The
AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER
November 4, 2002   #200
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 !!!
 

                                               EDITOR'S NOTE

Preparing to post this 200th edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER it is gratifying to know that over 1100 people throughout the world are currently receiving it on a regular basis and judging from comments received feel it is a valuable source of information. However, it is also quite troubling to realize that less than 4.5% of that readership has ever seen fit to make any contributions toward its continued existence.

To that small cadre of contributors this editor can only express his profound gratitude and appreciation for I realize that in some cases even a small donation was a sacrifice for them.

From the outset it was never the purpose of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to charge a subscription fee for the original intention of this newsletter was to get it into as many hands as possible as a vehicle for monitoring corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective, just as was the establishing of a web site  [http://www.ea1.com/CARP/] to provide facts, background, analysis and educational information on corporate agribusiness.

Thanks to the generosity and creativity of the editor's oldest son David and his business colleagues at ElectricArrow in Seattle, Washington that sight is being maintained on a virtual pro bono basis.

Having said all this, may I repeat CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS are always and will always be most welcomed for editors of such publications as THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER can not always live on bread and water alone. Such checks made out to A.V. Krebs can be sent to P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203.
 

USDA SECRETARY CALLED UPON TO DISAVOW
MEMO TO KANSAS MEAT INSPECTORS ENCOURAGING
RELAXATION OF FOOD SAFETY STANDARDS
TO KEEP PRODUCTION AT SLAUGHTERHOUSES MOVING

ELIZABETH BECKER, NEW YORK TIMES: Consumer advocates and union officials called on Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman on Thursday to disavow instructions given to meat inspectors in Kansas that critics and inspectors said encouraged the relaxation of food-safety standards to keep production moving at slaughterhouses, even amid concerns about fecal contamination.

In guidelines issued in May, the inspectors were told that they could be held accountable for lost production if they failed to justify slowing production, whether to examine what appeared to be traces of feces or to wash their hands.

"This is unheard of, the idea that you can't shut down the line when there's a problem," said an inspector who was at the May meetings.

Agriculture Department officials said they could not confirm that the instructions were part of an official document. A spokeswoman said they were not issued from headquarters here.

"Whether this is an official document or not, we have not changed our policy of zero tolerance," said the spokeswoman, Alisa Harrison  Ms. Harrison said the protesting consumer groups "could be using this document for political purposes."

Dr. Garry L. McKee, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service in the department, issued a statement saying meat-safety standards had not been relaxed.  "F.S.I.S. has not changed its zero tolerance policy and has no plans to do so," Dr. McKee said.

The instruction memorandum became public weeks after the largest meat recall. Pilgrim's Pride asked for the recall of 27.4 million pounds of cooked turkey and chicken products on October 13, after listeria bacteria had been found in its plant in Franconia, Pennsylvania, and tied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a listeriosis outbreak that caused seven deaths in seven Northeastern states this year.

Earlier, ConAgra had asked for the recall of 19 million pounds of ground beef that might be tainted by E. coli. That has become the third largest meat recall.

"This directive puts a straitjacket on inspectors and clearly transforms F.S.I.S's mission from that of protecting public health to protecting the economic health of the meat industry," said a letter signed by representatives of three advocacy groups, the
Community Nutrition Institute, the Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen.

The memo, "General Information and Conduct" for new meat inspectors, was distributed from May 8 to 24 inspectors at the Farmland National Beef Packing Company in Liberal, Kansas, by two Agriculture Department veterinarians, according to the inspector who attended the meeting. The memo was made public this week by the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, a union that represents meat inspectors and that is part of the American Federation of Government Employees.

In a section on fecal contamination, the inspectors were warned, "YOU are accountable for this very serious responsibility of stopping the company's production for the benefit of food safety."  They are told the limits of what is considered feces.

"That is appalling," Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America said. "Poop is poop. I can't think of any circumstance where it is tolerable to have fecal material on any meat coming off the line."

Paul D. Johnson, acting chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, said the memo showed that in the Kansas plant, at least, inspectors were unable to do a thorough job inspecting meat. "Inspectors," Mr. Johnson said, "know that a small smear of feces can have deadly consequences just as easily as an amount large enough to have `a fibrous nature,' yet the U.S.D.A. prohibits us from taking action that could protect consumers."

