EXAMINER                                                 Issue # 97        November 22, 2000

Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective

A.V. Krebs


No other time of the year do we respect tradition as we do during each holiday season and the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project is no exception to that rule.

Tomorrow  many of us will once again be sitting down with our families to celebrate Thanksgiving. We will all be looking forward with mouth-watering anticipation to the bounty that will be spread before us.

But for most Americans the turkey is not likely to be from Uncle Ray's farm, nor the potatoes from Aunt Jean's recipe, not the dressing from Grandma's stove, nor the biscuits from Mom's oven, nor the dessert from Aunt Belle's kitchen.

No, more than likely for most Americans the turkey might well be from Butterball or maybe a ham from Cook Family Foods;  someone might suggest that a few Singleton Butterfly Shrimp be put on the "BarB" before dinner, the grill already hot  from the Just Light Charcoal Briquets underneath; we might also want some Jack Rabbit Long Grain Rice; maybe potatoes from Golden Valley Foods, and someone might note that the flour in the bread is from Peavey Grain.

We also might want to enjoy some of our favorite private label pasta from the local supermarket; tomatoes from Hunt's; perhaps a touch of Oriental from La Choy; the pudding from Swiss Miss, or the frozen dairy dessert from Healthy Choice, topped perhaps with some Reddi Whip; the salad oil from Wesson; the cheese from Miss Wisconsin; the canned beans from Van Camps; some spices from Armour Dairy, and the tomato or apple juice cocktail from Mott's.

While watching the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game on television we might want to dip into the popcorn bowl  for some Orville Redenbacher's served in buttery Fleischmanns Margarine, putting another handful on one of our Budget Buy paper plates for future munching, or we might also want to "partake" of the barley malt in a bottle of Carlsberg Beer as we watch the game.

All in all it will be quite a day and quite a meal, a testimonial to the cornucopia of food that most of us now living in America have come to take for granted in the land of Freedom of Choice and the Home of the Private Entrepreneur.

But wait one minute here, let's take a little closer look at that meal. True, we saw a wide range of different products that composed this Thanksgiving Day feast we so heartily consumed.

Yet, the reality of the matter is that all that food, all those products and all those brands came in fact from just ONE company --- ConAgra Inc. --- the nation's second largest food processor and manufacturer, where six cents out of every American food dollar is today spent.

Here is a company that operates "across the food chain" --- from seedling to supermarket --- in many different products where it totally dominates the market shares and where it reaps enormous profits at the expense of family farmers, workers and consumers.

"The fierce entrepreneurial spirit that's long been ConAgra's trademark is alive and well, and ConAgrans are working together to feed people better and increase shareholder value. We are a winning team, and we have a solid game plan for the next phase of our success," ConAgra Inc. Chief Executive Bruce Rohde has declared.

"Our past success is remarkable. ConAgra has the best long-term earnings growth record among all major food companies in the world.

In its 2000 Annual Report the company explains that each of the company's 27 branded foods has annual retail sales exceeding $100 million and its Food Service branch is the nation’s largest provider of products for restaurants, fast-food outlets and other food service customers.

So, let's not forget that when we sit down to our modern day Thanksgiving Day dinners we are making an increasingly small handful of American and international corporate agribusinessmen exceedingly wealthy.

We can be forgiven, therefore, if we begin our holiday meal with the prayer: "Bless us O Corporate America that these thy `Healthy Choice' foods which we are about to receive, through the bounty of corporate  agribusiness and ConAgra Inc. Amen."

bon appetit !!!


With little or no publicity ConAgra, according to the Wall Street Journal's Scott Kilman, has been quietly pulling from distribution some flour, meal  and other commercial baking ingredients because they might contain Starlink corn, the genetically modified crop unapproved for human  consumption.

The move, he reports, made in October, was revealed recently when the Food and  Drug Administration (FDA) posted an enforcement notice on its Web site. It said  that the diversified commodity-processor and branded-foods company, based in Omaha, Nebraska., voluntarily called back ingredients distributed to food  manufacturers in 11 states, including Illinois, Texas, Florida and  Pennsylvania.

A ConAgra spokeswoman said the company didn't issue a warning to shoppers because management was certain that any contaminated ingredients were prevented reaching store shelves.

