Rural America

Friday, Feb 23, 2018, 3:00 pm  ·  By Jim Goodman

With the USDA’s Blessing, CAFOs Are Driving Organic Dairy Farmers Out of Business

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

As dairy farmers have seen many times in the past, a glut of milk has flooded the market and dropped farm pay prices to the point that some farmers will be forced out of business. Generally it is the smaller farmers that go first. For them, credit, which is needed to try and ride out the storm, is harder to come by.

CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) seem to be the preferred method of dairy production in the United States. Processors and retailers like the model—sort of a one stop shop to get as much milk as you need. Consistent volume of production pretty much year round makes sourcing easy and no pesky farmer co-ops complaining about low prices need be involved.

I personally never thought the CAFO model would show up in the organic dairy business, at least in my lifetime. Sadly I was very wrong. Large dairy farms, mostly in the Western United States, in recent years have ramped up production to the point that there is now a glut of organic milk on the market, and our prices, like those of overproducing conventional farmers, have fallen well below the cost of production. We are all slowly going broke and going out of business.

More

Thursday, Feb 22, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Joseph Bullington

Standing Rock Felony Defendants Take Plea Deals, Still Face Years in Prison

October 27, 2016—A water protector roadblock on County Road 134, north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, attempts to slow law enforcement’s advance and prevent them from flanking the front line camp.   (Image: Law Enforcement Photo / The Intercept)

In recent weeks, three Native American water protectors, each facing multiple federal felony charges and over a decade in prison, have accepted non-cooperating plea agreements rather than stand trial in North Dakota.

Red Fawn Fallis, Michael “Rattler” Markus, and Michael “Little Feather” Giron are among the six people indicted for federal felonies—the harshest charges so far filed against participants in the monthslong struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from crossing the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Lakota’s reservation in North Dakota.

All the federal felony charges stem from October 27, 2016—a day that would turn out to be decisive in the battle over the pipeline.

More

Monday, Feb 19, 2018, 9:00 am  ·  By Matthew Gritter

Trump on America’s Hungry: Let Them Eat “Harvest Boxes”

The first food stamp (above) was issued on April 20, 1939.   (Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

The Trump administration would like to slash what the government spends on food for low-income Americans.

Its latest budget proposal calls for reducing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outlays by $200 billion over the next decade and replacing about half of the aid delivered through this mainstay of the American safety net with what it’s calling “harvest boxes” of nonperishable items like pasta, canned meat and peanut butter. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says this new approach would cut costs and give states, which administer the SNAP program, “flexibility.” 

While researching the history of SNAP and other government efforts to help Americans who face economic hardship get enough to eat, I have been struck by how, while the leaders who pioneered the program and its precursors were Democrats, it has long benefited from bipartisan support. Even as other welfare spending was cut, the kind of assistance that used to be called food stamps has persisted.

More

Thursday, Feb 15, 2018, 6:00 am  ·  By Evaggelos Vallianatos

A New Look at the Wartime History of Pesticides

A mother and child wear gas-masks as they pass a notice saying "Warning. Tear Gas Is Being Discharged."   (Image: Central Press/Getty Images)

When I entered the Office of Pesticide Programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, I knew practically nothing about pesticides. Though I had taken classes in chemistry in college and had even written my first book about industrialized agriculture, nothing prepared me for the secrets I uncovered during 25 years of work in a bureaucracy designed and brought up to keep secrets.

My colleagues opened my eyes to the secret world of chemical sprays deceptively known as pesticides. They kept answering my questions and, more than that, they started giving me their memos, briefings and scientific papers. They did not see much controversy in the “regulation” of pesticides. Most thought pesticides were necessary for farming.

In fact, EPA economists always defended pesticides, suggesting that without them food prices would go through the roof. Other EPA scientists like biologists, ecologists, chemists and toxicologists monitored those chemicals for ecological and health effects. They had read the pesticide law—The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act—and, some of them, were authors of regulations for their use on farms, lawns, homes, factories and the natural world.

Who was going to object to the killing of “pests” like insects, rodents, fungi, and weeds?

It did not take me long to object to the use of pesticides, however. My knowledge about these chemicals increased rapidly. The writings of my colleagues and the discussions I had with them convinced me pesticides were more than pesticides. They are petrochemical biocides. They kill everything.

