Two years ago this week, the USDA and U.S. Justice Department began a series of joint workshops on anti-trust issues in agriculture. More than 4,000 farmers participated, and 16,000 people submitted comments. (Civil Eats reported on these hearings here and here.) Yet at a press conference this week, marking the anniversary of the first workshop, a panel of farmers reported that little has changed. A handful of companies still control huge portions of livestock, dairy, and poultry markets, they said, and farmers continue to face abusive and unfair treatment. Read more

Farmers have been through this before–our lives and livelihoods falling under corporate control. It has been an ongoing process: consolidation of markets; consolidation of seed companies; an ever-widening gap between our costs of production and the prices we receive. Some of us are catching on, getting the picture of the real enemy.

The “99 percent” are awakening to the realization that their lives have fallen under corporate control as well. Add up the jobs lost, the health benefits whittled away, and the unions busted, and the bill for Wall Street’s self-centered greed is taking a toll. Read more

Last month, the University of Minnesota caused a stir when it decided to postpone the release of a film that focuses on the effect agriculture is having on U.S. waterways from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Troubled Waters–a film directed by Larkin McPhee for the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History, part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences–was held up, according to University Relations (the university’s PR office) to “allow time for a review of the film’s scientific content.” Yet ace reporting by Molly Preismeyer at the Twin Cities Daily Planet revealed that the film’s team had already thoroughly fact-checked the film, and followed the review process utilized by the PBS science program NOVA. Attempts to get the university to outline a standard procedure for research-based films were not fruitful. Then the story shifted once again when Dean Allen Levine told Minnesota Public Radio that the film “vilifies agriculture.”

Even though the University caved under pressure and allowed the scheduled premiere of the film to take place on October 3 and on October 5 on a local television station, the story of Troubled Waters has developed into a debate on academic freedom and the role a university’s donors should play in its research priorities. Read more

On Friday in an unprecedented move with the USDA, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the farm business. The investigation began a 7-state probe into how Monsanto treats its customers, our nation’s farmers.

I recently had the honor of presenting for our nation’s top producing farmers in Chicago at the Top Producer Seminar, sponsored by Cargill and Pioneer. I was scheduled to present with Monsanto’s VP of Sustainable Yield, but a few days before the presentation was told that he had moved to China and that there was no one to take his place. I then had the privilege of spending the afternoon in an incredibly insightful discussion with the farmers, many of whom are Monsanto’s customers, who are remarkable fathers, grandfathers, and businessmen. Read more

And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers, but the family farmers and the American People.”  President-elect Barack Obama, December 17, 2008, Chicago, Illinois.

The message was one of hope, the words of a newly elected President echoing the Populism of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the promise of John F. Kennedy.  It stopped there, the delivery of the promise fell short. Read more

The Global Harvest Initiative, founded by agribusiness interests DuPont, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and John Deere, will meet today beginning at 9:00 am for a daylong symposium at which the focus is said to be on finding “ways to sustainably double agricultural output to meet rapidly growing global demand as anticipated by the United Nations.” Are big corporations finally seeking to do what is right by the nearly billion people who are currently food insecure in the world, or is this another instance of corporate green washing bought into by our politicians? Indeed, this so-called initiative needs a bit of parsing. Read more

Beyond the thirty-year experiment in free-market ideology having been judged a failure in financial markets, one thing is clear: as Kerry Trueman reminded us in a recent post, unfettered capitalism has also been bad for our health, and indeed the safety of our food.

Last week, The New York Times reported that this administration has said it will take a harder line on anti-trust legislation, in diverse sectors of the economy including agriculture.  Perhaps its premature to tell what this will look like, but enforcing the laws that we already have on the books would be a great start to building a better food system. Read more

Our very bizzy Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has partnered with the Disney corporation to use the characters from Pinocchio to promote the USDA’s Food Pyramid, as part of his goal to reduce childhood obesity in America. New television, radio, print, outdoor, and online ads have been created by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment to remind families of the value of healthy eating and exercise. But Bizzy V’s trip to Fairytale Village is one of his more misguided policy plans. (Yes, that’s Ag Secretary Vilsack in the pic, in a private moment…) Read more