U.S. farm bankruptcy rates jumped 20% in 2019 – to an eight-year high – as financial woes in the U.S. agricultural economy continued in spite of massive federal bail-out funding, according to federal court data.
According to data released this week by the United States Courts, family farmers filed 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies in 2019, up from 498 filings a year earlier. The data also shows that such filings – known as “family farmer” bankruptcies – have steadily increased every year for the past five years.
Farmers across the nation also have retired or sold their farms because of the financial strains, changing the face of Midwestern towns and concentrating the business in fewer hands.
Last fall, Victor Pacheco, the foreman on Ms. Raby’s family farm for 23 years, was detained by ICE agents and deported to Mexico.
Ms. Raby has struggled to find a foreman skilled enough to manage her vineyard, where the grapevines are now dusted in a light coat of snow and in need of winter pruning. This has left her uncertain about the future of their family farm and the president she helped vote into office.
“I still agree with Trump in a lot of ways, but I’m more on the fence about him now,” Ms. Raby said. “I don’t want to lose the immigrants who are working here and growing our food.”
I hope someone is planning on writing a book based on the numerous Trump voters who ended up getting screwed by Trump-enabled GOP orthodoxy, like this woman. It’s basically a cliché by this point.
But I’m also firmly of the belief that Trump-bots like Ms. Raby don’t deserve much sympathy. Trump isn’t subtle, he said what he was going to do, and then he did it. His announcement that he was running for president was built upon racist demagoguery, but Ms. Raby was ok with that, and all the subsequent racism was fine, up until her own business got decimated. Then she has doubts.
As to the bigger story, American agriculture depends upon low paid workers from other countries, mostly Mexico. If Trump and Stephen Miller get their way, we won’t be able to eat anything other than processed meat from McDonald’s because there won’t be anyone to pick the crops.
HOMER, N.Y. — The fears weigh on Mike McMahon: If one of his undocumented workers gets a traffic ticket, it could prompt an immigration audit of his entire farm. If another gets detained by immigration agents at a roadside checkpoint or in a supermarket parking lot, the rest may flee. And if his undocumented work force disappears overnight, there is no one to replace them.
“It keeps me up at night,” said Mr. McMahon, who owns a dairy farm south of Syracuse. “There are people out there who just say, ‘Send them all back and build a wall.’ But they would be facing empty shelves in the grocery store if that were to happen.”
It has long been an open secret in upstate New York that the dairy industry has been able to survive only by relying on undocumented immigrants for its work force. Now, this region has become a national focal point in the debate over President Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants and their role in agriculture
Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.
While many rural conservatives may loathe the idea of Big Government, farmers and the federal government are welded together by dozens of programs and billions of dollars in spending.
Now, farmers and farm groups say that federal crop payments have stopped flowing. Farmers cannot get federally backed operating loans to buy seed for their spring planting, or feed for their livestock. They cannot look up new government data about beef prices or soybean yields to make decisions about planting and selling their goods in an ever-changing global market.
As part of a continuing series about Trump supporters who have gotten screwed by Trump’s erratic trade policy pronouncements, the NYT reports:
In late March, the Trump administration began imposing a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum from countries including Russia, China, Turkey and Brazil. On June 1, it expanded the levies to include Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
While the steel industry supports the tariffs, the aluminum industry is mostly opposed. The tariffs raise prices for aluminum, which helps smelters, the companies that make raw aluminum here. However, only a handful of smelters still operate in the United States.
The Aluminum Association, which represents the bulk of the American industry, says that 97 percent of American jobs in aluminum are at what are called “downstream” businesses that shape the metal into things like auto parts or other goods. Those companies are hurt by Mr. Trump’s tariffs, because they must now pay higher prices for their raw materials.
It turns out electing a president who gets all his policy ideas from Fox News maybe isn’t such a good thing for the nation. Who woulda guessed?