More

Tuesday, Feb 13, 2018, 3:00 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

How Big Ag Is Borrowing Big Tobacco’s Playbook

Hogs in a concentrated animal feeding operation (left) and cigarettes in production.   (Images: 80000hours.org / SciDev.net)

Questions of “sound science” and “burden of proof” invariably arise from conflicting indictments and defenses of industrial agricultural as either a threat or service to public interests. Defenders invariably insist that any regulation of industrial agriculture should be based on sound science, which places the burden of proof on the public rather than the perpetrator. In the absence of a scientific consensus, the precautionary principle would place the burden of proof on industrial agriculture rather than the public. Not surprisingly, the agricultural agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the architect of industrial agricultural policy, lists its support of “science-based decisions” and opposition to the “precautionary principle” among its public policy priorities.

In a recent column, agricultural journalist Alan Guebert wrote: “For more than 20 years, farm and ranch groups, Congress, and Big Agbiz have used the phrase ‘sound science’ like a sharp shovel to undermine agricultural policy they want to alter or bury. Ask them to define ‘sound science,’ however, and you’ll get no clear explanation. That’s because ‘sound science’ is a political weapon, not a branch of knowledge.”

Another recent column by Washington Post health columnist, Christie Aschwanden, points out, “The sound science tactic exploits a fundamental feature of the scientific process: Science does not produce absolute certainty. Science is a process rather than an answer.” It is not scientifically correct to claim that a given scientific study or collection of studies actually prove anything. Science can only increase or decrease the confidence of scientists regarding the validity of fallacy of something—not provide absolute proof. Still, the defenders of industrial agriculture do not accept even a “scientific consensus” as “sound science.”

More

Monday, Feb 12, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Alison Stine

My County is Poor and Remote. Fracking Companies Think They Can Abuse It.

Demonstrators in Athens County, Ohio, rally in support of the "Athens Eight"—eight local farmers and business owners who were arrested after blocking frack waste trucks from accessing an injection well site in 2014.   (Image: Appalachia Resist)

My southeastern Ohio town in the Appalachian foothills is a small, rural place where the demolition derby is a hot ticket, Walmart is the biggest store, and people in the surrounding villages must often drive for 30 minutes to grocery shop.

Athens holds the unfortunate distinction of being the poorest county in the state: an area that is both stunning—with rolling hills, rocky cliffs, pastures, and ravines—and inaccessible, far from industry.

It’s here, at the Hazel Ginsburg well in Alexander Township, that fracking companies dump their waste. Trucks ship that sludge of toxic chemicals and undrinkable water across the country and inject it into my county’s forgotten ground.

My step-grandmother, the daughter of a Kentucky miner, used to tell me stories of washing her clothes in polluted red water, downstream from mines. Coal companies exploited employees like her father, paying him in company scrip and keeping him poor and exploiting the land.

That kind of abuse continues. It’s just changed shape. The Ginsburg well has a long history of violations, so many that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources ordered it shut.

It was not.

More

Thursday, Feb 8, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

The Community Rights Movement to the New Hampshire House: Let the People Decide What’s Best

(Image: Flickr)

When you combine an economic system that requires constant growth in order to function, with a legal system that mistakes corporations for “people”—you inevitably wind up with a few extremely powerful corporations and a lot of powerless people. Furthermore, when that same system regards nature as property, thus allowing those in control to do whatever they see fit with a given area’s natural resources, long-term ecological health takes a backseat to short-term profits. For decades, communities across the country have been learning this lesson the hard way.

In recent years in New Hampshire, energy development projects and the application of sewage sludge on farmland have sparked resident concerns over contamination of local water supplies. In addition, according to the EPA’s latest Toxics Release Inventory Program ​data, the small state is home to 127 of the 21,600 toxic sites monitored by the agency. Maintaining that a weakening of citizen’s rights at home has left their communities defenseless against ever-worsening corporate abuses, a group of Granite Staters are challenging the legal ​system that in effect grants corporations a license to pollute by denying local governments the right to control what occurs within their jurisdictions.