The FDA said ConAgra pulled from distribution 1.45 million pounds of  product --- an amount that would take the mill less than one day to make, but Kilman notes, ConAgra wouldn't confirm the volume of products covered in its move, nor  the number of states involved.  "ConAgra is asking the FDA to classify the company's action as a `voluntary market withdrawal,' which is technically different than a recall in that the product stayed in the manufacturer's custody."

The ingredients came from ConAgra's only corn-milling plant, which is located in Atchison, Kansas. As was previously reported, ConAgra stopped milling operations at the plant from October 11- 24 because of concerns the mill might have received Starlink corn by accident from a supplier.
Meanwhile, on the labor front  the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has reprted that ConAgra stepped up its efforts recently "to intimidate and terrorize workers seeking union representation at its South Omaha plant. Corporate executives including General Manager Stan Wells made unprecedented continuous statements to workers over the loud speakers in the plant  . . . intimidating workers with last minute scare tactics."

Workers voted on Friday, November 17, for representation by the UFCW Local 271 in one of the first union elections in Omaha's meatpacking industry in recent history. Their struggle for a voice on the job rises from the workers' frustration with rampant safety problems, widespread injuries and disrespectful treatment of Latino workers by management.

But, the UFCW notes, "ConAgra has resisted the workers' efforts at every step and forced workers to withstand a divisive and frightening anti-union campaign in the workplace. The company has refused to respect the workers' request for recognition, despite appeals from religious leaders and the community. ConAgra also filed numerous legal appeals to the National Labor Relations Board in an effort to delay the election process and divide the workforce."

Workers also reported that the company's last minute efforts have focused on misleading promises of pay increases or cuts, refusals to ever negotiate with the union and other threats of reduction of benefits. In a letter to workers, the company pleaded with them to vote no

"ConAgra refuses to see that we want a union because we want to take action and make our plant a better place to work. No matter what kind of threats, intimidation and empty promises ConAgra makes, we are united in our goal of getting a voice on the job," said Julio Gonzalez, a ConAgra worker and lead organizer in the UFCW/OTOC campaign. "Tomorrow, we are going to vote to have a better future with ConAgra."

This latest charge comes after the UFCW officially filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that ConAgra Inc.,  threatened employees who tried to organize a union at its beef-packing plant in Omaha and will be pursued by the NLRB.

The accusations include videotaping union organizers, threatening to confiscate union papers and prohibiting employees from distributing union materials in nonworking areas, according to Leonard Bernstein, regional lawyer with the NLRB in Overland Park, Kansas. ConAgra denied that it interfered with organizing efforts.

The UFCW represents 1.4 million members, including 25,000 ConAgra employees in the United States and Canada.

Gilroy Foods, a division of ConAgra Foods, Inc., also recently acquired Basic Vegetable Products, L.P. Basic Vegetable Products, headquartered in Walnut Creek, California a leader in vegetable ingredients. It developed the original commercial dehydration process for onions and garlic and now provides a variety of quality dehydrated and fresh ingredients to food companies and distributors worldwide.

The purchase of Basic Vegetable Products by Gilroy Foods, headquartered in Gilroy, California includes two California manufacturing facilities in King City and Modesto and Basic Vegetable's agricultural technology facility in Hanford.  Since July, 1999 Basic Vegetables King City facility has been the object of a strike by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

ConAgra's Gilroy Foods is a leading marketer of garlic, onion and capsicum products and is a division of the $27-billion food company.


Arkansas's State Supreme Court has reversed an earlier lower court decision that said ConAgra Corp. unlawfully acquired trade secrets from three former Tyson Food executives it hired, ruling that Tyson  is at fault for not adequately protecting corporate secrets from a  major competitor.

The information was not secret, the court said, and even if it were, Tyson, the world's largest poultry producer, did little to protect it. The unanimous decision reversed Washington County chancellor John Lineberger's  October ruling in favor of Tyson and voided injunctions that the chancellor issued prohibiting ConAgra from employing the former Tyson executives for one year. (See Issue #92)

A jury awarded Tyson $20 million, a day after Lineberger ruled that ConAgra acquired the feed formula in violation of Arkansas'  trade secrets act. Tyson claimed ConAgra saved $70 million by using the formula and asked for that amount in damages.

Tyson Food had sued ConAgra in 1999, accusing the nation's second largest food manufacturer of hiring away top executives --- Jerry Dowd, Mike Hamblin and John  Curran ---  to gain Tyson secrets, including pricing, pricing programs, cost of goods sold, profit margins, marketing strategies and Tyson's poultry feed formula.

