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Dean's policy would uproot megafarming

(Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press, 08/12/03: DES MOINES, Iowa -- Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean is proposing tax and investment aid for farmers, corn-based ethanol in all gasoline and limits on giant farm operations to help a rural economy he says is falling apart.

Campaigning in Iowa, site of next year's leadoff campaign caucuses, the former Vermont governor said he was familiar with farm problems -- ``I come from the most rural state in the country,'' he declared -- and ready to do something about them.

``The truth is, the foundation of our rural economy is crumbling,'' said Dean, in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday. ``In rural communities across the country, unemployment has jumped over 50 percent and there are now 600,000 more people looking for work. We can do better.''

Polls have shown Dean bunched with the front-runners in the Democratic presidential field after he started off as a relatively unknown former governor. He gained early attention with vocal opposition to the war in Iraq and now is trying to broaden that base to include more traditional Democratic constituents.

Much of his farm policy is aimed at heading off the increasing trend toward megafarm concentration. He said that four companies control 81 percent of the beef market, and one company -- Smithfield Farms -- controls 30 percent of the nation's pork production.

``The destruction of the middle class and the widening gap between the rich and poor is being played out right before our eyes with the concentration of the agriculture industry,'' he said in the speech.

He urged new restrictions on giant factory farming operations, including giving local residents veto power over the building of big livestock confinement operations nearby.

Dean called for new venture capital investments in rural areas, coupled with tax credits for farm-based business development and a boost in grants for businesses that add value to basic farm commodities. For the most part, he did not estimate costs.

He also urged stronger backing for renewable energy sources such as wind and biomass, along with a requirement that there be 10 percent ethanol in gasoline. Ethanol is distilled from corn, a crop that is important to Iowa and many other farm states.

Dean was to outline his policies for rural America on Wednesday at Grundy County Lake in northeast Iowa. He chose the area to underscore his commitment to conservation as part of his development plan.

The appearance comes as Dean completes a tour of 26 of Iowa's most rural counties.

His speech and an outline of his policy proposal were provided to The Associated Press.

He also proposed:

  • Banning meatpackers from owning livestock prior to taking delivery for processing.
  • Requiring country-of-origin labeling, forcing the disclosure of where products are grown.
  • Requiring labels on genetically modified products.
  • Moving toward a goal of opening trade with Cuba, while leaving in place sanctions for human rights violations.

Dean has run an aggressive grass-roots campaign for Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses, and he is seeking to build on that effort by linking his rural ties in Vermont to Iowa's heavily agricultural base.

``I understand how important agriculture is, not just to the fabric of our rural communities but to the economies both of these communities and nation as a whole,'' said Dean.

He said the nation's rural areas had withered under President Bush, suffering the most from the economic slowdown.

``The bottom line is George Bush chooses his words to appeal to America's heartland, but his actions are starving it,'' said Dean. ``He's clearing his ranch in Crawford this month, but he's been clearing everyone else's ranch for two and a half years.''