Storing Wheat / Soy – Agfa Scala 200
And yet, despite all the evidence of Trump’s incompetence, and indifference, some Trumpsters remain on the Trump train:
“I would like to tell the president, ‘Man, you are messing up our market,’” said Kevin Scott, a soybean farmer in South Dakota and the secretary of the American Soybean Association. The idea of changing Nafta, he said, “gives us a lot of heartburn in farm country.”
At the same time, Mr. Scott said, China’s threat to impose tariffs this weekon United States soybeans — in direct response to Mr. Trump’s tariffs on other Chinese-made products — is already having a negative effect on the prices farmers see. In recent days, Canada imposed its own retaliatory tariffs against the United States. And on Friday, General Motors warned that Mr. Trump’s threat of tariffs on imported cars could backfire, killing American jobs and leading to “a smaller G.M.”
Mr. Scott voted for Mr. Trump, and he approves of administration efforts to roll back environmental regulations, “But if we lose those Chinese and Mexican markets, it will be hard to get them back,” he said. China and Mexico are the two biggest markets for American soybean exports.
Richard Newell, president of Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, described the administration’s overall approach as “whac-a-mole policy” that suggests a lack of appreciation of the complexity of global commerce. “The law of unintended consequences abounds,” Mr. Newell added.
The factional rancor threatening Republicans heading into the midterm elections this fall erupted into the open on Friday when a slugfest among moderates, hard-line conservatives and House leaders over immigration and welfare policy sank the party’s multiyear farm bill.
The twice-a-decade measure — which would have imposed strict new work requirements on food aid recipients while maintaining farm subsidies important to rural lawmakers — failed on a 213-to-198 vote. It was a rebuke of Speaker Paul D. Ryan by a key bloc of conservatives over his refusal to schedule an immediate vote on a restrictive immigration bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Republican moderates, for their part, were moving in the opposite direction, shrugging off the pleas of their leaders as they worked toward forcing votes on legislation to protect from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
The fights were striking, not only because of their intensity but also because of the participants. Capitol Hill has grown used to altercations between Republican leaders and their adamant right flank — showdowns that have shut down the government and edged the government toward defaulting on its debt. But in past fights, the party’s moderates have proved compliant.
This time, with their districts dominating the Democrats’ target list for the coming midterm races, the moderates are holding firm to their own demands.
More Congressional disfunction, and with no easy solution, at least until the 2018 elections. Paul Ryan has no “juice” left, as he’s a lame duck. He actually should go ahead and resign his Speakership now.
Tom Philpott of Mother Jones adds a little context:
Back in 2016, the Republican Party won the presidency and both chambers of Congress with strong support in rural areas, particularly among farmers. But since that triumph, the Grand Old Party hasn’t exactly been a champion of rural interests. As I’ve written in recent months, President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration is essentially an attack on the workers who keep America’s farms and many rural towns humming. And his trade belligerence with China and Mexico amount to near-surgical strikes against farmers who supported him in California, the Southeast, and the Midwest’s corn and soybean belt.
In the middle of this drama, Congress is tasked with renewing the farm bill—twice-a-decade legislation that shapes US agriculture and food-aid policy. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, hopes to bring his version to a vote on the House floor this week. Let us count the ways it would bring pain to the US heartland:
The US House of Representatives voted down the farm bill this morning by a margin of 198-213. The Washington Post called it a “major embarrassment to GOP leaders” like outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who had hotly promoted the bill. In a Thursday Twitter thread, I laid out the political dynamics that ultimately killed the bill. It remains unclear whether the House Agriculture Committee chair, Rep. Mike Conaway (R.-Texas), will attempt to bring it back to the floor for another vote. House Democrats, who universally opposed the bill, hailed the failure as a victory for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which the bill would have effectively cut. Here’s Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.)
and from that referenced WaPo article, the bill is dead anyway, as the Senate is not even close to accepting the House version:
A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration.
The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes.
But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in defeating the bill.
The outcome exposed what is becoming an all-out war within the House GOP over immigration, a divisive fight the Republicans did not want to have heading into midterm elections in November that will decide control of Congress.
The House farm bill would have been a non-starter anyway in the Senate, which is writing its own farm bill. Any legislation that ultimately makes it to Trump’s desk will have to look more like the version in the Senate, where bipartisan support will be necessary for anything to pass and there is not sufficient support for the food-stamp changes.