In his statement, Dr. McKee said the department insisted that inspectors were required to remove "contamination on that portion of the product they are responsible for inspecting."

The consumer groups and inspectors' union said they were concerned that the memo repeatedly pointed out that inspectors could be held accountable for lost production if they stopped operations to examine possible contamination and failed to find problems.
 

INVOKING THOMAS JFFERSON
MICHIGAN FEDERAL JUDGE RULES
PORK CHECKOFF UNCONSTITUTIONAL

JERRY PERKINS, DES MOINES REGISTER FARM EDITOR: The $55 million-a-year pork checkoff assessment that spawned the "Pork, the Other White Meat" promotion is unconstitutional and must end November 24, a federal judge in Michigan ruled [last] Monday.

Critics of the pork checkoff said the ruling struck a blow for family hog producers against
large-scale operations and pork packers. Checkoff supporters said the ruling would destroy efforts to help family hog producers remain competitive.

"If we don't have a checkoff, we won't have money to invest in eradicating hog diseases,
increasing pork exports, developing new products and getting them into grocery stores and restaurants, or helping producers do things in an environmentally sound way," said Craig Christensen, a hog producer from Ogden who is vice chairman of the National Pork Board.

Clearing the constitutional bar on appeal could be difficult for the pork checkoff and similar programs, given the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that a mushroom promotion program was unconstitutional, said Neil Hamilton, director of Drake University's Agricultural Law Center.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen said in his ruling Monday that the pork checkoff law is part of a system that "is at the bottom unconstitutional and rotten."  The pork checkoff "offends objecting producers" First Amendment rights of free speech and association," Enslen wrote, because it mandates that hog producers pay 40 cents for each $100 in hog sales and that the money be used for generic advertising for pork. Iowa producers raise about 25% of the nation's hogs.

Enslen agreed with pork checkoff critics who argued that they sell hogs, not pork, and that using their money to promote pork "supports a commodity they do not sell."

The law establishing the pork promotion and research program "involves a kind of outrage Jefferson loathed," Enslen wrote. "The government has been made tyrannical by forcing men and women to pay for messages they detest."

Citing similar court rulings that struck down beef and mushroom checkoffs, Enslen said the pork checkoff deprives farmers of money they could use to pay for advertising their own products or to feed their livestock.

In July, a federal judge in South Dakota cited the Supreme Court's decision on the mushroom promotion program when he ruled that the national beef checkoff was unconstitutional. Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Agriculture won a stay allowing the beef checkoff program to continue while an appeals court mulls its constitutionality.

Alisa Harrison, spokeswoman for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, said the department would ask the Justice Department whether a similar stay should be sought for pork checkoff collections.

Hamilton, of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, is on the board of the Farmers Legal Action Group, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based lawyers who challenged the pork checkoff's constitutionality in federal court. Hamilton, who had no legal connection with the case, said the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the mushroom checkoff is unconstitutional would make it difficult for pork checkoff supporters to prevail.

"You can never predict how the appeals court judges will rule," Hamilton said, "but they will face the same heavy burden (as the federal judges), given that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the mushroom checkoff unconstitutional."

The lawsuit challenging the pork checkoff's constitutionality was brought by the Campaign for Family Farms, a coalition of four farm groups opposed to the checkoff.
Dubuque County hog producer Dale Leslein of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the coalition members opposed to the checkoff, said he was elated by Enslen's ruling.

"The checkoff money was used to help large-scale operations and to help sell pork for packers," said Leslein, who sells about 2,000 hogs a year. "It didn't do anything for independent hog producers."

The National Pork Producers Council, a group of state pork associations from Michigan,
California, Kentucky, Indiana and New York, and three Michigan pork producers defended the checkoff.
 

IOWA FARMER DETAILS
EXPERIENCES WITH CHECKOFF PROGRAMS
HAILS RECENT COURT PORK DECISION

GEORGE NAYLOR, CHURDAN IOWA, FARMER: The court ruling the pork checkoff is a great victory for family farmers, whether they raise hogs or not. The ruling inspires this farmer who chafes under the mandatory half percent soybean checkoff to reflect on my checkoff experience.

I was a young farmer on the very first Iowa Corn Promotion Board in 1978. I got on the ballot by getting signatures on a petition whereas everyone else was placed on the ballot by the Iowa Corn Growers Association as per the law they passed instituting the checkoff. I got a real education by getting signatures from older farmers who had farmed during the Parity years before 1953. They were usually not Farm Bureau members and thought "corn promotion" was a code word for having cheap corn so we could export more. They were right, I found out.

