The
AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER
September 24, 2002   #192
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

EDITOR\PUBLISHER: A.V. Krebs
ADDRESS: PO. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201

E-MAIL: avkrebs@earthlink.net
WEB SITE: http://www.ea1.com/CARP/
TO RECEIVE: Name and e-mail address
CONTRIBUTION$ WELCOME !!!
 

COMMENTARY:

"GAMBLERS IN THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE"

"It is absolute insanity for us to lead ourselves or anybody else to believe that this nation can succeed in war when hundreds of thousands of parasites, the gamblers in the necessities of life, use the war only for the purpose of exacting exorbitant profits. We are working, not to beat the enemy, but to make more multi-millionaires."

--- A.C. Townley, co-founder of the Non-Partisan League, Jamestown, North Dakota, July 9, 1917.

THREE WAYS FOR NATIONS TO ACQUIRE WEALTH

"There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth: the first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors --- this is robbery; the second by commerce, which is generally cheating; the third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man received a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry."

--- Benjamin Franklin, "Positions to be Examined Concerning National Health," April 4, 1769.
 

NEIL YOUNG AT 15TH FARM AID CONCERT:
"WE'LL BE BACK NEXT YEAR, AND THE YEAR
AFTER THAT. WE'RE NOT GIVING UP !!!"

SCOTT MERVIS, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Willie Nelson for president?

The trial balloon was floated by John Hansen, the secretary of the National Farmers Union, yesterday at a backstage pow-wow kicking off the 15th Farm Aid concert [September 22] at the Post-Gazette Pavilion.

Willie, with his jar of chocolate milk in front of him, laughed and warded off the proposal by using two fingers to make a cross.

You're right, Willie. You're way too important as a musician and a legend to waste your time in the White House. Plus, there's that whole issue of inhaling.

Indeed, it's probably enough of a commitment to the nation that Nelson has been the heart and soul of Farm Aid since founding the organization with Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985. If there were any question that they still care deeply about this cause 17 years later, it was dispelled by the fiery rhetoric at the pre-concert press gathering.

"I grew up in a small town and I still live there," Mellencamp said, echoing one of biggest hits. "I have seen how corporate America has changed the face of our nation. We can have all the concerts we want, but if you guys want a better place, it starts with one person and that's you."

Making a very rare appearance in front of the media, Neil Young was particularly animated in his plea for personal responsibility as policy.

"Attention Shoppers! Attention Shoppers!" Young hollered on stage and off. "Buy with a conscience and save the family farm! Go to the right place and buy the right food. It's just as easy as going to the wrong place and buying the wrong food."

The right places, according to Young, are farmers markets and natural food stores. The wrong place would be where most people actually go -- the big supermarkets. Young, who played an acoustic set later in the evening, also threw down a challenge to the media:

"Don't write about who played or what anybody wore. Try to write about the real issues."

While the likes of Lee Ann Womack (with Willie sitting in), Drive-By Truckers and Keith Urban played the starred-and-striped stage in the early going, the issues were being discussed back in the tent.

Farmers and farm lobbyists from across the country joined local farmers in making the case for the family farm. They discussed in great detail their dissatisfaction with the federal farm bill passed last year. They talked about the subsidies for the corporate farms, dangers of irradiated foods, drought affecting 50% of the nation's farmland, and genetically modified corn.

Larry Mitchell, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association, said the golden rule applies in Washington: "Them's that got the gold, get to rule."

John Kinsman, a 76-year-old dairy farmer from Wisconsin, noted that he lived through the 1930s and, "we lived better then than we do now. We weren't working 18 hours a day to keep our farm." Kinsman said Farm Aid has been a huge help by giving money to the unions and farm organizations that help counsel farmers when they're desperate.

On the artistic side, the Farm Aid founders continue to take steps to assure that a newer generation gets involved. New board member Dave Matthews, he of the happy feet and grim poetics, dazzled with an acoustic set last night that he adapted to Farm Aid. He also pounded away at the day's mantra of "good food."

"This country has done lots of great things and gone through a lot of hardships," he told the crowd, and added, "I think we have to save the family farms without the government."

