EXAMINER                                  Issue # 94         November 6, 2000

Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective

A.V. Krebs


“ . . . without attempting to guess the outcome of this year's race, let alone estimate who might make the best president, let's try to answer the narrow political question: Who's put on the best campaign? Who's made the most of his available resources and opportunities?

“I think the answer has to be Ralph Nader. On Labor Day, the consumer activist was barely a blip on the screen, and the Green Party that endorsed him was regarded as a collection of oddballs. But despite being shut out of the presidential debates, having meager funds and not a nickel of public
financing, Nader has made himself the fulcrum of power in a half-dozen battleground states.

“Often in the past a nagging bore, he proved himself a quick and witty TV performer, adept at sharp sound bites such as this on ABC's `This Week’ `If Gore cannot beat the bumbling Texas governor with that horrific record, what good is he? Good heavens! I mean, this should be a slam-dunk.’

“Nader's greatest feat was shifting his followers' focus from his impact on Election Day, when he is clearly a spoiler, to a different rationale for his candidacy: `To establish a progressive political reform movement’ that, he says, `will monitor and challenge the politicians of both parties.’ . . .”

While it took the Washington Post’s premier political pundit David S. Broder till two days before the November 7 election to offer the above obvious observation he does highlight two excellent points.

First, if we are to believe that a George W. Bush presidency was such a horrible fate for this country then why is it that Albert Gore has been unable to convince the American public that he is so much better than his opponent. Rather what we have witnessed in recent weeks is Gore and his supporters battling for his political life by directing their venom upon the Green Party’s Nader\LaDuke ticket?

Second, that this campaign from the very start by Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke has been focused on “establishing a progressive political movement to monitor and challenge the politicians of both parties” who have so betrayed democracy and the people by willingly offering their services to their corporate donors.


Not only have the nation’s two major presidential candidates all but ignored family farmers in this election campaign, but have brought forth no substantive policy proposals to rescue rural America and family farm agriculture from what is rapidly becoming agriculture’s permanent economic depression.

Vividly illustrating this neglect are eight articles in yesterday’s (Sunday) New York Times explaining the Bush-Gore positions on issues. There are separate  articles on Social security, Education,The Environment, The Economy, Foreign Policy, Abortion and Health. There is also another article on “Other Issues” which include gun control, the military, campaign financing, gay rights, affirmative action and the death penalty. Nowhere is even the word agriculture mentioned in the series.

It was left up to a lone Missouri farmer to question the two candidates in the third presidential debate in St. Louis. Curiously in Gore's answer he spoke about enforcing anti-trust legsilation and one wondered why he should be believed to do in four years what the Clinton-Gore Administration has failed to do in eight years --- enforce anti-trust legislation in agriculture.

Only Ralph Nader’s voice has been heard consistently in the public arena, not only decrying the political and public apathy regarding the plight of agriculture, but offering long overdue substantive, progressive policy proposals which would insure that not only the nation have the resources to preserve our family farms, but insure that consumers would have safe, affordable, available, and nutritious food.

More importantly for family farmers Ralph Nader, a name that has become synonymous  with democracy and accountability, has recognized and without hesitation extols and honors the role family farmers have played throughout American history in “establishing a progressive political movement to monitor and challenge the politicians of both parties.”

It is time, therefore, that those family farmers in our country who would rather engage in political and economic self-flagelation join with their progressive farm neighbors in reasserting their historical roots in progressive populist reform, vote their conscience on November 7,  not out of a sense of  foreboding that they are once again been forced  to pick the lesser of  two evils.

Rather, when they cast their vote for the Nader\LaDuke ticket, they can rejoice in the fact that they along with millions of other Americans have done the morally right thing, that they haven’t been intimidate by fear, corporate propaganda, or an allegiance to a political party  that no longer reflects their values and priorities.

