Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs Editor\Publisher
Issue #130 October 22, 2001
THREATS TO A SAFE NATIONAL FOOD SUPPLY
"AGRO-TERRORISM" OR CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS ???
Lost amidst the cacophony of the nation's media fueled anthrax panic and people's growing uncertainty about the future after the horrors of September 11, Sen. Pat Roberts, (Rep.-Kansas), has introduced an agro-terrorist measure that calls for spending about $1.1 billion next year, and about $271 million in each of the next 10 years. "Our nation's crops and livestock are now at very high risk," Roberts said.
"We must move quickly to prevent attacks on grain and livestock production," he said. "We must begin a massive research effort to develop vaccines and antidotes to halt diseases that could damage our food supply in the future." Roberts said he is particularly worried about the chances of an attack on the food supply, claiming one of the 22 men recently placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list has `agriculture training.'"
Most certainly safety concerns over the nation's food supply are legitimate ones, but Senator Roberts priorities are tragically wrong headed and misplaced. Indeed, the Kansas Republican, a dedicated supporter of "free trade" and the disastrous 1995 "Freedom to Farm" legislation has shown himself more part of the problem than that of the solution.
As corporate agribusiness races to the bottom throughout the world to find the cheapest raw materials and cheapest labor possible for its giant food manufacturing system, we see under the guise of "free trade" more and more food imports flooding our country. Thus, while corporate agribusiness likes to refer to the U.S. as "the world's breadbasket" at the same time the U.S. ranks near the top of the list as one of the world's chief food importers.
It is worth noting, therefore, that in the past six years, following a trend that has been fairly consistent throughout the past 20 years that supplementary food imports (those food imports which compete with domestically produced crops) have been steadily increasing while complimentary food imports (those food imports which do not compete with U.S. agricultural imports) have been on the decline.
Between 1995 and 2000, according to the USDA, competitive food imports increased by 18.9% while noncompetitive food imports declined by only 5.4%.
What makes such figures even more ominous and dramatically illustrates how Roberts "agro-terrorism" legislation is so misdirected, is that according to a recent General Accounting Office (GAO report less than one percent of all U.S. food imports are inspected.
Growing conditions in foreign countries, little or no work and safety standards, the use of highly toxic chemical poisons previously banned in the U.S. are all real and present threats to the integrity of much of the imported food we eat, yet in the name of improving their "bottom line" by buying on the cheap, corporate agribusiness practices poses a far greater threat to human safety and health today than a handful of alarming anthrax exposures.
As a matter of fact the number of foreign food items increased by 50% in the past four years (2.7 million items in 1997 as opposed to 4.1 million in 2000). At the same time the workforce of federal inspectors increased from 113 to 116 during that same period of time.
It is estimated that 80% of food related illnesses are caused by viruses or other pathogens that scientists can't identify. The GAO further estimates that 85% of food poisonings come from fruits, vegetables, seafood and cheese.
The GAO also found that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only 400 inspectors for some 57,000 food manufacturing, processing and packaging plants in the U.S., meaning that most companies only get inspected approximately once every eight years. In 2000 there were 315 food recalls, 36% above the 15-year average and in each instance much of the recalled food had already made its way onto grocery shelves.
By allowing corporate agribusiness to write its own self-serving rules in the form of free trade agreements, rubber stamped by pro-agribusiness administration in a form whereby it is given protection under the guise of "trade promotion authority" (read "fast track") and now being wrapped in the American flag in an effort to circumvent Congressional accountability the public's health is being seriously jeopardized at the same time our democracy continues to be eroded.
For example, President-Select Bush used the New York, Washington and Pennsylvania terrorist attacks in a recent California speech to press for a quick vote on new authority to negotiate trade agreements without allowing amendment by the Senate.
'The terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, and we will defeat them by expanding and encouraging world trade," Bush declared, implying that trade was among the concerns of terrorists. "In order to help me expand world trade, I've asked the Congress to give me what's called `trade promotion authority' --- the ability to seek America's interests around the world."
We should not forget, however, as Ralph Nader recently pointed out to a cheering San Francisco crowd of 2500, that corporations are taking advantage of the tragedy of September 11 for their own greedy purposes. He pointed to corporate lobbying for government bailouts, even by industries in trouble long before the terrorist attacks, trade concessions, for the limiting of regulations, including the opening up of the Alaskan Arctic reserve, and opposing benefits for workers who are losing their jobs.