At least that was the theory. Cheap corn was really the aim of the Corn Growers and ADM who they often consulted. More exports never materialized nor did higher corn prices. It just resulted in recurrent crashes in livestock prices and ever bigger corporate control of livestock production.

The second aim of the checkoff was to mislead farmers and the public about agricultural markets. The promise of new exports and new uses was to supplant the knowledge of those older farmers that the only time farmers got a fair shake was when it was the law of the land that farmers were guaranteed a share of the national market at a fair price.

That came about with the New Deal farm programs with the nonrecourse loan --- farmers knew they could seal their grain, and if the grain trade wasn't willing to pay the loan rate, the government reserve became the market of last resort. A price floor was established for grain that indirectly set a floor under livestock prices. Otherwise, cheap grain led farmers to feed more and walk their corn to market on four hooves.

Another aspect of the subterfuge was that price supports cost the government too much. The reality is that price supports cost the government nothing. The grain trade pays the price to the farmer. The cost of storing grain in the reserve along with any cost in administering the program or land set-asides would be minimal compared to all the income supports in the form of direct payments in the farm bills that followed 1953.

Any grain brought back on the market at higher trigger prices could actually bring in a
profit. Representative Wayne Cooley of North Carolina, chair of the House Ag Committee in the 1950's testified that farmers received 100% of parity from 1941 until 1953 and that farm programs from 1933 to 1953 actually did produce a small profit for the government.

When the Iowa Corn Promotion Board got together to figure out how to spend the checkoff dollars, we always had experts from the grain export council which was funded by Cargill, ADM, etc. Iowa State U. would always be there to tell us how to invest in new research to increase production. It turned out that well over half or even three quarters of the money went straight to USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service which funded joint projects with Cargill, ADM, and livestock feeding companies in foreign countries. We really had nothing to deliberate about because the law establishing the board forbid
any activity relating to politics.

When somebody got the brilliant idea that we should collect the checkoff on sealed grain --- potentially getting the checkoff money twice on each bushel of grain, I objected. A few other farmer members weren't too sure either. But after the Chair expressed his opinion, the vote was taken --- 19 to 1.

So it was an object of faith that corn promotion would be good for farmers and everybody was supposed to preach that farm programs were no good. This religion finally gained its ultimate prize in Freedom to Farm. The only thing is that reality proved more complicated. If it hadn't been for over 30 million acres of land in CRP, many acres idled in the Europoean Union, and the billions of direct payments annually dished out despite the rhetoric of Freedom to Farm, rural America would have experienced the winter of 1933 again.

That's when my father hauled corn to town and found out that the price of corn had been ten cents a bushel the day before, but on that day, the elevator wasn't even buying. Tears always came to his eyes when he recounted many of the neighbors losing their farms in the 1920's and 30's.

As long as the farmers and ranchers around the world are pitted against each other and have no alternative but to increase production in the face of lower prices, the only beneficiaries of checkoffs are the big corporations who can increase their volume and margins. If the American people really knew how they and farmers have been lied to, they would wonder what has really happened to our country. Unfortunately, today's campaign tactics and shallow, misleading news reporting leaves the average citizen bewildered or numb.

The court finding the pork checkoff unconstitutional is a great victory. I'm encouraged that we can end the similarly unfair mandatory soybean checkoff. As the ruling pointed out, I could use the $50 collected on 2000 bushels of soybeans in many other ways, like paying dues for membership in an organization that I truly support. Having the Bill of Rights, written over 200 years ago, still offer its citizens some protection from tyranny has to be some solid ground from which we can move ahead and jump for joy.

George Naylor, is a board member of the National Family Farms Coalition and a member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a group in the Campaign For Family Farms.
 

MONTANA FEDERAL JUDGES RULES
NATIONAL BEEF CHECKOFF IS CONSTITUTIONAL

A federal judge ruled [Friday] that the national beef checkoff is constitutional, even as similar programs have been struck down by other federal judges as a violation of free speech.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull's decision came in the case of a Montana ranching couple who refused to pay $1-per-head tax on some cattle, and faced more than $12,000 in penalties and past charges. Steve and Jeanne Charter argued that the checkoff violated their rights as independent producers by forcing them to pay for advertising campaigns they did not necessarily agree with.

