Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Small vs. big, etc, Round 27...

The continuing friction between agrarian and industrial agriculture will be in full view today and a major food safety bill comes up for cloture.  It is laden with intricate detailed controversies, but has become another rallying cry for both sides to try to avoid the hard work of compromise. These days leaders don't get much credit for getting things done, and proponents on both sides understand the highest accomplishment is unbending confrontation.
"This is an important test to see if Democrats and Republican senators representing farm states will stand up for small farmers or cave to special interests and agribusiness," said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of the organization.  "It could be the first lesson the food movement gets on how the new Congress will respond during the 2012 Farm Bill."

"The behind-the-scenes efforts to kill any provisions that protect family farmers from burdensome regulations has been intense, but efforts by real farm groups and sustainable ag organizations may have turned the tide," added Murphy.

As Food Safety News reported yesterday, large food and agriculture interest groups, including the American Meat Institute, the United Fresh Produce Association, and the United Egg Producers, sent a letter to committee staff Monday asking that the Tester amendment be excluded from the bill.

Popular authors and food policy gurus, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, issued a joint statement Tuesday, through Tester's office, stating their support of the senator's amendment and the food safety legislation. 

"S 510 is the most important food safety legislation in a generation," they said. "The Tester amendment will make it even more effective, strengthening food safety rules while protecting small farmers and producers.  We both think this is the right thing to do." [More]
For a deeper analysis on specific points, Grist has assembled a good discussion that illuminates many aspects of this legislation. Like all laws, there is something for everyone to carp about, but the greater underlying theme I get is the ongoing grievance from the agrarian community about the excessive aid and regulatory favoritism channeled to industrial ag.

At first blush, this would not seem to be a big deal to corn/soy guys like me, but what I think is worth watching is how much support the agrarian lobby has picked up recently (or not).  If they able to add the Tester amendment exempting small farms from many rules, it would be a sign, I believe that agrarian interests will have more say in future legislation, like the 2012 Farm Bill.

Of course, that debate may be pretty small change - literally. But the effect of small/big fights can also be seen paying out more powerfully in the regulatory arena.  Consider the ongoing slugfest, that the new GIPSA rules have triggered.

These and other examples of the oddly (and unnecessarily, IMHO)  aggressive attacks between two segments of our tiny sector further illustrate the pointless harping about agriculture "speaking with one voice."  That has never happened and now is even further from reality.

We continue to fracture into specialty producers serving narrow markets. on any given economic or regulatory issue, we will reliably line up with pour own interests regardless what other "farmers" want. That's because we all think we are the real American agriculture.

In short there ain't no "us" in farming - there is only "me".  I don't think this is good, but it is good to keep in mind.


Anonymous said...

Another problem that we have in ag is that most of the "experts" that speak for us have never made a living in production agriculture. Also, it's hard to help one segment of agriculture without hurting someone else in agriculture.

How could we all possibly agree on anything?

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you heard Sec.of ag comment at last weeks farm broadcasters conference. He stated that "commercial agriculture may have to pay a fee on the technology they use, to subsidize those who choose alternative agriculture" Sounds divisive to me.