Clearly the time has come that the consuming public should be concerned about their health and safety when it comes to the food they eat as it is presently being held hostage by corporate agribusiness. Such are the consequences of a food system that relies on distant multinational corporations to produce and manufacture their food, rather than an economically, social and environmentally safer self-sustaining family farm agricultural system.
If Senator Roberts is genuinely concerned about "agro-terrorism" then his legislative efforts would be put to far better use in constructing and taking the leadership in enacting legislation that benefits family farm agriculture, consumers, and the environment. Such efforts would be far better than in further subsidizing corporate agribusiness by funneling vast amounts of federal dollars into land grant university research which, if history is any lesson, will only enrich the coffers of already mammoth food corporations, chemical manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.
As Larned, Kansas farmer Tom Giessel rightfully notes: "Gee, he [Roberts] must believe the farmers can afford to protect the rest of the nation with their huge windfall of farm payments. It appears to me that someone doesn't have a very good handle on the economic conditions in our rural communities.
"I believe the farmers and ranchers of this country are already going above and beyond by burning up their assets to ensure mass quantities of safe and cheap commodities. Probably the easiest way to `contaminate our food supply' is with imports. Very little is inspected or even traceable. A lot is perishable and moves fast. But I am sure that angle is trade distorting in some politicians mind.
"I believe people should contact our congressional delegation and let them
know we are doing our job and since everyone shares the `benefits' of cheap
food, they can also share in the cost of maintaining that safe and constant
ZAPPING ANTHRAX WITH SUREBEAM IRRADIATION
WITHOUT ANY SUPPORTING SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
NOEL PETRIE, PUBLIC CITIZEN: During the past several days, the SureBeam Corporation of San Diego has publicly stated that its irradiation technology is capable of killing the anthrax bacteria. SureBeam spokesperson Wil Williams told CBS MarketWatch on October 10: "Anthrax is nothing more than a bacteria, and SureBeam will kill it. If Anthrax was being dispatched through the U.S. mail, for example, we can zap it --- it's well within the capability of the technology."
Williams' quote was repeated in the San Diego Union-Tribune the next day . . . SureBeam repeated the claim to KGTV Channel 10 in San Diego, adding that the company's irradiation equipment could be built into central mail processing centers, and that smaller systems could be placed in government or business offices. SureBeam has made these claims without any supporting scientific evidence that the company's "electron-beam" irradiation equipment is capable of killing the anthrax bacteria or its spores.
In fact, radiation is ineffective against anthrax spores, called "endospores," which are surrounded by numerous thick layers of material including protein and calcium. According to Medical Microbiology, edited by Samuel Baron, M.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston: "The spores are resistant to heat, cold, radiation, desiccation and disinfectants."
Additionally, according to the Official Anthrax Information Web Site maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense: "Anthrax spores can remain dormant for decades." Anthrax is so resistant to radiation that when designing an anti-ballistic missile system, the Clinton administration reportedly decided against using nuclear weapons specifically because they would be unable to defend against an incoming missile carrying even a few hundred pounds of anthrax spores.
Given the level of fear that has gripped the nation, unsubstantiated claims about a technology's ability to kill the anthrax bacteria are dangerously irresponsible. . . . Additionally, SureBeam has hinted that its process can kill the prion that causes Mad Cow Disease, when, in fact, the prion --- like anthrax spores --- is resistant to radiation.
For more information on these and other issues related to irradiation, http://www.citizen.org/cmep
SUREBEAM "PASTEURIZATION" INQUIRY UNDERWAY
USDA REFUTES FOOD IRRADIATION COMPANY'S CLAIM
WENONAH HAUTER, PUBLIC CITIZEN: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking into a leading food irradiation company's use of the word "pasteurization" in its advertisements for irradiated food products. Also, a high-ranking U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official has refuted public claims by the company that the agency gave it permission to describe its irradiation process as "pasteurization."
The official also said the company's claim that its irradiation process is equivalent to pasteurization is not based on any analysis by the USDA. The government's involvement comes in response to two false advertising complaints filed by Public Citizen with the FTC against SureBeam Corp., an affiliate of San Diego-based defense contractor Titan Corp. The companies have adapted high-energy linear accelerators originally designed for the "Star Wars" program to irradiate food.
Unlike pasteurization, which kills microorganisms with heat, SureBeam's process uses ionizing radiation in the form of electrons traveling near the speed of light. Yet the company almost exclusively calls its process "electronic pasteurization" in its advertising material, on its Web site, in its press releases, when interviewed by reporters and in other public communications.