And for those family farmers and rural citizens who remain apathetic, who want no part of the political system the words of Ralph Nader to the young and disaffected should also be a clarion call to our rural communities, “remember, if you are not `turned on’ by politics, then the day may soon come when politics will turn on you.”


“We’ve campaigned quite a bit in farm country and the rural areas of our country and not withstanding a booming economy farmers can’t make a living with the price of wheat, corn, soya --- 30%! 40%! lower than in 1996 --- because these giant buyers like Cargill and ADM push these prices down to levels that are hardly productive of simple livelihood.

“Our farm country and rural country are in deep distress as giant agribusinesses, industrial agriculture, factory farming, contract farming, genetically engineered farming are moving in on the farm country and those of us who are in the city and the suburbs should read our history to see what will happen to the people in the city and the suburbs if we lose rural America and the small farm economy.

“The Green Party strives to preserve that small farm economy and rural America and an independent self-sustaining agriculture!!! . . .

“The Green Party favors more USDA support for organic farming, one of the few ways farmers can make any money any more and much more regulatory scrutiny on the most tumultuous, brazen technology in the history of the world --- the biotechnology industry. The biotechnology industry who wants to convert the genetic inheritance of the world into their own 17 year monopoly package.

“Imagine this industry-sponsored technology has to regulation, no ethical, no legal framework and they basically want to control the genetic inheritance of the globe. That’s a pretty immodest ambition and one that must confront a political response with informed science as those who founded the Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We need to reassert civilized values over this industry.

“We also need to let our farmers at long last, after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and others grew this product, to at long last allow our farmers to grow industrial hemp.

“Yes, our country can legally import industrial hemp from France, Canada and China, but it cannot grow it because Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gore and Gen. McCafferty somehow believe that a plant that can give us food, fiber, fuel, paper with chorine, medicines, lubricants and thousands of other uses that have been developed over 5000 years, that somehow it is a stalking horse for marijuana.

“Well I have news for you Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gore and Gen. McCafferty, with one third of one percent of THC, even President Clinton, even President Clinton, smoking a bushel of industrial hemp, and even if he inhaled it, he’d get no more than  a stomach ache.”

--- From remarks by Ralph Nader before 12,000 supporters  attending a national televised campaign rally in the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 2000


In clear unequivocal terms Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has asserted an agricultural policy that would shift control of American agriculture away from corporate conglomerates and back to the family farmer.

In annunciating his  position Nader also faults the control of the food industry by corporate agribusiness for the serious economic, health and environmental problems that farmers and consumers are facing.

He has called for a federal farm policy that would accord with consumer, environmental, worker and family farm standards of justice and sustainability.  "This entails shifting government policy to provide research and information relevant to independent food producers, ensuring open and competitive markets, promoting new food infrastructures, and preventing pollution and the degradation of natural resources.”

Specifically, Nader's plan, "Toward a Better Farm and Food  Policy," calls for:

* Enforcing anti-trust laws against agribusiness conglomerates and implementing a moratorium on mergers among the largest agribusinesses

* Prohibiting meat-packer ownership of livestock production and grain-packer ownership of grain production

* Strengthening the farm program for grain commodities to include a farmer-owned grain reserve, a long-term land idling and conservation program and a non-recourse loan program for family farmers

* Redirecting USDA research towards less capital intensive, more ecologically beneficial production, as with organic farming, supporting value-enhancing agriculture, and increasing research in direct marketing methods for small farmers

* Crafting a policy on genetically engineered foods that applies the precautionary principle and takes into account environmental and food safety risks, and the need for informed consumer choice

* Targeting government food procurement towards small, local farms

* Allowing American farmers to grow industrial hemp, which is now legal to import but can't be grown in the U.S.

"By weakening the stranglehold that agribusiness has on the food industry, we will be able to increase farm gate prices and competition, which will consequently reduce food costs for consumers," Nader explains.