This latest legal setback follows a Franklin County, Arkansas jury recently determining that Tyson's, had lied about its intentions to Don Davis, one of its producers, and found Tyson's guilty of fraud and ordered the company to pay $891,660 in compensatory damages to the Arkansas farmer.

Meanwhile, Tysons, the world's largest chicken producer, has disclosed that its fiscal  fourth-quarter earnings fell 56%, primarily due to an oversupply in the poultry industry. The Arkansas company  reported net income of $18 million for the quarter that ended September 30, compared with $41 million a year earlier. Revenue declined to $1.78 billion from $1.82 billion.


Based on figures release by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), in its annual survey of the price of basic items for the typical Thanksgiving Day meal you can in the AFBF’s words "be thankful for is the lower price you'll pay for the meal."

Items for the meal, according to the Farm Bureau, will be 4.3% lower than a year-ago. AFBF says the average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $32.37, a $1.46 drop from last year's $33.83 average. It marks the first drop in average price for the Thanksgiving Day dinner since 1991.

The AFBF shopping list includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee or milk.

Here are the AFBF breakdowns:

* 16-pound turkey, at $12.52, or roughly 78 cents per pound, was the largest contributor to the overall drop in the cost of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey prices dropped $1.71 from last year's average.
* A gallon of whole milk, $2.56, down 39 cents;
* Sweet potatoes, $1.94 per three-pound bag, down 23 cents;
* 14-ounce package of cubed stuffing, $2.14, down 16 cents;
* 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, $1.54, down 16 cents;
* 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $1.54, down 7 cents;
* 16-ounce package of frozen green peas, $1.06, down 7 cents;
* half-pint carton of whipping cream, $1.11, down 4 cents;
* 12-ounce package of brown-and-serve rolls, $1.36, down 1 cent.
* Combined pound of celery and carrots, used for a relish tray, dropped five cents to 75 cents.
* A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter), cost $2.73, a 27-cent drop from last year's average.
* A package of two nine-inch pie shells increased 12 cents to $1.54.

No mention is made in the survey of the farmer's diminishing share of the consumer food dollar, nor the taxpayer cost of $28 billion --- an all-time record --- as a preliminary estimate of USDA direct assistance to farmers and ranchers for the fiscal year that ended September 30. In fact, it turns out that the actual Commodity Credit Corporation cash flow to farmer benefit programs is a little more than $30 billion for the year. Besides that, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman notes that neither the costs of USDA direct farmer loans and loan guarantees is included in his preliminary $28 billion figure.

Glickman, however, has praised the American taxpayers for their generosity in supporting family farmers but also complains that the so-called "farm safety  net" is inadequate

"Crop receipts are forecast to fall by $2 billion in 2000, reaching their lowest level since 1994," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report earlier this year. "Net  farm income is forecast to be $40.4 billion in 2000, a decline of $7.7 billion from the  preliminary estimate of $48.1 billion for 1999."


Opposition to Smithfield Foods Inc. unsolicited $2.7 billion stock offer for  meat packing rival IBP Inc. since it was first announced has been drawing fire from not only farm organizations, farm state legislators, agricultural economists, states' attorney generals, but within IBP itself.

While the American Farm Bureau Federation, the self-styled "voice of American agriculture" is urging the Justice Department to "investigate" the  proposal, the National Farmers' Union has urged Department of Justice to reject it. "A Smithfield purchase of IBP will only exacerbate the current lack of  competitive markets in several areas of the country," stated the AFBF.

In asking the Justice Department  to reject the proposed purchase, NFU President Leland Swenson said in a letter to DofJ that "this deal may provide windfalls for corporate stockholders, but it does nothing for farmers and ranchers who need fair, open and competitive  markets."

In the meantime, Smithfield Chairman Joseph Luter III asked for and received a special meeting with U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone (Dem.-Minnesota), who has been an outspoken of the multitude of recent mergers in corporate agribusiness, to try to quell the senator's antitrust concerns.

"When the number one pork-packer buys up the number two pork-packer, I just see all of the dangers of anticompetitive  practices," Wellstone said. "The story of agriculture in  the food industry has been these conglomerates that have muscled their way to the dinner table, and they push family farmers out. I think it's bad for family farmers and bad for consumers and bad for tax payers as well."