Kid Rock, who rocked with a capital R, might not be destined for the board of anything, but he certainly knew where the biggest concert in the world was happening yesterday.

"I'm here to learn more about this today," he said, "to observe some of greatest cats to make music ever, help this wonderful cause out and rock the [bleepin'] house." . . . . .

Yes, the White House isn't getting Willie Nelson anytime soon. Willie and the boys are sticking with Farm Aid as their tool.

"We'll be back next year," said Young. "And the year after that. We're not giving up"

CONAGRA: A HEALTHY CHOICE ???
BEFORE AND AFTER NATION'S SECOND LARGEST
MEAT RECALL FEDERAL INSPECTORS CITED
MORE THAN TWO DOZEN CONTAMINATED MEAT
VIOLATIONS AT COMPANY'S GREELEY PLANT

DAVID MIGOYA, DENVER POST: Federal inspectors found contaminated meat more than two dozen times at a Greeley slaughterhouse in the months leading up to --- and soon after --- history's second-largest beef recall, recently released records show.

More than half those violations at the ConAgra Beef Co. plant since July 2001 were for allowing feces, the carrier of potentially lethal E.coli bacteria, to contaminate beef carcasses, according to computerized inspection records. The rest were for meat contaminated with materials such as machine grease and floor dirt, or condensation, which could contain the pathogen listeria.

The problems should have been enough for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors to increase scrutiny at the ConAgra facility, one of the nation's largest meat packing plants, consumer food safety advocates said. Had that happened, they said, inspectors might have caught the contamination that caused ConAgra to recall 18.6 million pounds of meat in mid-July because of E.coli concerns. Health officials in 23 states have
blamed the recalled meat for 47 illnesses and one death; 22 of the sick were in Colorado.

"Clearly over the course of a year the USDA had plenty of evidence of serious concerns at the Greeley plant," said Caroline Smith-DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. "The failure to interpret their own results is negligent, and look what happened, a massive recall. Surprise."

ConAgra stands behind its safety record, a company spokesman said, saying the plant has fewer violations than most other beef operations nationwide. "When you're looking at producing and processing between 1.3 and 1.4 million head of cattle over the course of a year, we believe that while we'd prefer to have no violations, the number and type of items noted by the inspectors are within reasonable limits," spokesman Jim Herlihy said.

The USDA acted appropriately, spokesman Steven Cohen said. "The number of instances was not unique or statistically different from what you might find at other plants of similar size," he said.

ConAgra recalled one day's production of ground beef --- 354,200 pounds --- on June 30 because of E.coli contamination. The company expanded the recall on July 19 to 18.6 million pounds produced over three months that the USDA said might contain the pathogen.

The violations are the latest in a series of revelations that critics say show that meat companies, the USDA and federal laws need to do more to protect the public.

Several members of Congress have questioned whether the USDA missed early warning signs and delayed seeking the recall. They say they are concerned that more people may have gotten sick because stores sold tainted meat longer. "The more we learn, the worse the situation appears," said Rep. Henry Waxman, Dem.-California, who leads a group of congressmen demanding answers from the USDA. "It's time for the USDA to open its records completely."

The specifics of each violation, such as how many carcasses were smeared with feces, are not in the database, which was obtained by The Denver Post through the Freedom of Information Act.

ConAgra officials confirmed the details of the violations.

The USDA and ConAgra "must not have been (doing) very much because it kept happening," said Felicia Nestor, food-safety director for Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C. "There likely were many more problems than just the ones inspectors saw," Nestor said. "You cannot believe that when they happen over and over that someone is not bound to get sick."

USDA inspectors cited the Greeley operation 31 times for dirty meat-related problems between July 1, 2001, and August 27, 2002, the last date for which data was available, records show. That's a third more violations than the next company on the list, Excel Corp. in Fort Morgan, whose slaughterhouse is about the same size.

Beyond the 31 violations for dirty meat, the Greeley plant was written up 60 times for lesser violations during the same period. That too was the most in the state. Next on that list: ConAgra's poultry plant in Longmont. "On a national level we are very good in comparison," Herlihy at ConAgra Beef said.