The USDA has said that calling irradiated food products "pasteurized is misleading." Deceptive advertising is illegal under the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Act and is punishable through criminal and civil penalties, including fines, court injunctions and corrective advertising.
Polls indicate that many Americans are leery of irradiated food and want these products to be accurately labeled. Using such euphemisms as "electronic pasteurization" and "cold pasteurization" can mislead people into believing the food has not been irradiated. The question is not whether American consumers are being misled by SureBeam. Clearly, they are. The question is, how will the company mislead consumers? The answer is: By any means necessary.
In an August. 21 article by the Reuters Health news service, a SureBeam spokesperson was paraphrased as saying the company's machines "are capable of pasteurizing products, and that is a claim that the Agriculture Department allows the firm to make."
In a September 29 letter to Public Citizen, however, Deputy Administrator
Philip Derfler of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) refuted
both of those claims: "Neither SureBeam nor any other firm has yet presented
FSIS with data proving that their irradiated meat and poultry products are, in
fact, `pasteurized,'" Derfler wrote. "Additionally, neither SureBeam nor any
other firm has yet presented FSIS with labeling
bearing the term `pasteurized' that was not viewed as misleading."
Derfler also stated that the FTC "is examining the issue" of SureBeam's use of the word "pasteurization" in its advertising material.
Public Citizen has filed two false advertising complaints against SureBeam
--- the first on June 26, shortly after SureBeam placed ads on the Internet
promoting its "electronically pasteurized foods." The second was filed August
21, when Public Citizen requested that the FTC initiate a thorough investigation
into the advertising practices of SureBeam and four other food irradiation
companies whose Web sites predominantly use the word
"pasteurization" to describe their services.
In the Reuters Health article, SureBeam spokesperson Wil Williams denied that the company uses the word "pasteurization" on its Web site. Contrary to Williams' assertion, [currently] the word appears 23 times on the site's main pages, while "irradiation" appears only four times. In March, Public Citizen also filed false advertising complaints against two of SureBeam's most high-profile clients, Omaha Steaks of Nebraska (which sells high-end meat products through the mail), and Huisken Meats of Minnesota (a meatpacker that supplies grocery stores). The two companies have since corrected their Web sites to say that their ground beef products have been "irradiated."
SureBeam, however, has significantly expanded its use of the word
"pasteurization" in promotional material, using it repeatedly in advertisements
appearing in major newspapers and on television, radio stations and the
Internet. In half-page newspaper ads that ran this past summer in the
Minneapolis-St. Paul area, for example, SureBeam said its technique "is much
like milk pasteurization."
THREE SCIENTIFIC STUDIES:
OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS IN FOOD AND MEDICINE
CONTRIBUTES TO DANGEROUS EMERGENCE
OF ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
JANE E. BRODY, NEW YORK TIMES: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are widespread in commercial meats and poultry and can be found in consumers' intestines, researchers are reporting. The findings suggest that many food-borne illnesses will not respond to the usual treatments, and that some cases may even resist all current drugs.
Three studies . . . published . . . in The New England Journal of Medicine provide new evidence of a problem that physicians and scientists have been warning about for decades: the routine use of antibiotics to enhance growth in farm animals can encourage the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, which may threaten people who undercook their meat or consume food or water contaminated by animal droppings.
Furthermore, because genes that confer resistance to drugs can jump from one organism to another, the studies suggest that resistance can spread to many types of infections. The problem goes beyond food poisoning. An antibiotic-resistant strain of the common intestinal bacterium E. coli was recently found to cause many urinary tract infections that resisted treatment. Researchers suspect that people may have picked up the resistant strain from food.
The overuse of antibiotics in human medicine has also contributed to the emergence of antibiotic resistance, experts say. That concern is one reason that doctors are urging people worried about anthrax not to take Cipro, an antibiotic effective against the disease, unless they have reason to believe they have been exposed to the spores that cause it. Cipro belongs to an important class of powerful antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, and if they stop working, many infections could become difficult or impossible to treat, scientists say.
The new findings mirror the results of many earlier studies. Dr. Sherwood L. Gorbach, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts University's medical school who wrote an editorial accompanying the new reports, urged a ban on the routine use of low-dose antibiotics to aid animal growth and prevent infection, as it sets up ideal conditions for the emergence of low-dose antibiotics to aid animal growth and prevent infection, as it sets up ideal conditions for the emergence of resistant bacteria. . . .