Immediately reacting to the news of the latest bid for IBP Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, saying he was "very concerned" about a move that would join the nation's  top two pork processors, said his office would investigate Smithfield's  announced plans to merge with IBP.

"We will investigate this situation in cooperation with other states and  the U.S. Department of Justice," Miller's office said. "The proposed merger poses serious questions for pork producers about the  marketing of their hogs, and for consumers who buy pork products in the  marketplace."

According, however,  to Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank economist Mark Drabenstott the emerging food supply chain powerhouses will determine where agriculture does business, how agriculture does business and who does business.

But as the Des Moines Register's veteran agriculture columnist George Anthan points out "USDA officials once again are wringing their hands over the impact of food industry consolidations on farmers, who are pretty much left out of everyone's list of beneficiaries.

"The department, which often has gone rabbity on industry concentration, needs to have its spine stiffened by legislation that gives it a mandate and clear legal authority to act to protect farmers' interests in the face of growing agribusiness power."

While Wellstone and others are urging USDA and the DofJ to thoroughly examine the Smithfield bid, the nation's largest pork producer and processor has reportedly hired Joel Klein, former head of the DofJ anti-trust division, to analyze the IBP deal and Luter has reported that Klein sees no sticking points from an anti-trust perspective.

Luter, also in a letter addressed to "farming communities across the Midwest" sought to quell criticism of the Smithfield-IBP merger by noting that if a proposed earlier proposed buyout led by Credit Suisse Group's DLJ unit succeeded, beefpacking giant IBP would be saddled with $1 billion in high-yield junk bonds. "With that kind of debt, IBP would have little if any margin for error in the event of an economic downturn or market volatility," Luter contended.

"By contrast," he wrote, "a combined Smithfield-IBP would have a strong balance sheet, a diversified product line, and a deep and abiding commitment to our industry."

Yet Iowa State University economist Neil Harl says the merged packer would slaughter 36% of US hogs, and more than half in some regions. The Justice Department should consider regional impacts, he says. "If the nearest competitive option is 900 miles away, then you don't have a competitive option."

Less competition among supermarket chains drives packer mergers, he says. The top five chains control 42% of the market and may capture 60% in three years. "A lot of this is a defensive move by packers to try to do battle with big retailers to get shelf space," Harl says.

Gregg Carr, a former Illinois hog producer (see below) has a more realistic view of such a merger. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this Smithfield -IBP merger ends up handing the packers the next round of single digit hogs. All it will take is DofJ forcing Smithfield to sell off a couple of plants in the fringe areas of the Midwest as a condition of allowing the merger. Then there will be no new buyer to run the plant and we are right back to the exact situation as 1998 ---.more hogs than shackle space --- or at least that's what they say. Smithfield will then be able to say we really wanted to keep those packing plants open but it was beyond our control."

Cattleman Mike Callicrate, a long-time St. Francis, Kansas critic of IBP, the nation's largest meat packer, agrees: "Of course that is what they are pushing for. Those of us that can foresee corporate tactics have been saying this for some time: elimination of shackle space to further lower the cost they pay producers.  Prime example is Smithfield buying Farmland's Dubuque plant and then closing it as a slaughterhouse and revamping it to be a processing only plant, one that will make Smithfield more money from end-products."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's Scott Kilman And Nikhil Deogun report that Smithfield and the DLJ-backed management group "are now engaged in a Wall
Street game of chicken.” The DLJ-backed group is under pressure to sweeten its
offer, while Smithfield CEO Luter III has to make sure that the price of Smithfield stock doesn't decline so much as to undermine support from his own shareholders.

"Mr. Peterson, IBP's 68-year-old chief executive, has much at stake in the DLJ offer. As part of that deal, he and his management team would keep their jobs. People who know Mr. Peterson said yesterday that he isn't likely to give up the reins without a fight. He has been at the helm of IBP for 19 years and by all accounts enjoys being No. 1. It is far from clear he would be comfortable at Smithfield, which is run by an equally strong-willed executive in Mr. Luter, who is 61.

"Moreover," Kilman and Deogun add, "Mr. Luter apparently is irked that Mr. Peterson didn't let him know that IBP was considering going private so that Smithfield could make a bid then. `I'd mentioned to Bob in the past that we would be a natural fit. He knew that I had a strong interest,' Mr. Luter said. Asked whether he would be willing now to have Mr. Peterson work for him, Mr. Luter said: `That would really depend on the attitude of Mr. Peterson.'