Food-safety advocates agree, but said that should not be a comfort to consumers. "Outbreaks of E.coli don't discriminate, so the plant with the cleanest record could easily produce dangerous products given the inadequacies of the USDA inspection system," Nestor said.

The ConAgra plant in Greeley found E.coli in bins of trimmed meat on 34 days between April 12 and July 11, 2002, the dates the 18.6 million pounds of recalled beef was produced.

Although cattle feces carries the pathogen, the ConAgra plant received no USDA violations for fecal contamination in that time period, records show. The plant did receive a feces-related violation April 11, records show.

The USDA won't say --- not even to its own inspectors --- how many violations is too many. While the USDA can pull its inspectors from a plant, effectively closing it down, there are no rules for when that should happen. "There's a huge hole in the system," said Gary Dahl, president of the USDA inspectors' union in Colorado. "We can't step up and say, `Enough is enough,' because we don't know how much is enough."

Inspectors can't even issue a fine for violations. "This shows a real lack of enforcement options," said U.S. Rep Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat. It's like telling doctors to use either a Band-Aid or amputate the leg. Either the USDA issues a violation or shuts the plant down."

After the recall was announced, the USDA sent investigators to Greeley to monitor the plant and determine the cause of the contamination. Just six days after the recall, on July 25, inspectors at ConAgra again found feces on meat. The most recent feces-related violation shown in the database was from August 26.

Meat is always cleaned and all violations are corrected, ConAgra's Herlihy said. Inspected carcasses also go through a battery of acid sprays and washes designed to kill E.coli and ensure meat is wholesome, Herlihy said. Still, E.coli 0157:H7, the most virulent form of the bacteria, got by the USDA and through the washes.

"There has to be something that ensures a plant has corrected a problem for a sustained period of time," said Carol Tucker Foreman, a former top USDA official who now handles food issues for the Consumer Federation of America in Washington. "Now, the minute they clean it up, they're back at it again."
 

CONAGRA FOODS INC.:
NATION'S SECOND LARGEST FOOD COMPANY
REPORTS 20% INCREASE IN 1ST QUARTER PROFITS

ASSOCIATED PRESS: ConAgra Foods Inc. reported today a 20% profit increase for its first quarter, beating analysts' expectations.

The nation's second largest food company behind Kraft Foods earned $227.6 million, or 43 cents a share, for the period that ended Aug. 25, up from $188.4 million, or 36 cents per share, last year. Sales fell to $7.06 billion from $7.61 billion a year ago.

ConAgra said the decrease was because of lower selling prices and volumes for some products. The consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call was for first-quarter earnings of 40 cents per share.

Chief executive Bruce Rohde said the year is off to a solid start. ConAgra brands include La Choy, Peter Pan, Orville Redenbacher's, Armour, Banquet and Hunts.

"Our food business is performing well year over year and well relative to the industry," he said. "We think fiscal 2003 will be as solid as fiscal 2002 with steady improvement in our business fundamentals." Sales of packaged foods decreased 2.7 percent to $2.85 billion while operating profit in the division increased 11.5 percent to $357.4 million, ConAgra said.

Sales in its food ingredients were about the same as last year at $422.2 million, with operating profit declining 23.6 percent to $34.9 million because of increased product costs and lower overall volumes.

An investment group plans to close its $1.4 billion purchase of ConAgra's meatpacking division sometime this month. ConAgra has said that Hicks, Muse, Tate and Furst Inc. of Dallas and Booth Creek Management Inc. of Vail will buy a majority interest in ConAgra's fresh meat business.

Announced in May, the deal was to close in August, but it was delayed when ConAgra Beef had nearly 19 million pounds of ground beef recalled because of E. coli contamination at its plant in Greeley.
 

BUNGE LTD.:
LARGEST SOYBEAN PROCESSOR IN AMERICAS
REPORTS SIX PERCENT INCREASE IN SHARE VALUE
DUE TO L.A.'S LOCAL CURRENCY SHIPPING COSTS
WHILE SELLING PRODUCTS IN U.S. CURRENCY

MICHAEL MCHUGH, DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: Shares in agribusuiness and food company Bunge Ltd. (BG) rose six percent Monday after the company raised its earnings estimate for the third quarter.