The Food and Drug Administration has tried for years to tighten controls over
the use of antibiotics in farm animals, a practice the European Union
banned in 1998. Dr. Gorbach recommended that antibiotics for farm animals be
prescribed by veterinarians only to treat infections, and that certain
antibiotics critically important in human medicine never be given to animals. .
ONE IN FIVE SUPERMARKET BEEF AND POULTRY SAMPLE
SALMONELLA STRAINS FOUND RESISTANT TO ANTIBIOTICS
JEFF DONN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: One in five samples of supermarket ground meat and poultry bought for a study was contaminated with salmonella, and most of the strains were resistant to antibiotics. The findings --- which are generally in line with what the Food and Drug Administration has seen in previous surveys of the food-poisoning bacteria --- spurred calls for stronger restrictions on the use of antibiotics in livestock. Overuse of antibiotics in humans and farm animals contributes to the rise of drug-resistant strains of bacteria . . .
The Animal Health Institute, which represents makers of animal drugs, says more than 20 million pounds of antibiotics are used yearly in animals, mostly to treat or prevent disease. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that as little as 2 million pounds go to sick animals, while the rest is meant largely to shield animals from disease and promote growth. By contrast, humans take about 3 million pounds. Scientists worry that powerful animal germs can sicken people through their food and transfer antibiotic resistance to humans.
In the salmonella study, researchers at the University of Maryland and the FDA collected 200 samples of ground beef, ground chicken, ground turkey and ground pork from three supermarkets around Washington, D.C. Forty-one samples, or 20%, were contaminated with salmonella, a bacterium blamed for about 1.4 million cases of food poisoning each year in the United States.
Of the strains isolated, 84% were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and 53% to three or more. Four samples carried an unusually powerful strain known as DT104.
"It's very alarming because this organism is resistant to at least five different antibiotics and has been the cause of outbreaks," said Jianghong Meng, a University of Maryland microbiologist. Biologist Margaret Mellon, director of food programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists, blamed heavy use of antibiotics in livestock. "We need to take action now to reduce the unnecessary use in animals," she said.
In one of the other studies, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of 407 supermarket chickens bought from 26 stores in four states --- Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon --- carried the sometimes fatal germ Enterococcus faecium in a form resistant to Synercid, one of the few drugs of last resort against the infection. The drug was approved for humans only two years ago, but a similar one has been given to livestock since the 1970s.
In the study, one percent of human stool samples also carried the resistant
germ. But the researchers warned of future increases and suggested that use of
the livestock drug, virginiamycin, may need to be limited.resistant bacteria. .
70% OF ANTIBIOTICS PRODUCED IN U.S.
GIVEN TO HEALTHY COWS, PIGS AND POULTRY
"DANGEROUS MISUSE" OF VITALLY IMPORTANT DRUGS
EDITORIAL, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Fears about anthrax have frightened some Americans into obtaining and taking antibiotics even though there is no reason to believe they have been exposed to anthrax bacteria. But the nation's livestock industry uses antibiotics even more indiscriminately; the drugs are regularly given in feed to livestock, whether sick or not, a practice that has worrisome implications for human health.
The antibiotics have been put in U.S. animal feed for decades to speed growth and prevent illness; this practice, controversial in America and elsewhere, has been severely limited in the European Union. In accordance with the EU's position, the American Medical Association recently began a sorely needed campaign to encourage the federal government to restrict the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock. The AMA fears that the inappropriate use of these drugs in animals and humans is contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Three studies published . . . in the New England Journal of Medicine make the AMA's effort more urgent. One study shows a high incidence of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in ground meat obtained at a supermarket. The second suggests that the effectiveness of a powerful, recently approved human antibiotic has been compromised by the longtime use of a similar drug in animals. The third shows that antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in chicken parts and slaughtered pigs can remain at least two weeks in the intestinal tract of humans.
A guest editorial in the New England Journal properly calls the studies the "smoking gun" linking the use of antibiotics in animal production with antibiotic resistance in humans.
David Wallinga, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Project at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, points out that seven of the 17 antibiotics commonly given to livestock to induce growth are either identical or nearly identical to antibiotics given to humans. These include penicillin and amoxicillin --- both of which can be used to combat anthrax infection --- tetracycline and erythromycin.