Gregg Carr, is an independent farmer from Central Illinois, a former  "hog" producer who raised purebred and commercial hogs with his father and brother.  Collectively, the Carr's had 154 years of raising hogs and now feel like they were forced out because of inaction and ignorance by the nation's  farm leaders and Congress. Carr penned the following essay on the day he quit the hog business.

"I went to the cemetery today visit my parents'graves.  My parents died in June 1997.  Both were in their 80's and had lived through two world wars, a handful of    `foreign conflicts,' the depression, the Dust Bowl and numerous tough times in farming.

"My parents raised hogs, not pork, all their lives.  In 1923, at the age of ten, dad showed his first 4-H pigs.  He was involved in hog production over 73 years. His two sons started raising hogs in 4-H and were a part of the family operation for a combined 81 years. That's 154 cumulative years raising purebred and commercial hogs.

"As a purebred breeder, Dad sold bred gilts and boars to many 4-H and FFA kids for their first projects, many of whom went on to become successful purebred and commercial breeders. He was the second purebred breeder in the nation to hold 100 private auctions and the first to guarantee each bred gilt he sold to farrow 8 pigs.  He was among the very first to have a Certified Meat Sire and sold hogs to nearly thirty states and many foreign countries.

"His reputation as an honest, reputable, devoted breeder of purebred Hampshires was known throughout the swine industry.  His success enabled him to generate wealth, but he never flaunted it.  Friendships and family meant more to him than any riches.

"As I sit here talking to them, I find it ironic that it is the first day of the NPPC check off vote, and also the last day our farm will have hogs on the premises.  We weren't forced to leave the industry like so many of our fellow producers in the past decade, but we chose to leave for two reasons:  l) we saw less profitability in the future; 2) it wasn't fun anymore.

"Our farm and congressional leaders' inaction concerning packer ownership, loss of competitive markets, captive supplies and encouragement of a future pork industry destined to move production, not product, to China and other countries with cheap labor and weak environmental laws will ensure a lower, or at best status quo, hog prices.

"Meanwhile, inputs will continue to rise yearly with one exception:  grain. Continuation of Freedom to Farm will guarantee low commodity prices unless a natural disaster lessens production.

"Can you imagine our congressmen taking credit for higher grain prices caused by a drought?  Our farm leaders’'commitment to overproduce will eventually eliminate grain farmers in the same fashion and rate as has happened in the poultry and hog business.  I find it funny how their philosophy of `let the strong survive' conflicts with a philosophy from an old book that says `the meek shall inherit the earth.'

"`It's not fun anymore' reminds me of the many years that I had fun developing countless friendships at hog shows, sales and at the county fair cooking pork chops.  These life-long friends left the industry and until this year, continued to help cook chops at the county fair booth to encourage our involvement and commitment to providing consumers with healthy pork.

"Ten years ago, our county had 26 producers.  As of today, there are only five, and only three of the five are independent.  Over 80% of the producers in our county left the industry, a slightly higher percentage than the national average with the National Pork Producers Council; recently took `credit'for in a recent pro-check off mailer.  Thank goodness our forefathers didn't have such an attrition rate during the War of Independence (remember what this was about) or we would all be sipping tea with our crumpets.

"But I ramble, so back to my point of `It's not fun anymore.'  Farmers have repeated these four words to me more times in the past month than ever before.  Farming is an enjoyable occupation because of its many rewards.  But all occupations become less enjoyable when profits become non-existent.  It breaks a man's spirit and heart when consumers pay more for a ham than the farmer gets for the entire hog.  And as he nears bankruptcy, packers declare record profits.

"My father’s death preceded $8.00 hogs in December of 1998, but I'm sure he saw prices that low before.  But back then, the cost of production was extremely low because most of their feed was what the hogs cleaned up behind the cattle and from their dining table.  I’m sure the cancer that took his life was less painful than the pain he would have felt had he lived through the `crash of ’98.'

"As I rose to leave the cemetery, I quickly gazed across the many tombstones and wondered how long before independent hog production will have a similar monument."


It was on Thanksgiving Day, 1960 that famed CBS News journalist Edward R. Murrow stood in an open Florida field and opened his now famous television documentary "Harvest of Shame" by announcing "This is CBS Reports, `Harvest of Shame,' it has to do with the men, women and children who harvest the crops in this country of ours, the best fed nation on earth, these are the forgotten people, the under protected, the under educated, the under clothed, the under fed.