Trump called himself “Mr. Brexit” yesterday. Funny, almost, in light of the reality of how removing E.U. immigrants is going to drastically change how Britain feeds itself. America too if the anti-immigrant brigade ever gets a modicum of power. Have you ever picked vegetables in the hot sun? It’s not work I’d do voluntarily, even if it paid above minimum wage. Trump’s anti-immigrant army will be spluttering in impotent rage if tomatoes were $50/lb, if lettuce was something you only could afford to eat over the holidays, if a hamburger cost $35 even to make it at home with store-bought ingredients.
But then Trump’s cult has never had the ability to comprehend facts.
Courgetts (or Courgettes) (a/k/a Zucchini)
Anyway, back to Britain, where Carla Power writes, in part:
“Brexit” has sown deep uncertainty in Britain’s food system, which for the last 43 years has been entwined with the rest of Europe’s, relying heavily on the EU for everything from pork to peaches to farm subsidies to the labor that picks its tomatoes. Now, the country is going to have to rethink how it feeds itself, from farm to fork.
“Food is the biggest sector of engagement with Europe,” said Timothy Lang, a professor at City University London’s Center for Food Policy. “It’s hundreds of thousands of contracts, all woven into long supply chains.”
Currently, European laws regulate nearly everything that ends up on British plates: how clean a chicken should be before slaughter, how cold to keep frozen cod, who gets to call their biscuits “gluten free.”
Now, Britain will have to decide all that for itself. Some groups already have begun lobbying Prime Minister Theresa May’s new government for regulations to improve animal welfare and protect soils.
But what Britain can’t do is feed itself. The country imports more than $50 billion a year in food, or nearly half of what it eats. That’s more than double what it exports. Most wine and beef come from mainland Europe, as do about 40% of fruit and vegetables.
The future of food in Britain will depend largely on what sort of trade deals the government can strike with the European alliance it is preparing to abandon.
Germany and other European powers have made it clear that they will not grant Britain the benefits of EU membership if it leaves and that the country probably will face tariffs on many of its imports.
New tariffs on food would drive up prices and potentially change the nation’s diet.
EU membership has brought them a flexible, energetic and mobile labor force of Romanians, Bulgarians and other Eastern Europeans. While EU-born workers from outside Britain make up 6% of the country’s workforce, they account for more than a quarter of employees in the food manufacturing industry — and 95% of crop pickers.
“Every strawberry eaten at Wimbledon was picked by an Eastern European,” said John Hardman of Hops Labour Solutions, an agricultural recruitment firm in Kenilworth. “Every Brussels sprout eaten at Christmas dinner was picked by an Eastern European.” If Britain stops free movement of EU workers, farmers may struggle to find replacements. Britons themselves don’t seem keen on the low wages and long hours in the orchards and fields.
Another big fault line in the Republican Party: the Tea Party wing is rabidly anti-immigration, and they seem to be setting policy. The Agribusiness wing just wants to harvest their crops like they always have, with sketchily documented migrant workers.
California is home to an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants, more than in any other state. Perhaps nowhere else captures the contradictions and complications of immigration policy better than California’s Central Valley, where nearly all farmworkers are immigrants, roughly half of them living here illegally, according to estimates from agricultural economists at the University of California, Davis.
That reality is shaping the views of agriculture business owners here, like Mr. Herrin, who cannot recall ever voting for a Democrat. In dozens of interviews, farmers and owners of related businesses said that even the current system of tacitly using illegal labor was failing to sustain them. A work force that arrived in the 1990s is aging out of heavy labor, Americans do not want the jobs, and tightened security at the border is discouraging new immigrants from arriving, they say, leaving them to struggle amid the paralysis on immigration policy. No other region may be as eager to keep immigration legislation alive.