Expecting stronger results across all the company's businesses, the White Plains, New York.-based company projected that net income for the third quarter will be between $80 million and $85 million, or 81 to 86 cents a share. In July, the company said net income for the quarter would be between $65 and $70 million, or 65 to 71 cents a share.

Net income for the third quarter of 2001 was $57 million. In 2001, Bunge had sales of $11.5 billion and net income of $196 million. Bill Wells, Bunge's chief financial officer, said in a statement the company expects fourth-quarter earnings will be between $55 and $60 million, or 55 to 60 cents a share.

The average earnings estimates of analysts polled by Thomson First Call are 69 cents a share for the third quarter and 59 cents a share for the fourth quarter. Wells said these forecasts are based on "conservative assumptions" about the exchange rates in Brazil, and could be higher than projected if the Brazilian real weakens further.

He also said the fourth-quarter forecast does not include the recent acquisition of Cereol S.A. The fact that the transaction closed earlier than expected "may also positively impact our results for the fourth quarter," he said.

Bunge is the largest soybean processor in the Americas with significant operations in Brazil and Argentina.

Its shares were recently up $1.30, or 6.2%, to $22.35 on volume of 247,100, compared with average daily volume of 183,700.

Analyst John McMillan of Prudential Securities Inc. said Bunge is in a "sweet spot." Costs at its large soybean processing facilities in South America are in local currencies, but it sells its soybean products in U.S.dollars.

Given the relative weakness of South American currencies against the dollar, coupled with rising grain prices, Bunge has been a double winner.

In a research report Monday, McMillan raised his stock price target to $27 from $26, and also increased his earnings projections for the company. He forecasts the company will earn 86 cents a share in the third quarter, compared with a previous projection of 71 cents. He also believes the company will have net income of 63 cents a share in the fourth quarter, compared with the 58 cents he had previously expected.

For the year, McMillan estimates the company will earn $2.25 a share, compared with $2.05 in his earlier estimate. For 2003, he believes the company will earn $2.50. He had forecast a profit of $2.35. "We continue to recommend BG not only because we believe it is a strong agribusiness company, but also because we see a stronger and more global company emerging after the Cereol acquisition," he wrote in a research report Monday.

Furthermore, he said Bunge's valuation remains attractive, given that it is trading at a discount to its closest competitor, Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM). McMillan said Bunge is trading at 10.8 times 2003 estimated earnings, while Archer Daniels is trading at 12.2 times earnings. The agribusiness peer group is at 11.7 times 2003 estimated earnings.

While McMillan remains positive on the stock, which he rates a buy, he said the high level of mutual fund ownership of Bunge could result in some selling pressure from redemptions in the funds. He said that could be a near-term risk. And as a commodity company, it is susceptible to changes in the grain markets.

Prudential's disclosure at the end of the report said neither McMillan nor anyone in his household have a financial interest in the stock. Prudential has managed or co-managed a public offering in the security in the past 12 months. It has received compensation for investment banking services in the past 12 months and expects to receive or seek compensation for further investment banking services in the next three months.
 

JUDGE REFUSES TO DELAY SOYBEAN FARMERS'
SUIT AGAINST CBOT, JURY SEATED, TRIAL BEGINS

According to Harvey Joe Sanner of Des Arc, Arkansas, an original named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed in 1989, "The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) finally lost its thirteen year battle to deny soybean farmers their day in court."

After the CBOT imposed an "emergency resolution" that drove major soybean buyers from the market and sent prices plummeting, Sanner and five other soybean farmers filed the suit in 1989 on behalf of all American soybean producers.

A jury was seated last week [September 17] in Federal District Court in Chicago and has heard the opening statements of both parties, as well as other witnesses. Immediately before the jury was selected, the CBOT asked Federal Judge Wayne R. Andersen to further delay the trial. He rejected the motion stating that the farmers deserved a trial.