Even more disturbing, one study has found that 70% of antibiotics produced in
this country are given to healthy pigs, cows and poultry, Wallinga notes. That
is a gross and dangerous misuse of these vitally important drugs. It needs to
stop, or at least be severely curtailed, in the interest of public health.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
USDA, A CITIZENíS GUIDE TO FOOD RECOVERY (1999): Up to one-fifth of America's food goes to waste each year, an estimated 130 pounds of food per person. The annual value of this lost food is estimated at around $31 billion. Roughly 49 million people could be fed by those lost resources, more than twice the number of people in the world who die of starvation each year.
GEORGE ROSIE, SUNDAY HERALD, SCOTLAND: The Sunday Herald can reveal that Britain manufactured five million anthrax cattle cakes during the second world war and planned to drop them on Germany in 1944. The aim of Operation Vegetarian was to wipe out the German beef and dairy herds and then see the bacterium spread to the human population. With people then having no access to antibiotics, this would have caused many thousands --- perhaps even millions --- of German men, women and children to suffer awful deaths. The anthrax cakes were tested on Gruinard Island, off Wester Ross, which was finally cleared of contamination in 1990. Operation Vegetarian was planned for the summer of 1944 but, in the event, it was abandoned as the Allies' Normandy invasion progressed successfully.
For additional information see:
BERLIN-AIRLIFT STYLE OPERATION CALLED FOR
TO PROVIDE AFGHAN FAMINE RELIEF
MICHAEL OíHANLON, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION, NEW YORK TIMES: . . . . The United States has been air-dropping an average of 35,000 meals a day into Afghanistan, but six million people there need food aid. To deliver less than one percent of what's needed not only is insufficient, but could undermine our efforts to persuade the world that the United States cares about the welfare of Muslims. . . . Some officials of food aid groups have called for a halt in the bombing while winter food supplies are brought in. But that would delay the real solution to the crisis --- a new Afghan government. The Bush administration needs a vigorous plan to provide famine relief even as it continues the bombing.
First, the American military food drops should immediately increase by several times over. There is no reason that daily deliveries should be limited to what fits inside two C-17 military planes.
Second, in the parts of Afghanistan safe for landing planes, the United States and its coalition partners should begin to deliver large quantities of food and other necessities in a Berlin-airlift style operation --- and do it now, while the weather is still good. These deliveries could be made in areas controlled by Northern Alliance forces and by tribal leaders in other regions of Afghanistan who agree to join the resistance coalition.
Third, Washington needs to begin preparations for creating safe havens within Afghanistan. Displaced people within the country will need secure areas where they can receive food and shelter. Depending on the course of the civil war, such zones might have to be protected in coming weeks by several thousand ground troops from various countries, including the United States.
These measures may sound extreme. But they are well within our capabilities
and pose only modest additional risks to our forces. If the alternative is to
risk a winter of humanitarian catastrophe within Afghanistan, we really have no
DOING BUSINESS WITH THE TALIBAN
"WE GO WHERE THE OIL AND GAS IS"
BROOKE SHELBY BIGGS, MOTHER JONES: In 1996, [Unocal, formerly Union Oil Co. of California] cobbled together a coalition of six energy companies and the government of Turkmenistan, and went head to head with an Argentinian rival in a race to win Afghanistan's blessing for a $2 billion gas-pipeline project. Unocal has long been criticized for doing business in countries with repressive governments, and the company wasn't afraid to pursue the Taliban. "We're an oil and gas company. We go where the oil and gas is," Unocal spokesman Mike Thatcher told Mother Jones.
According to one business analyst's report, Unocal courted both the Taliban and the rival Northern Alliance, but paid special attention on the Taliban. In 1997, the Unocal vice president in charge of the pipeline project was quoted as saying that his company had provided "non-cash bonus payments" to members of the regime in return for their cooperation. "We basically had to `pre-sell' them on the idea of this pipeline," says Thatcher. "Some of them didn't understand the idea of profit motive. We had to educate them."
The approach seemed to work. By late 1997, a Taliban delegation visited Unocal's offices in Sugarland, Texas to meet with company executives. A few days later, the Taliban's minister of mines met with the State Department's top official for South Asia. The visit, which came just a month after then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chastised the regime for its human-rights record, was arranged by Unocal . . . So did Unocal ever strike a deal with the Taliban? That depends on whom you ask.
