Entries Tagged as 'farming'

Gagging on the Ag Gag Bill: Industrial lobbying and corporate overreach at its finest

Industrial agriculture, like most powerful business interests, has a very effective lobbying organization not only in DC, but also in state capitols around the country.  Over the last few years they’ve been stung by surreptitious video recordings taken on a few farms showing examples of egregious animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental degradation.  See examples here, here, and here.

Needless to say, it makes them look bad, which of course they don’t like.  Now let me state right from the start here that I and the organization I represent, Slow Food USA, are not at all anti-farmer, and firmly believe that a vast majority of America’s farmers are honest, hardworking, industrious and well-meaning keepers of their land and heritage.  That said, there are exceptions, and like in any industry, a few bad apples can make the whole bunch look bad.

But instead of working hard to stop those few bad actors, Big Ag’s response is to try to criminalize the whistleblowers.  And their first attempts, in four states (Florida, Minnesota, Iowa and most recently New York) are so far reaching as to beg obvious 1st amendment questions to say the least. [Read more →]

The Factory Farm Environmental Degradation and Animal Cruelty Protection Act

Remember all those videos you’ve seen lately depicting various forms of animal cruelty and other heinous practices in some large agribusiness facilities?  Here’s one I told you about last year.  In Florida, the newly ensconced legislature is about to make the production of such videos a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.  Had this bill been in force a few years ago, it might well have been used to put all the people behind the famous documentary Food, Inc. in prison.

The bill, filed as SB 1246 by Florida state senator Jim Norman, (R-Tampa), is likely to pass both houses of the Republican led legislature and be signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

While no one condones breaking and entering or trespass, this bill is clearly not meant to address that.  It may as well be titled “The Factory Farm Environmental Degradation and Animal Cruelty Protection Act.”  It’s sole purpose is to prevent the embarrassment and public exposure of the uglier side of American agriculture.  They want to make sure that the only story you see or hear is the bucolic rolling hills and Old-MacDonald image that large agribusiness and their lobbyists want you to see.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of great farmers in Florida and across the country who do not use such practices as have been exposed in undercover video by PETA and others.  And it’s true that such videos tend to cast a light that is as broad as it is stark, making well-meaning farmers look worse than they are.  But this is not about the farmers, nearly all of whom are good, honest people trying to earn a living from the land and leave something tangible for their families.  No, this is about image and branding and it is brought to you from on high.

As my friend Chris Bedford pointed out recently,

“This development (perhaps part of a larger American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC initiative) in and of itself does not signal the end of anything.  But proposals like this one and Michigan’s HB 4306 (which mandates privatization of non-classroom school functions including food service) should be seen in the context of the larger push back against the local food revolution… that will be at the heart of the Farm Bill 2012 debate.”

Ghandi famously said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”  While noble efforts are being made at reconciliation between food activists and agribusiness conglomerates, make no mistake that we are now at stage 3 of Ghandi’s theory, and very powerful interests are turning their full attention toward the people and organizations (many of them farmers themselves) who are at the front of the real food movement.  We should be prepared to face them with clear eyes and full hearts.

Another Assault on the SOLE Food Movement

Causing no end of difficulties in our national discourse is the steadfast belief held by both the right and the left that everything is either right or left: bad or good, strong or weak, despotic or patriotic.  You’re either with us or you’re against us.  President Obama addressed this very effectively before both House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent days.  It is media driven to a large extent because the media need controversy to sell papers, or bytes or views or whatever it is they’re selling these days.

The most common form this takes is the old build’em-up-then-tear’em-down routine.  Perhaps the only thing many Americans enjoy more than the uplifting emotion of a success story is the schadenfreude of watching that success come tumbling down.  So when an idea comes to the fore, the critics ooze from the woodwork and their primary tactic is divide and conquer.  Label it, frame the debate, and the fight is won or lost before the story is even told.

For a long time in the circles I travel in this was not a problem because the ideas embodied in what some have come to call SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local, & Ethical) were not perceived as a threat to the established paradigm.  Recent successes such as Michael Pollan’s work have, however, shined a very bright spotlight on advocates of real food.  As a result, people who have been toiling at these ideas for decades are becoming targets of powerful interests in the Big Food lobby.  Such is the case this week at WeeklyStandard.com, where Missouri Farm Bureau vice president Blake Hurst has found his most recent audience.

Mr. Hurst was among the earliest vocal detractors of Mr. Pollan’s work, as well as that of anyone who might find flaw in agroindustrial model.  His essay last summer, titled The Omnivore’s Delusion, did an excellent job of exploiting Pollan’s success to rally the big corporate agriculture interests against the perceived threat of critics both in the media and in the field.  It’s natural: he felt attacked and he responded, and has now done so again.  Unfortunately Mr. Hurst’s vitriol, then as now, only serves to fan the flames of a fire that needn’t be burning.  Individuals on neither side of the debate are inherently evil, in fact both want the same thing: healthy food for all.  Since our ideas for how to accomplish this differ, we are immediately cast into the right and left corners and told to come out fighting when the bell rings.

Read the whole essay @ Civil Eats