The tension is so high that the powerful Western Growers Association, a group based in Irvine, Calif., that represents hundreds of farmers in California and Arizona, says many of its members may withhold contributions from Republicans in congressional races because of the party’s stance against a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
“We’ve had secure borders with Mexico for the last decade; we don’t have that argument at this point,” Mr. Nassif said. “Now we want people to see the real damage of not doing anything, which is a declining work force, and it means losing production to foreign countries.”
After the 2012 presidential election, as Republicans spoke enthusiastically about the need to court Latinos, Mr. Nassif was optimistic that immigration would become a top priority. But exasperation has replaced his confidence in recent months, and he said his group could withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars in congressional races in which it has usually supported Republicans.
“I can tell you if the Republicans don’t put something forward on immigration, there is going to be a very loud hue and cry from us in agriculture,” Mr. Nassif said. “We are a tremendously important part of the party, and they should not want to lose us.”
Of course, if the Agribusiness wing of the GOP paid higher wages, they might be able to get some Americans to work picking crops, maybe. It is back-breaking labor, much harder than flipping burgers at the local fast food joint. And if farmers had to pay a living wage, produce would suddenly skyrocket in price, more than limes I’m guessing. Doesn’t matter anyway, the Steve “Cantaloupe” Kings of the party are opposed to any immigrant being let in.
As a follow up to Paul Krugman’s outrage re the Right’s push toward more food insecurity for citizens of America, Mark Bittman adds his own…
The critically important Farm Bill1 is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.
The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.
The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”
…The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.2
Sadly, I doubt much will change, the Christian Taliban currently calling the shots in the Republican Party is too opposed to Christian principles as espoused by Christ: you know, ones about feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In stark contrast to the teachings of Christ, we instead have evil hypocrites like Congressman Stephen Fincher:
This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.
Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.
This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.
For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) 
Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.
If there were a god, publicly pious devils like Rep. Fincher would be zapped by lightning, or at least be forced to give back the $3,483,824 he’s collected from the federal government. Instead, they continue to get corporate welfare, and cash from lobbyists to continue the scheme, and the ability to set our national policy. In Rep. Fincher’s world, those children who rely upon food stamps should go to work, preferably in a coal mine or as chimney sweeps.
Dance of the Devil Corn
From USA Today last year:
Who gets food stamps?
The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:
••47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.
••8% were age 60 or older.
••41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called “working poor.”
••The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.
••36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.
Update, Feb. 5: USDA data understate these figures, however, because participants are not required to state their race or ethnic background. As a result, 18.9% are listed as “race unknown.” A more accurate estimate of the racial and ethnic composition of food-stamp recipients can be drawn from U.S. Census data, based on a sample of households surveyed each year in the American Community Survey.
For 2010, Census data show the following for households that reported getting food stamp assistance during the year:
•49% were white (non-Hispanic); 26% were black or African American; and 20% were Hispanic (of any race).
Note that Census data somewhat understate the total number of persons receiving food stamps, compared with the more accurate head count from USDA, which is based on actual benefit payments. Survey participants may be reluctant to state that they have received public assistance during the year. So the Census figures on race and ethnic background can’t be guaranteed to be completely accurate. But we judge the Census figures to be a better approximation of reality regarding race and ethnic background than USDA figures.
Knowing that direct subsidy payments are under the gun, our clever and cynical representatives are offering a bait-and-switch policy that will make things worse, and largely replace subsidy payments with an enhanced form of crop insurance — paid for by us, of course — which will further reduce risks for commodity farmers. As Craig Cox explained, “The proposed crop insurance would allow — no, encourage — big farmers to plant corn on hillsides, in flood-threatened areas, even in drought-stricken areas, with subsidized premiums and deductibles, and see a big payout if” — should we say “when”? — “the crop fails or is damaged.”
You should get such a deal on insurance: the premiums and deductibles are subsidized and there’s no limit to what can be paid, so bigger farms and bigger risks reap bigger rewards in the event of failure, even if that was a failure of judgment.