According to the US Department of Energy, "In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement that would allow a proposed 890-mile, $2-billion, 1.9-billion-cubic-feet-per-day natural gas pipeline project led by Unocal to proceed." Other reports put the date of the deal even earlier.
But Unocal now denies that a firm agreement was ever reached. All the company had, according to Thatcher, was a "letter of support" signed by representatives of both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. "It wasn't a binding business deal," he says, "just a piece of paper that basically said they liked the idea of the project." But even with a symbolic nod from the Taliban, the pipeline never got off --- or into --- the ground. In August 1998, the US launched retaliatory air strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Investors bailed out of the pipeline project in droves; several months later Unocal quit Cent Gas, saying it was unwilling to collaborate with the oppressive regime, at least until it was recognized as a legitimate government by the West.
For additional information contact:
SOCIAL JUSTICE, FARMWORKER ACTIVISTS
MOURN DEATHS OF DRAKE AND BROWN
Lost in the horror of September 11 were the deaths of two dedicated friends of the nation's farmworkers in the days immediately preceding that tragedy. Rev. Jim Drake, a key aide to United Farm Workers Union founder Cesar Chavez and an integral part of the organization from its inception in 1962, died at the age of 63 and Robert McAfee Brown, a Presbyterian theologian and a political and social activist who played a prominent role in the ecumenical and liberation theology movements, died at 81.
Both men played large roles within the nation's religious community in "legitimizing" the efforts of California farm workers to achieve economic and social justice and the right to organize to bargain collectively with their grower employers.
"Whatever the need was, Jim was there. He became our ambassador at large for the union and Cesar relied on him very much," said Dolores Huerta, co-founder and veteran vice president of the UFW. "He had a very, very big heart."
Just as he was about to accept a position as a pastor for the National Park Service, Drake was offered in the early 1960s a job by Rev. Wayne Hartmire, a Presbyterian minister who was director of the California Migrant Ministry (CMM) The ministry had decided to join Cesar Chavez's new effort to organize agricultural workers.
Hartmire noted that Drake, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, had little interest in such clerical chores as preaching. "Jim was not a big talker," he said. "He was believing and doing. He had this certainty about the rightness of the cause."
This was clear when he dressed down some ministers for what he regarded as timidity toward the growers. "All we're talking about is that some of you guys are going to lose your jobs," Drake said. "Two thousand farm workers have already lost theirs."
Drake quickly encountered Chavez and began helping to organize workers.
Huerta said Drake distributed union fliers and newsletters to various
communities, raised money to pay rent and buy food for strikers, recruited union
members and became operational director of the grape boycott. While he was a
staunch advocate of nonviolent protest and
activism, Huerta said, Drake often faced physical danger.
But Drake's greatest contribution, Huerta notes, was that he and his Migrant Ministries legitimized the UFW and its cause with people who, Huerta points out, "thought we were crazy, just nuts." Drake, she said, essentially vouched for the UFW and spread its message across the country.
It was in those early weeks of the 1965 Delano grape pickers strike that Drake and the CMM invited a delegation of national religious leaders, headed by Robert McAfee Brown, to visit the southern San Joaquin Valley area on a 48-hour fact-finding tour to view and talk with striking farm workers and their employers concerning the conditions of the farm workers and their efforts to organize. The growers, however, summarily dismissed the delegation's efforts to rationally discuss the situation.
Subsequently, Brown became a tireless national advocate for the rights of farm workers which in turn found many church denominations throughout the country supporting the California farm workers grape boycott in the months and years ahead.
Brown began his career as a student of theology but widened his mission again and again, as he saw wrongs to right and causes to fight. He was jailed as a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement, protested the Vietnam War and visited Central America during struggles there in the 1980's to support friends he feared were in danger.
When Brown and other religious people coalesced in a group called Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam in 1965, he wrote the group's 38-page manifesto, intended for a national audience. It began, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."
Previously, in 1951, Brown had become professor of religion and head of the department of religion at Macalester College in St. Paul. He became friends with then Rep. Eugene J. McCarthy, a Catholic who was encountering outbursts of Protestant bigotry as he ran for re-election. Brown's wife, Sydney Thomson Brown, recalls this was the beginning of his crusade for improved relations among Christian denominations. In the early 1960's he would serve as an official Protestant observer to the Vatican Council II at the invitation of Pope John XXIII.