When citizens determine that the actions of a corporation pose an economic, environmental or public health threat to their community—whether it’s a new pipeline, a factory farm, a facility generating industrial waste, a mining operation etc.—and they try to stop that entity from setting up shop in their town, they’re often surprised to learn that (despite what the Declaration of Independence says about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) they are powerless to do anything about it.

This is by design. Over time, one state legislature after another has passed preemption laws—legal doctrines restricting a city, town, or county’s legal authority to regulate its economy or protect its environment—that prioritize corporate interests over those of local communities. In other words, corporations usually get what they want because the law, as it is written, is on their side, not yours.

Instead of fighting each and every corporate assault—on people or on nature—on a case-by-case basis, the community rights movement, a grassroots network of people who’ve had it up to here with corporate power, is working on the local, state and federal levels to address the problem at its source. The National Community Rights Network (NCRN) and its affiliates in states across the country are attempting to end government-sanctioned corporate exploitation by amending state and federal constitutions in order to “codify a community’s inalienable right to self-governance.”

More

Monday, Feb 5, 2018, 6:00 am  ·  By Thomas Linzey

No More Fairy Tales: Why the United States Needs a Whole New Operating System

"The Fairy Tale" by James Sant.   (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s one final New Year’s resolution: let’s stop lying to each other.

Let’s stop lying about the state of the planet and what it will really take to fix it. Let’s stop lying about who the “founding fathers” were and what kind of constitution they wrote. Let’s stop lying to each other that we can fix everything by electing better people to office.

We live in a bubble of myths. They scramble our brains. They make it difficult for us to see the forest, rather than just individual trees; especially when the most powerful forces within our system whisper those myths incessantly in our ears.

While it’s certainly easier to blame the latest president for our state of affairs, the reality is much more troubling—that we have a system of law and government which poses as a working democracy while guaranteeing the destruction of the planet. In other words, it’s the hardware, not the software. It’s a faulty system.

Here’s what we believe:

  • We believe that the planet is in bad shape, but that we can fix it by recycling, buying electric cars, and taking shorter showers.
  • We believe in the “founding fathers,” the “rule of law,” and our constitution, and that we need to “strengthen” our democracy, which assumes we had one to begin with.

As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

More

Thursday, Feb 1, 2018, 2:00 pm  ·  By Linley Dixon

Why Is the Biodiversity Rule for USDA Organic Certification Not Being Enforced?

According to the National Organic Program, organic practices "foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity."   (Image: usda.gov)

Regardless of whether a farm is certified organic or not, when you step on a real organic farm, you know it. How? Biodiversity. While surprising to many, biodiversity is not an esoteric, incalculable quality. In fact, it is relatively easy to quantify. And by law, certifiers should be doing just that. Biodiversity can be measured in the soil, on the ground, or even in the air.

Lack of enforcement of the requirement to conserve biodiversity on organic farms is among the biggest failures of USDA’s National Organic Program.

The USDA regulations state that organic production “responds to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

If there is regulatory language that mandates biodiversity on organic farms, why are there so many certified organic industrial monoculture operations that so clearly violate this requirement?

More

Tuesday, Jan 30, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Tom Vilsack

Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture Weighs in on the 2018 Farm Bill

Nov. 13, 2015—Then- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks with Provincial Agriculture Deputy Julio Martinez during a visit to a local farmers market in Havana, Cuba.   (Image: Lydia Barraza / USDA)

Since the turn of the year, Congress and the Trump administration have been haggling over legislative priorities for 2018. Many issues are on the agenda, from health care to infrastructure, but there has been little mention of a key priority: The 2018 farm bill.

This comprehensive food and agriculture legislation is typically enacted every four or five years. When I became U.S. secretary of agriculture in January 2009, I learned quickly that the bill covers much more than farms and farmers. In fact, every farm bill also affects conservation, trade, nutrition, jobs and infrastructure, agricultural research, forestry and energy.

Drafting the farm bill challenges Congress to meet broad needs with limited resources. The new farm bill will be especially constrained by passage of the GOP tax plan, which sharply reduces taxes on the wealthy and large companies, and by concerns about the size of the federal budget deficit. Farm bill proponents will have to work even harder now than in the past to underscore the magnitude and impact of this legislation, and the ways in which it affects everyone living in the United States.

More

Next