As family farmers and rural activists who believe in the intrinsic worth and environmental integrity of family farm agriculture, who believe that you cannot have political democracy without economic democracy we have come together as the Family Farmers’ National Alliance for Nader\LaDuke to call upon our rural neighbors as well as all citizens to support and vote for Ralph Nader for president and Winona LaDuke for vice-president.

Throughout the years Ralph Nader has sought to not only call the nation’s attention to the economic, social, political and environmental plight of rural America and its agricultural backbone, but his concurrent efforts to enforce anti-trust laws against corporate concentration while assuring consumers of safe, healthy, nutritious, available and fairly-priced food has been unmatched by any current candidate for the nation’s presidency.

Recognizing that the ill-conceived and misnamed 1996 Freedom to Farm legislation has been a disaster for our nation’s family farm system of agriculture as has the increasing economic and political power of such agribusiness giants as ADM, Cargill, ConAgra, Chiquita International, IBP Inc., Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods; recognizing the economic and safety risks of untested and unregulated genetic engineering, Ralph Nader has called for a federal farm policy that would accord with consumer, environmental, worker and family farm standards of justice and sustainability.  . . .

Not only is the Nader\LaDuke ticket committed to  . .  . a progressive agriculture and food policy, but throughout his life as a public citizen Ralph Nader has spoken truth to power on a variety of issues related to family farm agriculture. They include:

Food safety standards, the misuse and overuse of chemical poisons, farm vehicle safety, usury interest rates charged by an increasingly consolidated banking industry, excessive and unnecessary subsidies to giant agribusiness corporations, the right of farmworkers to organize and bargain collectively, the USDA’s ever-present discrimination among the nation’s dwindling number of black farmers , and opposition to the exploitative policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, opposition to corporate-managed so-called “free trade”  and to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

We believe as family farmers and rural activists it is time that we and all those who support family farm agriculture and the revival of our rural communities speak out and endorse Nader\LaDuke and on November 7 we cast our vote not out of fear of another candidate, but out of a firm conviction that the Nader\LaDuke ticket is the best choice for our communities, our nation, democracy and the common good.

--- "Statement of Support" by the Family Farmers National Alliance for Nader\LaDuke, signed by over 50 nationally well-known family farmers and rural activists.


In speech after speech across the country since he declared his intention to be the Green party’s presidential nominee Ralph  Nader has called for new policies to revive a disappearing rural America. His call not only echoed his frequent appeals for economic justice on behalf of family farmers, but his deep awareness of agrarian populism and the valued role it has played throughout our nation’s history in instigating genuine economic and political democracy.

The immediate lessons that can be learned from agrarian populism have been astutely summed up by Nader.

“There is nothing to compare to the farmers’ drive in Texas during the late 1880’s which signed up 250,000 farmers and led to the early stage of the thirty-year progressive revolt --- still the country’s most fundamental political and economic reform  movement since the Constitution was ratified.  (emphasis added) And these farmers did it largely on foot and with pamphlets.

“How, without today’s communications and transportation facilities, did the farmers manage to cover so much ground, create so many lasting institutions, and elect so many state legislators, governors, members of Congress, and almost the president of the United States? Because they owned what they controlled --- the land. And they controlled what they owned --- the land. And they aggregated their vote around specific agendas designed to limit the power of the railroads, banks and absentee `Eastern financial moguls.’”

Now, Nader points out, “the two-party system is crumbling. They are hollowed out and don't have much basic grass-roots support. They're basically two parties with a lot of money fighting against each other with 30-second electric combat ads on television. The only way we are going to regain control of our political institution is to help build a progressive political movement that will break up the concentration of wealth and power -- a plutocracy that reigns over our democracy.”

Even though the agrarian populism of the late 19th century posed a number of specific economic solutions to the nation’s series of farm crisis, it is important to remember that for farmers the popular monetary issues of the day, e.g. the use of silver and\or gold were only ephemeral issues.

Reflecting on the populism’s analysis of the nation’s emerging financial elite, historian Lawrence Goodwyn has pointed out that it is difficult to find a political doctrine narrower and more self-serving than the American banking hierarchy’s fixation on “sound money.”