The CBOT also filed a motion with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to restrict the size of the class represented in the lawsuit. In desperation, the CBOT then asked that the Court of Appeals grant a last minute "stay" that would have halted the trial.

The appellate court rejected both of these motions. Sanner declared, "If the CBOT had to play by the same rules that govern baseball games and common criminals, it would be out of the game because it has failed the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule."

In the CBOT's opening statement to the jury, Mr. Garrett Johnson stated that it did "rescue" the short sellers in the market who were pressuring the board to take action against the Ferruzzi Company, which was buying soybeans and soybean futures contracts.

He said that the CBOT had to protect the market. But as Sanner pointed out, "Evidently, Mr. Johnson doesn't realize that every soybean farmer in America was long in the market because they had 1988 crop beans to sell and/or the 1989 crop growing in the field.

The Des Arc soybean farmer continued to say that the most outlandish statement he has heard from legal counsel for the CBOT is that no farmer was harmed in 1989, adding,  "It is impossible to put in place a publicly announced emergency order with the marketing disruptive force it carried without it impacting all longs, whether they be in the cash market or futures market.

"Mr. Johnson should realize that the CBOT has already lost its argument that farmers did not have standing to sue the board because they deal in the cash market versus the futures market. The courts have ruled that those markets are intertwined so that when an action harms one, it also harms the other."

As the trial on South Dearborn Street in Chicago begins it second week, Sanner concluded, "We expect further proof of market manipulation to be presented.  Currently, the class members were those farmers who sold soybeans from July 11 to July 31, 1989.  It is my wish that the evidence presented will warrant all farmers to be considered in the class.

"This particular manipulation by the CBOT knows no dates or boundaries. Notes from meetings of CBOT officials reveal that someone suggested that they `punish' the longs, and since farmers are natural longs, it's plain to see that all soybean growers took a beating."
 

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR GRAY DAVIS
MAINTAINS POSITION ON POLITICAL FENCE,
YET TO SIGN FARM LABOR BARGAINING BILL

RENE SANCHEZ, WASHINGTON POST: For nearly 15 years, the field workers who pick mushrooms all day long in [the Oxnard, California] coastal farming region have pleaded with growers to increase wages and benefits in ways that help improve their humble lives.

Even amid threats of strike and boycotts, every bargaining session has ended in frustration, with no deal. "We have practically begged them to reach agreements with us," said Jesus Torres, who has worked in the fields for 25 years. "But they always refuse."

The problem is old and pervasive in California's vast farming valleys. But the state may soon take a momentous step to solve it.

Over the adamant objections of thousands of growers, California lawmakers recently approved a collection of bills that could give the roughly half-million field workers in the state much more bargaining power than they have ever had --- by allowing impartial third parties to take over stalled contract talks and possibly force farmers to accept labor contracts they oppose.

The proposals could bring profound change to California's $27 billion agricultural industry, which is among the largest in the world.

The legislature's decision follows a summer of unrest in California's farming fields. Invoking the legacy of their late, legendary leader Cesar Chavez, thousands of field workers last month staged a 10-day, 150-mile protest march to the capitol in Sacramento through the dusty rural roads of the state's Central Valley to demand more respect from growers. Hundreds more have held vigils at the capitol to pressure state leaders to embrace their cause.

The campaign has worked --- almost. Now, field workers are struggling with their most difficult challenge: persuading Gov. Gray Davis (D), who is up for reelection this fall, to sign the landmark legislation. He has until the end of the month to decide its fate. And it has him trapped in a serious political predicament.

If Davis supports the farm workers, he will outrage one of the most powerful industries in the state, and one that has been writing him stacks of campaign checks. Agricultural interests have contributed about $1.5 million to his reelection fund --- and more than $100,000 in just the past few weeks. But if Davis vetoes the measures, he risks alienating a growing and ever more influential part of the California electorate: Latino voters, many of whom have family roots in the fields.