Half of the money from the checkoff, which yearly collects about $86 million, goes to the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board and half to qualified state beef councils. The groups use the slogan "Beef: It's what's for dinner" in advertising.
 

CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS MOUNTS MASSIVE
MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR CAMPAIGN SEEKING
TO DEFEAT OREGON GE LABELING INITIATIVE

DAVID LANDES AND EDWARD ALDEN, THE FINANCIAL TIMES: U.S. and European biotechnology companies are spending millions of dollars to defeat a state ballot initiative that would for the first time in the U.S. require new labelling standards for genetically-modified foods.

Known as Measure 27, the initiative in Oregon would mandate that special labels appear on any food produced, sold or distributed in the state that contained genetically-engineered ingredients. It is the first such food labelling measure to appear
on a state ballot.

If approved by Oregon voters on November 5, the measure would mark a significant
shift in the regulatory environment for genetically-altered foods, which have not yet
faced any significant public opposition or strict regulation in the U.S.. The European Union, in contrast, is considering sweeping legislation that would require careful tracing and mandatory labelling of any food containing even small traces of GM material.

The requirements of Measure 27 would be even stricter than those under consideration in Europe. It would mandate labelling on products that contain as little as 0.1 per cent of genetically-engineered ingredients, compared with the one per cent threshold proposed in the European legislation. "This is above and beyond anything we've seen thus far," says Stephanie Childs, a spokesperson for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade association representing the U.S. food industry.

The campaign for more open disclosure of GM contents in food has been championed
by a single mother and brain cancer survivor who wants to know more fully what she
is feeding her family. "I'm doing this for my kids," says Donna Harris. "It's not meant
to be an indicator if the product is safe or unsafe. I just want to have a more informed
choice at the supermarket."

With roughly 70% of food on U.S. grocery store shelves containing some genetically-engineered ingredients, there is little chance of the U.S. following Europe's
lead and turning its back on GM foods.

However, if Measure 27 is passed, its labelling requirements could result in significant
losses for the biotechnology industry, says Stephen Weller, a spokesperson for
CropLife International, a Brussels-based trade association representing the world's big
biotech companies such as BASF, Dow, DuPont, FMS, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Naturally, the GM industry opposes the initiative. So far, the Coalition Against the Costly Labelling Law has raised five million dollars for its campaign, with $3.7million of that
coming from CropLife International, [who] launched a $2.5million advertising blitz. The
industry's campaign has succeeded in changing public opinion. Support for the
measure was running at roughly 60% until early October, but a recent poll sponsored by a Portland television station showed 65% now opposed to Measure 27.

Proponents of the measure have spent less than $300,000 promoting the issue. They
received a boost last week when Paul McCartney did a radio ad calling for Oregon
voters to support Measure 27, but the initiative appears to be heading for defeat.

Regardless of the outcome, Measure 27 has attracted considerable attention. In an
unsolicited letter sent to Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration strongly objected to it. The FDA, which regulates the safety of food in
the US, said it had found "no evidence" that there was a significant difference between
conventional foods and those produced using bioengineering. The FDA also said the
legislation might violate constitutional guarantees against impeding the free flow of
commerce between states.

Mr Weller of CropLife warned that passage of the initiative might lead other states or
countries to adopt additional labelling requirements, which could lead to a two-tier
food production and distribution system in order to guarantee GM-free food.
 

ELIZABETH DOLE GETS
ADM CAMPAIGN DOLLARS
WHILE PROMOTING ETHANOL
IN HER NORTH CAROLINA SENATE RACE

NICHOLAS E. HOLLIS, AGRIBUSINESS COUNCIL: With the Senate race heating up in the Tarheel State someone ought to ask Republican candidate Elizabeth Dole to explain her support stance on ethanol --- and her longstanding ties to America's leading corporate price-fixer --- Dwayne O. Andreas --- and major corrupter of the campaign finance process since the 1960s.

Dole will undoubtedly spout off the standard falsehoods tauting ethanol (derived from corn) --- arguing that the subsidized oxygenate for fuel benefits farmers, the environment and reduces our nation's dependence on foreign oil. But even her rural supporters know these exaggerations stretch the truth.

