages of his book, Vallianatos carefully examines the effect of industrialized farming in such countries and areas of the world as Brazil and Africa, and explores how it has become the Western culture's most aggressive and colonizing impulse. He also warns that "there's going to be hell to pay" over the disregard of the environment, ranging from changing weather conditions to such occurrences as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Particularly troubling for Vallianatos is the onrush of genetic engineering in the US and the nation's succumbing to the propaganda of the chemical companies that it is destined to feed the world. He also warns that "a republic cannot have large farms" and be misled by the "dark and shady deals of corporations masquerading as farmers."

"Preserving traditional agriculture," the author points out, "in the global political system of corporate hegemony is like installing in an anthropology museum beautiful Indian artifacts while the Indians themselves are slaughtered and then pushed to extinction. Traditional agriculture is of no more use to industrialized people than high-tech microwave ovens are of any practical significance to peasants.

"Traditional agriculture is sustainable because it is a live tradition of people unwilling to dominate nature or each other. Traditional agriculture is a fantastic science and legacy of living human cultures, which, unfortunately has been threatened with perpetual mutilation, poisoning and total destruction for millennia."

He also shows that while family farmers are looking to organic farming, it remains "a tiny, almost invisible and imperfect form of developing biological agriculture that abstains from agrotoxins," getting "very little support in the US precisely because of the power of giant agriculture. The US Department of Agriculture is a perfect administrator and mirror of this immoral policy."

The author recalls how as an employee of the EPA he "looked at the world with Greek eyes. I had to defend that world because I love that world. I attended meetings at EPA where toxicologists and ecologists recounted their findings on the poisonous effects of certain pesticides, which they were considering for some kind of regulatory action.

"They would conclude that some of those toxins would 'fill EPA's risk cup,' by which they meant such chemicals out in the environment would have killing effects on wildlife and, possibly, deleterious effects on people eating food, particularly children. Several times I suggested that we should sign a letter to the director of the Office of Pesticide Programs saying, in effect, that prudent caution demanded we ought to withdraw those toxins from the market.

"My colleague smiled at that proposal," Vallianatos continues, "some of them laughing that anyone would dare think of abolishing the bread and butter of the pesticide industry. But, in any event, they ignored my suggestions completely, never following up with a vigorous rejection of the demands of the industry for expanded use of the toxins ...

"I could not do what my colleagues did; I would never dream of harming nature and human beings. In addition, I always felt I worked for the people of this country, not the 'regulated industry,' pesticide companies, agribusiness, the World Bank or other corporations. I kept asking questions and initiated research projects that thoroughly embarrassed and angered my supervisors."

This book also examines what happens to a dream deferred by way of the theft of black land in the US, as well as the larger question of how "the development syndrome" is becoming pandemic and spreading an economic imperialism that is giving cancer to the world.

By painstakingly laying out both the evolving crisis that corporate agribusiness is generating while at the same time showing the reader how knowledge may well save family farming as well as the integrity and wholesomeness of the food we eat, Vallianatos has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of not only the history of agriculture and food, but the path we must take to save ourselves from ourselves.

"In the absence of the Greek theater, we need to immerse ourselves in the history of what we eat, and opt for food -- including meat -- that is grown without violence. This means condemning in the strongest possible moral terms, and doing away with, the feeding of cows' flesh; abandoning the dangerous practice of spraying our food with toxins, and ending the shifting and splicing of genes from organism to organism. This is an experiment that even the Greek gods would be reluctant to carry out.

"A well-informed citizenry," he concludes, "is our best defense against the terrors of factory culture. An informed and caring citizenry is likely to put his money where his health is ... I would simply add: Do you know where your food comes from ? ..."

A.V. Krebs operates the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, which publishes the online newsletter The Agribusiness Examiner. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2006

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