Many voices missing in ‘Dialogue’ with Justice Department
Part IV, reported March 26
Read parts I-III of WhyHunger’s reports on the Department of Justice’s hearings on anti-trust issues in agriculture
The March 12 workshop that the Department of Justice and USDA held in Ankeny, Iowa, was called “A Dialogue on Competition Issues Facing Farmers in Today’s Agricultural Marketplaces,” but did not leave much room for dialogue. It instead consisted of six panel presentations, mostly made up of government officials, academics, and industry representatives. There was also a farmer presentation, including independent farmers; and two WhyHunger partners from the US Working Group on the Food Crisis were represented on an afternoon panel.
An estimated 800 people attended the workshop at the Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa.
While it was encouraging that Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack were in attendance — and that Holder called the focus of these hearings “a national security matter,” indicating that the government is taking this issue seriously — the discussions at the workshop felt far removed from the stories we had heard the night before at the town hall. There was a lot of seductive rhetoric about the need for large-scale, industrial agriculture to feed a growing world population, and repeated references to local agriculture as a niche market. There was no mention of the difficulties that independent farmers are having feeding themselves or the fact that industrial agriculture hasn’t helped the 1 billion people worldwide currently suffering from chronic hunger.
There was also no mention of the strong research indicating that small scale, community-based agriculture is an incredibly effective and efficient way to feed people. Study after study, including the UN- and World Bank-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD), show that to feed a growing population, we need much greater investment in local markets, local control of seeds and growing methods, and access to land. In short, we need to significantly invest in sustainable agriculture so that it can grow beyond a niche market — and we need to break up the monopolies that control agricultural markets and make it impossible for newcomers to compete.
The Department of Justice investigation is therefore an exciting opportunity — but it is also a moment of great responsibility for advocates. If the March 12 workshop was any indication, we need to continue to educate our elected officials about the practicality of alternatives to conventional agriculture and show them that the public wants those alternatives. Write a comment to the Department of Justice or a letter to the editor of your local paper. Come to the next workshops in Alabama (May 22) and Wisconsin (June 7) and make your voice heard in person. Keep up with the latest on the issue — and read the great media coverage of the workshop – at www.bustthetrust.org.