Ethanol isn't "white lightning" but its production process is very similar. Back in western Carolina's hills, the good old boys know that the ethanol/fuel alcohol scam is largely benefitting (and controlled by) the Illinois-based agribusiness behometh, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) --- where Andreas still rules the board by proxy/family ties. Drink white lightning over time --- the results are predictable. Feed ethanol to your car's engine,
the results will be equally dire.

Inquiring minds in North Carolina's voting public may be interested to learn that Dole and her erstwhile husband, former presidential contender, Bob Dole --- the Viagra King--- have long owned beachfront condo property in a south Florida condominium controlled by Dwayne Andreas, who just happened to be Bob Dole's largest contributor for many years while the Kansas senator carried much water and performed many favors for ethanol, insuring the nascent industry its multi-layered subsidies and protection from foreign competition,back in the late 1970s, early '80s.

Andreas has been a generous contributor to "Liddy" Dole as well. The spread of ethanol --- from its midwest base --- is creating a serious drag on the motoring public --- via higher per gallon costs, reduced revenues for road and bridge repair (diverted to ADM
from the Highway Trust Fund which loses funds due to ethanol's tax exemption at the pump), reduced fuel mileage and increased air pollution.Presently, ADM/ethanol toadies in the Congress are pushing for a massive increase in mandated ethanol use contained in the pending energy legislation.

Less noticed is the ADM led drive for a normalization of trade with Cuba, with the real prize --- Cuba's low cost sugar plantations, well disguised. Sugar cane is a far more efficient feedstock/converter for ethanol production (compared with corn) --- and, if it gets its wish, ADM will soon need more raw materials to meet the phoney demand its latest
anti-competitive practices have carved out within the huge California motoring market.  North Carolina's retiring Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms has seen through this scam, and consistently voted against ethanol and trade normalization with Cuba.

In ADM's big plans, North Carolina's senate seat --- with another Dole --- represents another prize. But in the coming legislative and economic battle over this bogus "fuel," with major opposition building on both coasts to the midwest drive for ethanol hegemony,  it is doubtful the "Ethanol Queen" will do much for the Tar Heel State.  And if ADM gets a grip on Cuba's sugar, the nation's corn farmers everywhere, and eventually the motoring public, will find out just how badly they've been taken as well.
 

BREAD FOR THE WORLD
CHARGES SOUTH DAKOTA GOP SENATE CANDIDATE
PUSHING DROUGHT LIVESTOCK FEEDING BILL
WILL FORCE CUTBACKS IN SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS

THOMAS B. EDSALL, WASHINGTON POST: A hunger advocacy group has charged that a special livestock drought-relief program crucial to the Senate campaign of Rep. John Thune (Rep-South Dakota) cannot be financed without cutbacks in school lunch programs and food banks for the poor.

"Money that formerly went to feed U.S. schoolchildren and other hungry people is being diverted to feed cattle," Bread for the World contended, based on a budgetary analysis of the livestock program.

For the past six weeks, Thune and the Bush administration have used the special $752 million program to showcase Thune's ability to provide crucial, election-year assistance to beleaguered cattle ranchers without busting the budget or cutting back on programs.

Thune is the Republican nominee in one of the hardest-fought Senate races in the country with huge partisan stakes: The Democratic nominee, Sen. Tim Johnson (Dem.South Dakota), is a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (Dem.-South Dakota), and Thune was handpicked by Bush aides to run.

The livestock program has been a boon to Thune. Before the program was announced, he faced the damaging prospect of having to campaign with a president of his party who had rejected his pleas for new federal spending to relieve the worst drought in South Dakota since the Depression.

After the September 19 program announcement, Thune and such groups as Americans
for Job Security, an industry organization backing his bid, promoted the program as a demonstration of Thune's ability to figure out how to protect constituent interests without forcing new spending or cutbacks in other programs. "While Washington was talking, John Thune was doing," President Bush said September 24.

But Bread for the World has analyzed the sources of cash for the livestock compensation program and concluded that the numbers do not support Thune's and the administration's claims that the $752 million can be diverted without damaging the school lunch and other domestic nutrition programs.

The Bread for the World study added up all mandated programs and other expenditures under the $6 billion Section 32 fund, and concluded the $752 million "will soak up" cash traditionally used "to buy 'bonus' surplus commodities --- foods such as fruits and vegetables, beef and salmon," half of which went to school lunch programs and the rest to food banks and food kitchens.

The analysis supports earlier complaints by some Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee and by commercial commodity associations whose members sell surplus production through the federal program that will be used to finance the livestock relief.

