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The beef at the Supreme Court; Secretary of Agribusiness; Attack on organic farming; other ag news

(Friday, Dec. 10, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Below are 6 stories/commentary/ news releases dealing with agriculture and agribusiness.

1.Supreme Court hears beef over ad campaign
2. The Corporate Attack on Organic Agriculture
3. Secretary of Agribusiness
4. Letter from America: New USDA boss faces trouble with Congress and farmers
5. . Federal programs and free trade battles: What an ag secretary does
6. US official urges African cotton growers to boost fabric production

1. Supreme Court hears beef over ad campaign

By Gina Holland, Associated Press, 12/08/04

Washington - A food fight broke out at the U.S. Supreme Court today, with justices considering whether the government can force farmers and ranchers to pay for ad campaigns with catchy phrases like "Beef: It's what's for dinner" and billboards featuring milk mustaches on celebrities.

Some ranchers are challenging the multimillion-dollar beef promotion program, saying they shouldn't have to pay for ads they disagree with.

The eventual ruling could jeopardize more than 100 federal and state campaigns for other products - eggs, mangoes, popcorn and even alligators.

The programs are billed as a way to help farmers of all sizes with generic ads, but they have fared poorly in courts.

Lower courts have already struck down the "Got Milk?" dairy promotion, advertisements calling pork "the other white meat," and the beef program.

Attorney Gregory Garre, representing cattlemen who support the beef campaign, told justices the whole industry has benefited from increased exports to other countries and consumer education.

"The part that's good can't save the whole thing," Justice Antonin Scalia said. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, "There is something offensive" about forcing ranchers to pay for ads they do not support.

Still, the court seemed divided on how to settle the case.

"Every time we pay general taxes we're supporting government speech we may not agree with," Scalia said.

Some justices also seemed concerned that a ruling against the government would hurt efforts to force cigarette makers to pay for ads warning about the dangers of smoking.

"The ultimate beneficiary of the advertising is the consumer," Bush administration lawyer Edwin Kneedler said, defending the beef campaign.

He said the government believes beef should be part of Americans' diets, and formed the program to help small farmers who could not mount a national campaign on their own.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and several other court members appeared skeptical of claims the beef program was government speech, giving the cattle ranchers no right to challenge it. She said government public health experts would not encourage people to eat lots of red meat.

Beef producers are required to pay a $1 per-head fee on cattle sold in the United States, which generates more than $80 million a year for ads, research and educational programs on mad cow disease.

Federal officials oversee how the money is spent. Producers get back $5.67 for every dollar they contribute in increased prices because of the program, supporters contend.

However, Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, representing ranchers who oppose the program, said the money never makes it to the 850,000 individual cattle producers. Instead, he said, restaurants, grocery stores and slaughterhouses get the benefits.

Tribe said the ad campaign is intended to help, but "the road to hell is often paved with good intentions."

The government was sued by ranchers who sell cattle in South Dakota and Montana. They won an appeals court ruling that found the 20-year-old program violated the First Amendment.

The federal government and Nebraska cattlemen appealed to the high court, which has dealt before with questions about government authority to force farmers into joint programs.

In 1997, the court upheld advertising programs for California fruit. But in 2001, justices struck down a mandatory campaign for the mushroom industry. The court has never decided, however, if such programs are government speech. Many groups and 34 states are supporting the government. Justices were told that in California alone, 48 mandatory programs are used to promote produce like grapes and lettuce.

The federal government has 17 research and promotion programs, for blueberries, beef, cotton, dairy, eggs, milk, Hass avocados, honey, lamb, mangoes, mushrooms, peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, soybeans and watermelons.

The cases are Veneman v. Livestock Marketing Association, 03-1164, and Nebraska Cattlemen v. Livestock Marketing Association, 03-1165.

2.The Corporate Attack on Organic Agriculture

Steve Sprinkel and Mark Kastel, 12/08/04
Source: http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1208-20.htm

What could be wrong with farming in concert with natureóeliminating toxic agrichemicals and the use of genetically engineered crops? Well, plenty if you are a CEO at Monsanto, Dupont, or any number of other "life-sciences" companies that have invested in an escalating smear campaign aimed at discrediting organic farming. Promulgated by such well-funded surrogates as the right-wing Hudson Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the American Chemical Society, these multinational corporations canít stand that consumers are voting with their pocketbooks because of their discomfort with conventional farming practices and have turned organic food marketing from a small, eclectic niche into the fastest growing segment of the food industry, with over $12 billion in sales this year.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." The agrichemical industry is definitely itching for a fight.