This year going by the fun names of “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (House version) and “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” (Senate). Note that the titles tell us what matters to each of these bodies, and that food doesn’t cut it in the House. [↩]
“People in need,” by the way, outnumber food stamp recipients, since not everyone eligible for food stamps signs up. So really it’s a bit worse than it sounds, and it sounds bad enough. [↩]
What a surprise! The anti-American GOP Congress has decided farmers are not a core constituency, or at least are not as important as defense contractors. Since the GOP doesn’t believe in climate change, the drought is just god’s will, and farmers should pray for rain, avoid asking for government assistance.
When Congress returns to business this week, it will be met not by the Code Pink antiwar protesters or the Tea Party supporters who often gathered near the Capitol last year. Instead, farmers will be out in force, rallying for a bill that lawmakers failed to pass before they recessed five weeks ago.
That unfinished bit of business threatens to cut off aid to farmers across the nation. But lawmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.
When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, it will move to begin debate on a jobs bill for veterans that is championed by President Obama. The Democratic leadership is also considering yet another vote on Representative Paul D. Ryan’s budget, for no other apparent reason than to embarrass Republicans facing tough re-election battles.
In the House, Republicans will vote on a bill that seeks to phase out the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program that financed Solyndra, the bankrupt maker of solar power equipment. They also want Senate Democrats to come up with a measure like one already passed by the House that would replace the large-scale budget cuts for the Pentagon that are scheduled to take effect with other trims on Dec. 31. The military cuts were set in motion by an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, and they became automatic when a special select committee failed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill that the House declined to take up. House leaders also refused to consider their own Agriculture Committee’s sweeping farm measure, instead pushing through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.
Mr. Boehner lacks enough votes to pass a bill because Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, including food stamps, in the House committee’s bill. And many conservative Republicans would like to see more cuts over all in the measure.
Tea Party-led GOP is concerned about any government assistance for non-oil company entities, thus no help for farmers, despite the fact that farmers lean Republican, usually. The only way the farmers are going to get drought relief is if fracking is allowed on their land, or oil is discovered…
House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, who popped into Iowa on Friday night to promote Mr. Latham’s re-election campaign, have been unable to muster the votes.
A summer drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock and sent feed prices soaring is now extracting a political price from members of Congress, who failed to agree on a comprehensive agriculture bill or even limited emergency relief before leaving Washington for five weeks.
Farmers are complaining loudly to their representatives, editorial boards across the heartland are hammering Congress over its inaction, and incumbents from both parties are sparring with their challengers over agricultural policy.
In Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar and her Republican Party-endorsed opponent, Kurt Bills, disagreed sharply in their first face-to-face debate over what a farm bill should contain. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, Representative Todd Akin, defended their positions before the state farm bureau’s political unit.
Representative Leonard L. Boswell, Mr. Latham’s Democratic opponent in a newly drawn district, said, “Every time I get out there, people keep asking me: ‘What happened to the farm bill? Why don’t we have a farm bill?’ ”
In Arkansas, the Democratic Party paid for an automated call by a farmer imploring rural voters to pester Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican, about the unfinished farm business. Representative Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, took heat back home for backing away from a petition sponsored by Democrats that would have forced the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill to the floor.
“We would have much preferred they pass the House bill,” said Michael Held, the chief executive of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “I think the attitude here is this is typical Washington, D.C., not getting its work done.”
But in a dynamic that has roiled the 112th Congress, this year’s farm bill was unlike any before it. While the House Agriculture Committee signed off on a measure, its substantial cuts to food programs alienated too many Democrats. And its cuts to those programs, as well as to some forms of farm aid, were not enough to appease the chamber’s most conservative members.
Representative Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and newly anointed vice-presidential candidate, has recommended cutting $134 billion from food stamps over the next decade…“This bill is being held up by the same people who held up the debt ceiling last year,” said Bob Kerrey, who is seeking to regain a Senate seat he once held in Nebraska, where he joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday for a drought meeting and news conference. “They don’t want a farm bill.”
A casual reader taking in my account and the New York Times’ account of yesterday’s big FDA antibiotics announcement might have thought we were reacting to different events. Here’s the Times lead:
Farmers and ranchers will for the first time need a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals, in hopes that more judicious use of the drugs will reduce the tens of thousands of human deaths that result each year from the drugs’ overuse.