“ . . .the artificially contracted currency of the gold standard had three undeniable and linked products: it curtailed the nation’s economic growth; it helped measurably to concentrate the capital assets of the nation in the pockets of the nation’s bankers, and it helped measurably to consign generation after generation of non-banking Americans to lives of hardship and dependence.

“Beyond this, the triumph of the political and cultural values embedded in the gold standard provided the economic foundation for the hierarchical corporate state of twentieth century America.”

The focus of Farm Alliance members, as declared in their Omaha Platform of 1890, was a rebellion against the American political system. In order to restructure the nation’s financial and economic system, the Alliance rejected both parties, which they accused of being in “harmony with monopoly”


A. Whitney Griswold, a political scientist and former president of Yale University, in a 1948 book, Farming and Democracy, properly warned,

"We can expect no democratic miracles from agriculture or any other particular part of our economy. We can expect them only from democracy itself . . . The only sure source of democracy in any of these is a national well-spring that feeds all of them, not just a source among farmers, or, as we should say, among some farmers. The lesson is plain in history. Family farming cannot save democracy. Only democracy can save the family farm.”

Griswold also expressed the belief that the family farm's strongest claim on democracy, "the one by which it will either stand or fall as democratic political theory," is that for all its "corruption" by industry, business, and government, it is still "the outstanding form of individual economic enterprise."
He goes on to note,
"A family farm of the type and dimensions stipulated by our theory --- one `on which the operator, with the help of his family and perhaps a moderate amount of outside labor, can make a satisfactory living and maintain the farm's productivity and assets' --- affords scope for a citizen to live and work more or less on his own terms, to develop the initiative and resourcefulness, the sense of responsibility and the self-respect that have always and everywhere been considered among the greatest assets of democracy."
And, in concluding this thought, Griswold poses the quintessential question:

"If we still count them as such, not symbolically, but concretely and instrumentally, like our physical resources and our geographical position, we will support family farming as we will all socially constructive individual enterprise. The question is, do we really believe in free enterprise in these vital terms?"


Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has called for legislation to require labels on all genetically altered products, and a reevaluation of public policy towards genetically altered life forms. Polling has shown that about 90% of the public supports labeling on genetically-engineered foods.

“Consumers have a right to know what they are buying when they go to the
supermarket, and farmers have a right to know what they are planting in
their fields,” Nader told reporters recently after a Des Moines, Iowa rally.

“Farmers were not even informed that StarLink had not been approved for human consumption until Aventis began contacting them in an attempt to insure that the corn was not mixed with shipments bound for use in food produced for humans. We need to devolve power from corporate agribusiness to the farmers and consumers who should rightfully control food production in this country.”

Nader said that the recent taco shell recall provides an example of the
potential dangers of genetically altered crops to consumers, some of
whom could expect to suffer allergic reactions to the modified corn, and
demanded that President Clinton not give into calls from Aventis and
other food industry companies to have StarLink exempted from the current
regulatory guidelines.

“Such a move would only reward the biotech industry for its malfeasance,” Nader said.

“Genetic engineering of food has far outrun the science that must be its first governing discipline. Many unknowns attend the insertion of genes across species, from ecological risks to food allergies,” Nader said. “We need a dramatic shift away from the industry-dominated laissez-faire non-regulation of GMOs.”  Nader has specifically proposed:

* Halting release of genetically altered plants into the environment until comprehensive, independent studies are performed as to environmental and food safety risks under a regulatory framework
* Exempting life forms from the purview of patent laws in order to allow
broader research and safety testing opportunities by academia and
* Placing liability for harm on the owners or licensees of biotechnology
patent rights in the event of damages caused by environmental release
* Labeling food containing any genetically altered ingredients

Nader also questioned why Iowa State University would enter into the
Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), a consortium of universities,
research centers, and biotechnology corporations, when their own
scientists have raised troubling questions about the safety of genetically modified foods.  “BIO is essentially a front for the agribusiness industry, opposing any additional labeling, regulation, or oversight while supporting the failed pro-globalization trade policies  that have brought crisis to American family farmers,” Nader said.