"We present this report on Thanksgiving because if it were not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials. We should like you to me some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best fed nation on earth . . . "

Forty years later the nation's farm workers struggle for economic and social justice continues, as Arturo S. Rodriguez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO reminds us again on this holiday.

"As Thanksgiving Day approaches, we in the farm workers movement have much for which to be thankful.

"Since kicking off a new field organizing and contract negotiating campaign among farm workers in 1994, the UFW has won 20 union elections and signed 24 new, or first-time, contracts with growers.

"Just last August, the UFW signed its first agreement in 27 years with Gallo, covering 450 vineyard workers in Sonoma County. Now, about 70% of mushroom workers on California's Central Coast are protected by UFW contracts ---  as are more than 50% of Central Valley rose workers. Other victories include contracts with the largest winery in Washington State, the biggest mushroom producer in Florida and the nation's largest rose producer, in California. We are negotiating with Coastal Berry Co., the largest U.S. employer of strawberry workers, for a contract covering its Ventura County work force, which we hope to conclude by the time the harvest begins this winter.

"There is also new hope for meaningful enforcement of California's historic farm labor law from Gov. Gray Davis' appointees to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

"Yet as the new year approaches, we believe it is time to call off the boycott of California table grapes that was declared in 1984.

"Some goals of that boycott have already been met. Cesar Chavez's crusade to eliminate use of five of the most toxic chemicals plaguing farm workers and their families has been largely successful. Three of them --- Dinoseb, parathion and Phosdrin --- are gone. A fourth, methyl bromide, was set to be banned in 2000; that deadline was extended to 2005. Severe restrictions have been placed on use of the fifth chemical, Captan.

"Still, it is not fair to ask our supporters to honor a boycott when the union must devote all of its present resources towards organizing and negotiating contracts. These current efforts include the recently declared boycott of Picksweet mushrooms from Ventura County, California, where farm workers are demanding action.

"We ask your ministry and its member organizations for continued prayers and active support of our efforts. Our best wishes go to you and yours as we give thanks for the bounty that America's farm workers produce.

"Viva la Causa!"


North Dakota Conference of Churches has called upon churches and communities throughout the nation to show gratitude during the Thanksgiving season for the abundance produced by family farmers and ranchers by taking concrete actions to address the crisis in rural life.

The request came in a statement adopted by the conference and its rural life committee and distributed this past week to churches throughout the state. According to the committee’s chairperson Karl Limvere of Medina, churches are being invited to uplift family farmers and ranchers to "remember the needs of those that produce the abundance of food and fiber that we enjoy.."

In its statement, the N.D. Conference of Churches declared, "In our thanks to God for this abundance, we confess that our society has not met its moral responsibility to provide economic justice to these producers for this abundance."

The conference called on churches and the entire society to give serious attention to the crisis in rural America and to become educated about the problems and issues in the crisis.  It recommended that actions be taken to implement a just agricultural system based on Christian principles of social justice and to minister to the needs of the victims of this crisis. Churches should help provide leadership in such activities and engage in prayer and worship to provide hope and to secure justice for rural America.

Limvere said the conference recognized that the crisis facing the family farm and ranch system continues unabated.  "The current combination of inadequate prices, crop disease, quality losses, and similar factors this harvest season deepens this ongoing crisis, with further devastating impacts upon farm families, their communities, and the structure of our food production and distribution system," he reported.

The statement by the N.D. Conference of Churches affirms a similar Thanksgiving message issued two years ago by North Dakota Catholic Bishops James S. Sullivan of Fargo and Paul A. Zipfel of Bismarck, which also called for giving thanks by taking actions on the rural crisis.

Limvere said that the conference and its rural life committee believe that the test of any agricultural or economic policy is a moral one.  "We believe the principles of a just agricultural system are contained in the ethical framework that is rooted in the social justice teachings from our Biblical heritage."

Such principles, he explained, recognize the dignity of humankind and give respect and honor to the vocation of those families who till and keep the earth.   He said the conference believes that a just agricultural system must preserve the integrity of God's creation, and create broad-based ownership and opportunity, while providing just compensation to family farmers and ranchers for their production.  Limvere is the pastor of the Zion United Church of Christ of Medina.


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