In the Times’ reading, the FDA placed significant restrictions on antibiotics use. My take was more critical: “The plan contains a bull-size loophole—and is purely voluntary, to boot.”
What gives? In short, the Times delivered a skim-level, FDA-friendly account of the new plan. Let’s start with the loophole. Here’s the Times:
Michael Taylor, the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for food, predicted that the new restrictions would save lives because farmers would have to convince a veterinarian that their animals were either sick or at risk of getting a specific illness. [Emphasis added.]
The bolded part is the key. As I reported yesterday, the FDA plan intends to phase out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, but allows them to continue to be used to “prevent” disease. That’s a major loophole—it means that farmers can continue stuffing animals together in filthy conditions and dosing them with antibiotics to keep them alive. Margaret Mellon, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a longtime watchdog of the meat industry’s antibiotic-gorging ways, put it like this in a Wednesday press release:
The outlined process appears to give the companies the opportunity to relabel drugs currently slated for growth promotion for disease prevention instead. Such relabeling could allow them to sell the exact same drugs in the very same amounts
FDA to Establish Voluntary, Largely Secret Program to Reduce Antibiotic Overuse in Agriculture Statement by Margaret Mellon, Senior Scientist
WASHINGTON (April 11, 2012)—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today released three documents that constitute its long-awaited response to the problem of antibiotic overuse in agriculture. There is wide recognition among scientists that such antibiotic use is driving up the rate of antibiotic-resistant diseases, which are becoming increasingly severe and more costly to treat. While the documents establish a new, completely voluntary approach to reducing antibiotic use in agriculture, the Union of Concerned Scientists cautioned that the program’s shortfalls are likely to imperil its success.
Below is a statement by Margaret Mellon, senior scientist at UCS.
“The approach announced represents a bold, well-intentioned attempt by the FDA to persuade an entire industry to voluntarily abandon claims that allow them to sell a large number of lucrative products. The agency should be congratulated for finally taking action on a serious and long-neglected public health issue, but we’re deeply skeptical that the approach will work.
“We have no reason to believe that the veterinary pharmaceutical industry—which, to date, has rarely even acknowledged that antibiotic resistance is a serious public health issue—will cooperate with the agency on a plan that could reduce its profits.
“The outlined process appears to give the companies the opportunity to relabel drugs currently slated for growth promotion for disease prevention instead. Such relabeling could allow them to sell the exact same drugs in the very same amounts. The process also allows companies to avoid risk assessments for new drug approvals.
“Unfortunately, the process will also be secret. Companies will have three months to submit voluntary plans and three years to implement them. During this entire time, the public will be kept in the dark. It could be three to four years before anyone knows how well the program is working.
“Ultimately, if antibiotic use is reduced only marginally or not at all much time and taxpayer dollars will have been wasted.
“The agency doesn’t need to embark on this novel but very risky experiment in relying on companies to police their own products. It has – and should have relied upon – its authority under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to cancel unsafe uses of drugs.”
Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law, the nation’s harshest, went into effect last month (a few provisions have been temporarily blocked in federal court), and it is already reaping a bitter harvest of dislocation and fear. Hispanic homes are emptying, businesses are closing, employers are wondering where their workers have gone. Parents who have not yet figured out where to go are lying low and keeping children home from school.
To the law’s architects and supporters, this is excellent news. “You’re encouraging people to comply with the law on their own,” said Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who has a side career of drafting extremist immigration legislation for states and cities, notoriously in Arizona and now in Alabama.
Alabama’s law is the biggest test yet for “attrition through enforcement,” a strategy espoused by Mr. Kobach and others to drive away large numbers of illegal immigrants without the hassle and expense of a police-state roundup. All you have to do, they say, is make life hard enough and immigrants will leave on their own. In such a scheme, panic and fear are a plus; suffering is the point.
…The problems do not stop there. Farmers are already worrying that with the exodus, crops will go unpicked. Like much of the rest of the country, Alabama needs immigrant labor, because too many native-born citizens lack the skill, the stamina and the willingness to work in the fields — even in a time of steep unemployment.
