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Revitalize Rural America? First Grow Some Backbone

  • Revitalize Rural America? First grow some backbone
    By Eric Holt Gimenez and Annie Shattuck
    Huffington Post, June 4, 2010
    Straight to the Source

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recently declared a "silent" crisis in rural America. Silent? The American farmers testifying at the joint antitrust listening sessions held by the USDA and Department of Justice (DoJ) were loud enough. If their denunciation of the monopolies controlling our food system--and government inaction on antitrust abuse--is silence, it is only because their voices fell on deaf ears.

Yesterday Tom Vilsack, with the best of intentions, published an opinion piece outlining, among other things, the need to increase export markets, grow rural economies and strengthen the farm safety net.

We are all for growing the rural economy, but when the USDA talks about growth, we need to ask, growth for whom? Conspicuously off the Secretary's agenda was restoring competition in agriculture: getting fair prices to farmers, and breaking up the monopoly market power of multinational corporations.

Just four companies control 84% of the nation's beef and 70% of pork. One company controls 40% of our milk supply, another holds patents on 80% of our corn, and just five chains sell 50% of the nation's groceries.

Why does this matter? Dean Foods, for example controls a dominant share of the market on milk, essentially creating a monopoly stranglehold on prices. The result? In the past 18 months milk prices to farmers have plummeted by 50%. Prices to consumers have not fallen nearly so far. In the words of Southern Iowa dairy farmer Jerry Harvey "The American Dream has turned into the American nightmare." Milk prices have been so low he can't afford his feed costs. Harvey's story has resurfaced a heartbreaking number of times. In Iowa in March another dairy farmer testified his parent's farm was foreclosed--on their 29th wedding anniversary.

We will not "grow" the economy for America's family farmers if they stay under the thumb of corporate monopolies that can essentially name their price. 


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