The fight over the legislation just sent to Davis has been brewing for more than two decades, ever since, at Chavez's urging, California became the first state in the country to allow field workers to organize and seek labor contracts with growers. Since then, according to the United Farm Workers, more than 400 groups of field workers around the state have voted to unionize, but only 185 of them have won contracts.

The union charges that many growers often show no real interest in negotiations. And the law has not required them to come to terms. Now, lawmakers want to close that loophole.

California's farming fields are filled with laborers who live in deep poverty. Many make about $10,000 a year and receive no medical benefits. Some work seasonally, some year-round. The UFW and its allies say that giving field workers more bargaining power will bring dignity to a workforce that has long been a backbone of California's economy.

"This will put more pressure on the growers to pay more attention to the simple needs of the workers," said Reynaldo Arevalo, who has picked in fields here for 11 years. "Now, many growers just drag negotiations on and on and try to give workers hope for tomorrow, but it never comes."

Legislators who want the labor law strengthened to help farm workers say the move could raise the cost of produce in the state, but consider that a small and necessary price to pay.

"The average person understands that if they pay more for fruits and vegetables, they are improving the lives of the people who get the fruits and vegetables to their table," said state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D). "I think the average Californian would say this is a good investment."

But agricultural leaders say the impact on farms, field workers and the state economy would be far more devastating than paying a few pennies more for a head of lettuce. Forcing growers into binding labor contracts they can't afford, at a time when they are facing new global competition, will drive some out of business and eliminate many field worker jobs, they say.

The industry also contends state regulators already have tools to penalize growers who are not negotiating in good faith. And some growers are denouncing the package of bills the legislature just approved as nothing more than a ploy to boost membership in the United Farm Workers, which reached 100,000 when Chavez was in his political prime but has since dwindled to about 27,000.

"This is unfair and unjust," said Bob Krauter, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau, which represents more than 50,000 growers in the state. "It's an extreme way to address a complicated issue, and there's no question that it's going to make many farms much harder to operate."  The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the legislation, and the Western Growers Association is calling the potential new labor rules "an all-out legislative assault on California's farm families."

But farm workers also have an influential chorus on their side. Several dozen of Hollywood's biggest stars --- Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, Martin Sheen --- are all urging Davis to agree to the UFW's bargaining demands.

Davis has been a friend to the union in the past; he has even made Chavez's birthday a state holiday. But as the political feud between growers and farm workers has raged in recent months, he has watched in silence. Aides to the governor have hinted that he is reluctant to sign the legislation, however, so its backers have hastily passed two milder versions of it.

Each of the bills sent to Davis would give growers and farm workers only a few months to reach agreement on a contract. If they don't, one proposal would require an arbitrator to step in, assess each side's offer, then resolve the impasse by setting broad, binding terms that could take effect in weeks.

Another proposal relies on mediators to settle contract disputes, then refer difficult cases to a state board that oversees the agriculture industry. The board would make contract recommendations that each side could appeal to the California Supreme Court. But that measure has two strict limits: Only 75 cases could come before the board. And the new bargaining rules would be phased out after five years. It also exempts farms with less than 25 employees from the process.

The UFW, fearing a Davis veto, helped craft the compromise, reluctantly. "We hate it," said Marc Grossman, the union's chief spokesman. "But it's better than the status quo, and it will show the growers that the sky isn't going to fall."

Some farm workers say they will take anything they can get. In the fields here, mushroom pickers who often work six days a week contend their wages have hardly budged over the last decade. In January, hundreds who work at one local farm received a slight raise. Now, they make 48 cents for every basket they fill instead of 46 cents.

Growers predict that if Davis signs any of the bills, the union will begin making outrageous contract demands. Workers deny that charge. "We want the farms to prosper," said Jose Garcia, who has worked in the field for 30 years. "We know our lives will only get worse if they don't."

Union activists have begun shadowing Davis at public events and have held sit-ins at some of his offices. "The Latino community will not forget if he vetoes this," Jesus Torres said. "And we are going to keep pushing until we get justice."
 