“This sort of alliance will serve to crowd out the possibility of research emphasis on organic, sustainable,  environmentally-friendly farming methods.”


In his acceptance speech before the Democratic convention last summer in Los Angeles, California Vice President Al Gore pledged “to carry reform of welfare to the next level.” Considering the past record of the Clinton-Gore Administration’s  “ending welfare as we know it,” with its Direct Job Placement “initiative” as its centerpiece, Gore’s convention pledge should be to the continuing delight of corporate agribusiness.

Christopher Hitchens in his book No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family (Verso, New York: 1999) reports that “in Missouri, under the Direct Job Placement scheme (such schemes are always known officially as `initiatives’),  the state bureaucracy mutates itself into a hiring hall for cheap labor in junk-nutrition conglomerates such as Tyson Foods. Welfare recipients are told to sign on and gut fifty chickens a minute, or be wiped from the rolls of the new Poor Law. They are directed to an industry which is well used to turnover among employees.”

Citing from an essay by Christopher Cook in the Progressive, Hitchens notes:

“As one woman on welfare discovered [never mind her name], even having a newborn baby and no means of transportation is no excuse. When the thirty-year old mother informed her case managers of these extenuating circumstances, they were not sympathetic. `They told her she had to work at Tyson’s even if she had to walk to get there --- a six mile trek’ says Helen Chewning, a former family advocate with the Missouri Valley Human Resource Center in Sedalla. `They sanctioned her while she was pregnant,`’ and then ordered her to work at Tyson’s when her baby was just eleven days old. She hasn’t had any income for six months. How are they suppose to live.’”

Hitchens goes on to explain that “the process of `sanctioning’ --- the new state euphemism for coercion via the threat of cut-off --- involves facing defenseless people with the rather old choice between `work or starve.’ It is the tactic by which welfare rolls are being `trimmed,’ if you will allow another Clintonian euphemism. You can be `sanctioned’ if you refuse any job, or miss any interview.

“I do not select Missouri because it’s a famously unsentimental state. I select it because President Clinton, in an August, 1997 address to businessmen in St. Louis, touted it as the model laboratory for his welfare reform. It’s useful only for dialectical purposes to mention that Tyson Foods use the Direct Job Placement scheme as its taxpayer-funded recruiting sergeant.

“The first shock of recognition, experienced by those who supposed to be grateful for a dose of nonalienated and dignified labor, is the `puller job.’ This involves gutting birds --- later to provide tasteless nourishment at the tables of the badly off --- a rapid rate. The fingernails of the inexperienced are likely to be the first to go, dissolved in bacteria and chicken fat.”

The journalist reports that of Missouri’s 103,000 poultry workers, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost one third endured an injury or an illness in 1995 alone.

“That this may be an undercounting is suggested by the experience of one hard-pressed toiler on the Tyson chicken-thigh assembly line named Jason Wolfe: `They want you to hang forty or fifty of these birds in a minute, for four or five hours straight, without a break. If you miss any, they threaten to fire you.’ He himself was fired because of too many `sick days.` Supplied by the state with a fearful, docile labor force, the workhouse masters are relatively untroubled by unions, or by any back-talk from the staff.”

Hitchens notes: “I pause again to note that Tyson Foods, which is based in Arkansas, has spread a banquet of donations before Bill Clinton ever since his boyhood as a candidate, and that its famously colorful chairman Don Tyson sits in a corporate-sanctum modeled to scale on the Oval Office itself, with the doorknobs shaped in ovals to resemble chicken eggs.

“Truly was it said that the poor have such people always with them.”


Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principle

--- Concluding remarks by Ralph Nader before 12,000 supporters  attending a national televised campaign rally in the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 2000