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Whom do you trust?

(April 4, 2002 -- Letter to the CropChoice editor) -- The following letter came to CropChoice in response to our opinion piece on Tuesday (Farming, checkoffs and freedom of expression; http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=637).

Dear Editor,

Back in the dim recesses of time when I was a kid, I watched the TV news every evening. News from Congress was unfathomable for me because each film clip of this Senator or that Representative was preceded by the monotone delivery of a reporter who was committed only to delivering the facts. Guys like Walter Cronkite and Douglas Edwards did the reporting in such a way as to make me wonder, was the news they were delivering good or bad? Conclusions were the job of the listener. To compound the mystery for me, my apolitical father would inevitably surmise that Democrats lied as well as Republicans, but his opinion was based on personal bias rather than Walter's delivery.

Today we have no problem with knowing what to think. Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and everyone in between will gladly tell us. Be it the nuance placed on a single word, a raised eyebrow, or detailed "analysis," delivery is geared toward letting the public know the facts from A to Z according to CBS or ABC.

For agri-skeptics like Dad who refuse to think with the herd no matter what they are told, the war of words is being fought on a new plane. Today we have Groups that represent a silent majority of farmers who don't know what to think. Many groups tax us for their own support through check-offs. Others are simply insurance companies masquerading, chameleon-like, in overalls that turn to business suits when they visit the bureaucratic jungle of D.C. Many times, producers who need help the most are hung out to dry by someone who earns a five or six digit salary as they lobby more for their own political reality than for the welfare of the people who pay their bills.

There are Good Groups. Most of the good ones may be that way because they have not yet reached their full money making potential or because their memberships are generally smaller and more involved than that of the other Groups, or because they have not yet evolved into an insurance company. They are decidedly less sophisticated in that the membership already knows what to think without being told and may even be considered dangerous by propaganda oriented alliances having very narrow interests.

Perhaps the greatest danger to any Group is the possibility of being infiltrated by those with an agenda. That agenda may be to promote a product, to control a market, or to alter the free landscape of agriculture for profit by dictating the opinions of those involved. While gene insertion has become an effective method of changing plants, dollar insertion has become a popular way of changing producer groups. As groups grow in size so do the number of employees. Along with employees come expenses. Bigger memberships need bigger parties, awards for special recognition, trips to warm climates, and other perks given to those who think and act the right way. Corporate sponsorships and coalitions with farmer groups open doors to boardrooms for the DNA-like insertion of business plans that ignore the welfare of rank and file farmer members.

The very latest in mind control suggests that the shortest distance to any point really is a straight line. In this case that means that if no group exists, then you simply name yourself a group, hire a lobbyist and start issuing bank drafts. A quick check of http://www.opensecrets.org/ reveals a few public secrets. According to opensecrets, among those groups that contributed a total of over $58 million in the last election cycle, or nearly $17 million in the beginning stages of this year's elections, are these: Food Marketing Institute, Dairy Farmers of America, Alabama Farmers Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, American Sugar Cane League, United Dairy Farmers, Farm Credit Council, Grocery Manufacturers of America, American Crop Protection Association, American Association of Crop Insurers, and American Peanut Shellers Assocation. Also among the obvious givers were big agribusiness companies like Pharmacia, Cargill, Pilgrims Pride, Syngenta, Pepsico, and ADM.

Who do you trust? With so many people telling us what to think these days, deciding the truth means decoding the politics. Many groups have a vested interest in the large payment limits of a conventional Farm Program that guarantees abundant supplies of Federal money and a Federally sponsored surplus. Do you really think that all those contributors listed above have your best interest in mind? Do you trust them?

What is the truth? Well, for me the truth is this:

At no time since 1995 or before have payment limits affected my operation. I have never had to establish a second or third entity for my family or myself in order to skirt payment limits. If payment limits were placed at those levels set forth in the current Senate version of the farm bill they would not affect me. Payment limits would not affect the majority of farmers, but they would correct the earlier mistake of expanded limits, slow the decline in farm numbers, and give young farmers some breathing room.

Packer ownership of livestock has increased. Farmer feeding operations have decreased. Horror stories abound of farmers who have tried to work with packers and paid the price of financial ruin. A Federally legislated solution is the only solution.

Country of Origin labeling is a no brainer. Shoes, shirts, and cars are labeled according to where they are made. Why shouldn't we do the same for our food?

Genetic manipulation of corn and soybeans has been a marketing disaster from the beginning. Label them too.

Patent laws regarding seeds should be changed to reflect the realities of nature and the rights of farmers whose stock in trade is life itself.

It's high time the facts spoke for themselves. And that's the truth.

Richard R. Oswald
Langdon, MO