LONDON RALLY:
DRAWS 300,000 PROTESTORS IN THE NAME
OF SAVING BRITAIN'S VANISHING RURAL LIFE

GLENN FRANKEL, WASHINGTON POST: The countryside came to [London Sunday], when more than 300,000 protesters took to the streets of London in the name of saving Britain's vanishing rural way of life and that quaint, bloodthirsty, recreational activity they insist is a symbol of it all: fox hunting.

The "Liberty and Livelihood" march was billed by organizers as the biggest protest rally in the city's history. But as mobs go, this lot was polite, well fed, nicely dressed and decidedly tranquil. It was also remarkably white --- the only brown faces in a sea of tens of thousands bunched at Hyde Park Corner, where one leg of the rally began, belonged to two slightly bewildered tourists and the BBC-TV journalist dispatched to cover the affair. .. . . .

And there were the signs. They ranged from the overtly political --- "It's Our Country Too," "Save Our Countryside" and "No Surrender" --- to the deliciously arcane: "It's Good to Hawk." Banners were hoisted for the Scottish Working Dog Association, the Campaign for Falconry, the Sunnyland Beagles and Cambrians for Fieldsports Freedom.

"You're seeing the real Middle England here," said Timothy Jacques, who lives in north London, but was born in a village in Hampshire, southwest of London. He was wearing a brown blazer and felt hat and carrying a poster of a fox with a face that bore more than a passing resemblance to that of Prime Minister Tony Blair --- the political leader everyone here seemed most put off by.

"That's not the prime minister, that's a fox," said Jacques. "He's an urban person who doesn't have a clue about what country life is about."

The marchers made their way from Hyde Park Corner in the west and Blackfriars in the east through Parliament Square. There were no speeches, but lots of sentiment. They and their leaders said they were angry with Blair's left-of-center Labor government, arguing that he is seeking to ban fox hunting rather than focusing on improving rural life.

"This is about the countryside reclaiming the countryside for itself," said Richard Burge, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, the lobbying group that organized today's event. "We demand that tolerance is given us in our own land. We are not a colony. We are an equal and valued part of this nation."

Britons treat the country with an almost religious sense of reverence. But as in the United States, country life is under threat here. The family farm is a rapidly fading institution. Cities like London, with a population of eight million and growing, are gobbling up vast amounts of farmland for new housing and roadways.

The alliance says Blair's government spends 20% more per capita on metropolitan areas than rural ones, which suffer from lack of housing, public transportation and decent schools. European Union regulations on safety, health and labor seem to make rural life even more difficult and unprofitable for small entrepreneurs.

But the issue that galvanized thousands of these marchers is the fate of fox hunting. For years, animal lovers and the left have lobbied to ban it, partly out of concern for animals and partly out of class resentment against those well-off folks who consider weekends with the horses and the hounds Britain's last sacred rite. Blair came into office five years ago promising to outlaw fox hunting, but he has managed to delay action and put off an emotional confrontation.

Polls indicate that more than 60% of the public favor outlawing fox hunting, and last year the House of Commons voted by more than two to one for such a ban. But the unelected House of Lords delayed final passage. The prime minister further slowed the momentum this year by ordering a six-month consultation period.

During three days of public hearings, some experts argued that the ban would cost 6,000 to 8,000 jobs, while others said the impact would be negligible. The director of biomedical studies at Birmingham University testified that hunting was cruel because foxes being chased by dogs felt "panic and terror." An opposing witness, noting the cruelties of modern poultry farming, testified that "a broiler chicken suffering arthritic pain during one-third of its life will certainly suffer longer than a fox killed by hounds."

The government seemed clearly to be looking for a compromise that would restrict hunting to certain rural communities where foxes are deemed a health hazard, and require that hunters dispatch the animals at the end of the chase with rifles, rather than allowing hounds to rip them to pieces. "We're interested in everybody's rights, and everybody's liberties," said Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michaels, who chaired the hearings.

There are 318 registered hound packs, or hunts, operating in England and Wales, some of which date back to the 17th century. Animal-rights advocates have sought to disrupt the hunts by spooking horses and laying down false scents. In recent months, some hunters have responded by vandalizing the homes and offices of prominent hunt opponents and threatening violence.