Surprising to nobody who has ever lived on a farm1 or who reads this blog- Alabama agricultural businesses are having extreme difficulty finding people to pick crops once their intolerant anti-immigration bill passed, and farm laborers fled the state.
ONEONTA, Alabama (AP) — Potato farmer Keith Smith saw most of his immigrant workers leave after Alabama’s tough immigration law took effect, so he hired Americans. It hasn’t worked out: They show up late, work slower than seasoned farm hands and are ready to call it a day after lunch or by midafternoon. Some quit after a single day.In Alabama and other parts of the U.S., farmers must look beyond the nation’s borders for labor because many Americans simply don’t want the backbreaking, low-paying jobs immigrants are willing to take. Politicians who support the law say over time more unemployed Americans will fill these jobs2
Tomato farmer Wayne Smith said he has never been able to keep a staff of American workers in his 25 years of farming. “People in Alabama are not going to do this,” said Smith, who grows about 75 acres (30 hectares) of tomatoes in the northeast part of the state. “They’d work one day and then just wouldn’t show up again.” At his farm, field workers get $2 for every 25-pound (11.3-kilogram) box of tomatoes they fill. Skilled pickers can make anywhere from $200 to $300 a day, he said. Unskilled workers make much less. A crew of four Hispanics can earn about $150 each by picking 250-300 boxes of tomatoes in a day, said Jerry Spencer, of Grow Alabama, which purchases and sells locally owned produce.
A crew of 25 Americans recently picked 200 boxes — giving them each $24 for the day. It may make sense for some to stay at home. Unemployment benefits provide up to $265 a week while a minimum wage job, at $7.25 an hour for 40 hours, brings in $290. Spencer said the Americans he has linked up with farmers are not physically fit and do not work fast enough. “It’s the harshest work you can imagine doing,” Spencer said.
Let’s see, bust your ass, break your back, squatting in the hot sun and make $24 a day, or maybe more if you persevere a year or two, long enough to become skilled; or make $290 a week in an air-conditioned minimum wage job, making copies at Kinkos. Hmm, not much of a choice.
The only way banning illegal immigrants from farm labor will ever work is if either food costs to consumers jumps astronomically higher, or if minimum wage gets overturned by government fiat. I sincerely doubt the Republicans would be bold enough to eliminate minimum wage, even though they mention it every once and a while. And would you pay $17 for a single tomato? Probably not. So what’s the solution, besides allowing borders to open up? NAFTA, I guess, and more shipping of American jobs to places where $25 a day without benefits is adequate for a worker to survive.
Lovely. What’s next? Asking ExxonMobile to conduct its own environmental studies for the EPA? Asking G.E. to do its own tax audits for the IRS? We expected better than this from Obama’s administration.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced a pilot project in the Federal Register this month which would allow biotech seed companies to perform their own environmental impact studies of novel seed varieties before deregulation. The USDA’s move seems to be a response to a decision last August by Federal Judge Jeffrey White which banned the planting of genetically modified sugar beets until an environmental study assessed the impact of commercial cultivation. White ruled that the USDA’s approval of the beets violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
Proponents of the USDA’s project believe the decision will make the biotech industry less vulnerable to legal challenges and speed the registration process of new GE crops. “A big deterrent to future lawsuits would be if the USDA were to win some of them,” said Karen Batra, director of communications at Biotechnology Industry Organization, to Capital Press. “The more information the department has, the better case they can make.”
Most recently The Center for Food Safety challenged the USDA’s unregulated approval of GE-alfalfa saying the decision puts organic and conventional farmers at risk. The case is pending.
Organic advocates believe the USDA’s pilot will slow what they believe to be an already ineffective process and encourage more legal challenges.
“There’s virtually no chance, in the current political climate, that the idea of expanding the role of biotech is going to speed up approval,” said Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center. “The fact of the matter is there are many good reasons not to trust science from Monsanto. Almost inevitably the first assessments carried out under this pilot program will be challenged in court—probably successfully.”
Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, said the USDA’s proposal would make an already poor process worse.
“This decision would give us additional incentive to challenge a seed up for deregulation, subject to other factors,” he said. “We might actually challenge the process itself. This decision seems to go against some pretty basic scientific integrity guidelines. Letting a company do its own assessment is a pretty obvious conflict of interest.”
Allium tricoccum — also known as the ramp, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, and, in French, ail sauvage and ail des bois — is an early spring vegetable with a strong garlicky odor and a pronounced onion flavor. A perennial member of the onion family (Alliaceae), the plant has broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil. They are found from the U.S. state of South Carolina to Canada. They are popular in the cuisines of the rural upland South and in the Canadian province of Quebec when they emerge in the springtime. They have a growing popularity in upscale restaurants throughout North America.
A thick growth of ramps near Lake Michigan in Illinois in the 17th century gave the city of Chicago its name, after the area was described by 17th-century explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and explained by his comrade, naturalist-diarist Henri Joutel.
The plant called Chicagou in the language of native tribes was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp. The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. Fascination and humor have fixated on the plant’s extreme pungency. Jim and Bronson Comstock founded The West Virginia Hillbilly, a weekly humor and heritage newspaper, in 1957, and ramps were a frequent topic. For one legendary issue, Jim Comstock introduced ramp juice into the printer’s ink, invoking the ire of the U.S. Postmaster General. The mountain folk of Appalachia have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to have great power as a tonic to ward off many ailments of winter. A ramp bath was featured in the film Where the Lilies Bloom (1974) about life in North Carolina.
Boy, it’s going to be harder than ever to get a reservation at the Rick Bayless restaurants in Chicago now. But congratulations are due anyway, Rick Bayless seems like a classy dude.
Though I didn’t get to taste everything, I can truly say that the food made in that kitchen was some of the best food ever made anywhere. Yeah, each one of us had a stumble here and there, but we weren’t in our home kitchens putting as much time as we would have liked in our prep. It was a serious, timed competition and with some of our country’s best chefs cooking the stories of their lives. I felt just as I had at the meal we cooked for each other during the first of the finals: incredibly previledged to have been there … to have been cooking there.
And now I feel incredibly priviledge to be able to bring home $100,000 to the Frontera Farmer Foundation, because lives of farm farmilies will be changed. The lives of all of us in the Midwest will be changed: the more our family farms thrive, the more local food we’ll have in our farmers markets and restaurants and the greater our sense of community and respect for our environment. Basically: the more local farms we have, the greater our quality of life.
It’s been a really long road over the 55 years of my life. From a kid who grew up in a barbeque restaurant in Oklahoma, went to Mexico with an anthropologist’s passion, then settled into Chicago with a conviction for bringing respect for the complex and varied cuisines of Mexico to American diners, all the way to fine dining–I can think of only one thing to say, my last words of the show.
I did manage to find a reservation (at 6:15!) for Topolobampo when my sister is in town. Excited, haven’t been there in a while. Allegedly, they will be serving the menu from the show.
A little about the Frontera Farmer Foundation from their website:
The Frontera Farmer Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. The Foundation envisions a year-round interchange between sustainable farmers and consumers, including farmers’market patrons and chefs, in which seasonal local agriculture provides the foundation for sustainable regional cuisine.
“Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture.”
—Rick Bayless, Proprietor of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
The Frontera Farmer Foundation was established in 2003 to attract support for small Midwestern farms. Rick and Deann Bayless, founders of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, along with the restaurants’ staff, created the Foundation out of their concern for struggling farmers and the importance of local produce to the vitality of Chicago’s culinary culture. Small local farms promote biodiversity by planting a wide range of produce, are more likely to operate using organic practices, and add immeasurably to the fabric of their communities. By their artisanal approach to agriculture, these farmers insure the highest quality of food.
Nonprofit organizations devoted to the growth of sustainable farming are becoming more prevalent and necessary due to the increasing dominance of large corporations in the agricultural sector. Without small sustainable farmers, great local cuisine is unreachable.