In the early months after joining the then National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) Drake was assigned to follow Chavez around to learn about organizing. He stayed for 16 years, working in high positions for the UFW in California, Texas and Arizona, even as he remained on the ministry's payroll. In 1965, as grape pickers in Delano, California struck a vineyard owned by Schenley Distillers, Drake helped the NFWA organize a national boycott of the company's liquor. The company settled in March 1966.
Drake went on to be the union's lead organizer, and coordinated the national boycott of table grapes that resulted in union contracts for the industry in July, 1970.
In 1978, he left the farm worker ministry and union to organize woodcutters in Mississippi. He united these independent contractors, who owned their own trucks and saws, into the Mississippi Pulpwood Cutters Association. He assisted them in creating a cooperative enabling them to buy saws at far less than the 200% markup at stores, and form a credit union, giving them access to credit for the first time.
The association also won uniform state standards in measuring lumber, ending widespread cheating, said Perry Perkins, who worked with Drake in Mississippi and is now an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation.
Edward T. Chambers, executive director of the Industrial Areas Foundation and the successor to the organizationís founder Saul Alinsky, said he heard about Drake's success and flew to Mississippi to meet him in 1981. He immediately recognized the qualities of a successful organizer: intelligence, anger and imagination.
Chambers pointed out that Drake could do better than the $52 a month he was paying himself --- $2 more than he paid others in the organization resulting in that Drake soon found himself in South Texas, where he formed the Valley Interfaith Organization, which successfully motivated the state to provide water and plumbing in the shantytowns known as "colonias."
In 1987, Drake was assigned to the South Bronx, where he organized South Bronx Churches, a coalition of more than 40 churches that joined forces to build 800 housing units and persuade the city to build a new high school, the Bronx Leadership Academy.
He then moved on to Boston, while staying active in New York. In Boston, he helped form a regional coalition of 100 religious and community organizations. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization has raised $5 million in private money to build housing similar to that in the Bronx, and it is now lobbying local and state governments to match that amount.
His ambition in Boston was to give people a way, as well as a reason, to become involved in their city's civic life. "We are trying to interest the thousands and thousands of people who have dropped out and are no longer engaged in that quadrennial event that is not even politics any longer, but where the person with the most money wins," he said in an interview with The Boston Globe. "We are trying to get back to a more human element in politics."
"Jim was a shy, very private young man when we met. He pushed --- bluffed, he called it --- until his steady strength reached out, without huge ego, to those in need. Following his tremendous example, in small or large ways, we can adopt some of that caring for people whose voices are yet but a whisper," recalls Susan Samuels Drake, Jim's first wife (1959-1974) and the mother of his sons, Matt and Tom, and adds that she is grateful that he introduced her to the farm workers movement.
Editors Note: Jim Drake and Robert McAfee Brown were both personal friends of the editor and being privileged enough to have known them and seen their work first hand, and share their thoughts and beliefs in working for social and economic justice was indeed an experience which I shall always treasure. They will be missed.
[Additional material for this tribute was provided by Myrna Oliver of the
Los Angeles Times, Douglas Martin of the New York Times and Susan
Samuels Drake, author of Fields of Courage: Remembering Cesar Chavez &
the People Whose Labor Feeds Us (Many Names Press, 1999).]
RENEWED APPEAL FOR CONTTRIBUTIONS
With each issue of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER I am pleased to note the
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financially support its continued circulation as it enters its third year. Checks should be
made out to:
A.V. Krebs and sent to P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201
RECOMMENDED WEB SITE:
CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS RESEARCH PROJECT
Readers of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER are reminded that past issues of the
newsletter can be found at the Corporate Agribusiness Research Projectís web site on
the Internet. The CARP web site features: THE AGBIZ TILLER, THE
AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER and "Between the Furrows."
THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed newsletter, now becomes
on-line news feature of the Project. In-depth essays dealing with corporate agribusiness
activities are posted here periodically.
In "Between the Furrows," besides a modern search engine, there is a wide
pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate
agribusiness. In addition to CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and the Project
director's "Publication Background," the viewer will find a helpful "Fact Miners" page
which is an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching corporations; a
page of "Quotable Quotes" pertaining to agribusiness and corporate power; a "Links"
page which allow the reader to survey various useful public interest, government and
corporate web sites; a "Feedback" page for reader input, and a page where readers can
order directly the editor's The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
The CARP web site was designed and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle,
Simply by clicking on either of the addresses below all the aforementioned
information are yours to enjoy, study, absorb and sow.