If a ban is passed, "I think the countryside will erupt in fury," John Jackson, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, told a news conference this morning. "What form that fury will take I have no idea."

There's also a lingering sense of resentment among rural dwellers that the country is being taken over by immigrants and refugees who don't share traditional British values. "Strange, but I don't see any black or Asian faces," said Jack Scullard, a retired housing surveyor, who was handing out right-wing literature at the march, "They don't give a damn about this country or the environment. These people here are the true British people"

Such sentiments generally were muted today, as people marveled over the size and success of the demonstration. The alliance chartered 31 trains and more than 2,000 buses. Some of the city's poshest men's clubs like Brooks's and the Traveller's said they were suspending their dress codes for the day and --- in a major concession --- would even serve members' children.

But despite the aristocratic sheen, there were many here who believed their livelihoods were in danger. Belinda Hutchinson-Smith said she and her husband are about to shut down the dairy farm that for five generations has been owned by her family in Shropshire County because "it costs us more to produce the milk than we can get when we sell it." She was here today, she said because she feared for the future. "It's not about hunting, it's about saving a way of life."

A few celebrities dotted the route. . . . One group of celebrities that stayed away was the royal family. Prince Charles and his sons, William and Harry, participate in the Beaufort Hunt and were reported to support the aims of the march. But Charles reportedly insisted that no one connected with the family participate. That included Camilla Parker Bowles, his longtime consort, whose car was seen by reporters sporting a Countryside Alliance bumper sticker a few weeks ago.
 

CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS RESEARCH PROJECT
WEB SITE INITIATES RENEWED SUPPORT EFFORT

It is rather curious that as more and more people from literally around the world request
to regularly receive THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, lavish in their much
appreciated praise for the work it seeks to do, fewer and fewer people seem willing to
financially contribute to its support.

Those handful of regular contributors who have earned the editor's undying gratitude
over the past four years and the few other occasional welcome individual supporters
stand in marked contrast to those many who obviously have believed during that time
that their aid could be better applied elsewhere, particularly when it comes farm and
rural  organizations. Such neglect, however, when it comes to rural concerns is
recognized  from this desk as not uncommon in our modern affluent and well fed
society.

Since the AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER first appeared some 191 issues ago it has been
the publisher's intent to make the work of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project
(CARP) and the monitoring of corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective
available to the widest possible audience, seeing that those few and available publications
that still concern themselves with corporate agribusiness are so prohibitively expensive,
to say nothing of their pro-corporate bias.

But, because there is a more a need today than ever before to make corporate
agribusiness more accountable to the common good, it is the wish and hope of THE
AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to continue to play a major role in that effort. Your
contributions will go far in helping to perpetuate that hope. Such contributions may be
sent to the editor at the above address.

As part of a major effort to keep those committed to bringing economic and political
democracy to rural America informed, educated and updated the Corporate
Agribusiness  Research Project is happy to point out that its web site has been updated
and streamlined.
http://www.ea1.com/CARP/

Among the sites many features are:

> A complete index of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER'S  first 162 issues with a
"Search" engine to provide easy access to the subject matter of each edition.

> new edition of THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed
newsletter, featuring the essay "The Merchants of Greed," an in-depth essay dealing with
today's corporate agribusiness. Likewise the "Search" engine is also available for past
editions of THE AGBIZ TILLER.

> In "Between the Furrows," besides a modern "Search" engine, there is a wide range
of  pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate
agribusiness. They include:

* CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and THE AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER'S  Editor\Publisher's "Resume."

*  "Fact Miners," an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching
corporations

*  "Quotable Quotes" pertaining to agribusiness and corporate power

*  "Links," a page which allows the reader to survey various useful public interest,
government and corporate web sites;

* "Feedback" an opportunity for reader input:

* The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness, a page where readers can order
directly the editor's 1992 published book from Essential Books.

The CARP web site was designed and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle,
Washington.
http://www.electricarrow.com

Simply by clicking on the address below all the aforementioned features and information
are yours  to enjoy, study, absorb and sow.

http://www.ea1.com/CARP/