The Department of Agriculture, which jointly announced the livestock program with Thune on September 19, declined to address the issues raised by Bread for the World.

Instead, Alisa Harrison, spokeswoman for the department, said the $752 million taken from the Section 32 fund "does not impair our ability to meet our responsibilities for these other programs."  Harrison said she was not prepared to spell out how these commitments for the nutrition programs would be met, but "we feel we have budget authority under Section 32 to fulfill our commitments."

Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Thune campaign, said, "It is my understanding that the school lunch program will remain completely intact," and she referred questions to the Agriculture Department.
 

CALIFORNIA'S COACHELLA VALLEY FARMWORKERS
SUE HARRY SINGH & SONS, CLAIMS FARM USES
CHEAPER "GUEST WORKERS" FROM MEXICO

LEONEL SANCHEZ, SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE: The workers in Coachella Valley knew something was wrong in September when their employer canceled their bus service to North County to pick tomatoes. Days later they learned that Harry Singh & Sons had replaced them with more than 160 temporary workers from Mexico. The Mexican workers were provided housing and paid $8.02 an hour in compliance with a    federal guest-worker program that allows growers to import foreign labor when domestic workers are unavailable.

The Coachella workers are suing the North County-based grower, alleging federal labor violations, saying they were displaced by foreign workers despite a willingness by the Coachella hands to do the same work. The workers allege that Singh failed to make a good-faith effort to recruit domestic workers and that they were paid less than what the foreign workers are earning. The U.S. workers, who were paid $6.75 an hour, are seeking lost wages and other damages.

"We believe these workers have a right to their jobs," said Dorothy Johnson of California Rural Legal Assistance, which is representing the workers. The guest-worker program "makes it clear that it is not supposed to adversely affect U.S. workers."

U.S. District Judge Judith Keep issued a preliminary injunction this week ordering Singh to send letters to the Coachella workers offering them a chance to apply for work at the same pay as the foreign workers get. The grower does not have to provide bus service, however. The lawsuit is the second high-profile court case filed in California this year involving the guest-workerprogram.

Farm worker advocates in September filed suit against a Ventura County labor contractor, alleging he failed to fully pay foreign workers brought in under the federal program.

The San Diego and Ventura lawsuits come at a time when growers nationwide want to expand the guest-worker program and make it easier to implement. Critics of the program say it's not needed in California because there is a surplus of farm workers. Few of the 45,000 laborers admitted each year into the United States under the agricultural guest-worker program come to California.

Growers contend that California is ripe for a labor shortage, as documented workers leave the field for more stable jobs and as the undocumented workers who replace them become more vulnerable to tighter immigration controls.

Singh's lawyer, Merrill Storms said the grower decided to seek foreign workers after the Immigration and Naturalization Service in July detained three-fourths of his client's workers on their way to work in the fields leased at Camp Pendleton. Storms said efforts to recruit enough local workers for the tomato harvest season were unsuccessful.

Singh, despite advertising for help, couldn't find enough workers and lost $2.5 million in business as a result of the labor shortage, Storms said. "We had 480 legal workers. We needed 650. If we could've found those workers we would've used them," Storms said. "It's costing us a lot more money to (hire foreign workers) but it's saving our harvest."

Storms said his client raised the pay of all field workers to $8.02 an hour to comply with the guest-worker program.

Prior to the arrival of the Mexican workers, Singh hired about 50 workers from the Coachella Valley in Riverside County and provided a bus service to pick them up about 3 a.m. and return them home past 7 p.m., Storms said. Singh says the attendance of the Coachella workers was sporadic and unreliable, however. "We needed a steady work force available," Storms said.

In their lawsuit, the workers allege they were told by a supervisor on September 21 that the grower "had no more work for them . . . because the bus was too expensive." The suit also said "if they could find housing in Oceanside they could continue to work."

Singh has been in court before over labor issues. In the late 1990s, the grower agreed to pay $172,498 to settle a lawsuit with the state over unpaid overtime wages for migrant workers. Also in the 1990s, the federal government named Singh its Agricultural Employer of the Year for the Western Region, for building a $2.5 million dormitory-style housing unit for migrant workers. That is where the 168 workers brought in from Mexico are staying. Singh has permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to employ up to 200 "non-immigrant workers" from September 26 to December 15.