Spreading animal manure on farm fields to renew soil fertility is one organic agricultural practice thatís under attack. Never mind that over 90% of all manure is spread on conventional farm fields or that organic farmers took the lead in developing strict limitations governing the use of raw manure.

The Hudson Institute charges that manure use increases the incidence of food-borne diseases. Hudsonís claim completely twists the results of a recent independent University of Minnesota study that found no statistically different risk in the pathogenic contamination of certified organic food verses its conventionally produced counterparts, according to lead author, Dr. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez.

In fact, according to Dr. Diez-Gonzalez, he had a very "heated discussion" with a Hudson Institute representative who was dissatisfied with the studyís findings and who told the researcher, "you are wrong."

One concept we might agree on is that more research is required in order to measure chemical residues on all food products and to determine the consequences of eating those contaminants. However, in the midst of the attacks against the organic community, arenít organic proponents right to ask "Why it is useful to demean those of us who do not use chemicals on the food we eat or produce for others? Why are we the ones who have got it wrong, when history overwhelmingly indicates that we are prudent to be cautious?"

The chemicals used in conventional agriculture are considered highly toxic by themselves and have been proven to be unhealthful, even in minute doses or as residues, no matter whether one is reviewing cancer studies, endocrine systems research, or environmental data. Pesticides and herbicides are designed to kill things, and they sometimes kill things unintentionally. Farmers (who have the highest occupational cancer rate in the country) and farm workers continue to be at risk from these chemicals, but there is little danger from the botanical pesticides organic farmers infrequently utilize.

Millions of us are also concerned that synthetic agricultural chemicals may be contributing to, or causing outright, a host of life-shortening illnesses and conditions, so we have elected to minimize exposure to such substances. Itís that simple. This is why many of the synthetic substances used in the 1960s and 1970s have been banned and why more are now listed for prohibition. Continued prohibitions have been incentives for many farming operations to adopt low-input and conservative pest management strategies in order to learn to farm without damaging health or the environment.

Large-scale conventional farms that have been experimenting with organic management are now adopting some of these methods on their conventional acreage because they are good agronomy, not because cover cropping, leaving land fallow, crop-based remediation, and beneficial insect habitats are trendy. Many new-generation organic growers are attracted to nonchemical farming because it promotes creativity and reestablishes agriculture as an art, not merely a form of manufacturingóthe fact that organic farmers are fairly paid is just icing on the cake.

Most farmers relish their relationship with nature, which is one reason why they are farmers. Organic practices empower that relationship and make the environment a safer one for workers, neighbors, and consumers. We consumers pay into that partnership every time we buy a product grown without toxic chemicals. We buy organic foods not simply for their own sake, but because of concerns outside our own personal circle.

Steve Sprinkel, of Ventura County, California, has farmed organically for 28 years and serves on the Policy Advisory Board of The Cornucopia Institute, a progressive food and farm policy group based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Mark A. Kastel is the instituteís Co-Director.

3. Secretary of Agribusiness

John Nichols, The Nation, 12/07/04
Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=2281&ncid=742&e=5&u=/thenation/20041207/cm_thenation/1_2052_1

Democrats are talking a lot these days about how to reconnect with rural voters. It's an important conversation, as much about the decline in the party's fortunes can be traced to the fact that people who live on farms and in small towns, who not that many years ago were about evenly divided in their partisan loyalties, provided President Bush and the Republican Party with overwhelming support in 2004.

Unfortunately, most of the talk involves tortured discussions about how to tip-toe around issues such as gay rights and gun control.

Such discussions miss the point of the party's problem in small-town America completely. Gays and guns are only big issues in rural regions because Democrats have done a lousy job of distinguishing themselves on the big-ticket economic issues -- trade policy, protection of family farmers, rural development -- that define whether rural Americans can maintain their livelihoods and lifestyles.

Most national Democrats -- and let's start this list with the name "John Kerry" -- evidence little or no understanding of the fundamental economic concerns facing rural regions. That lack of awareness often leads them to miss opportunities to challenge the wrongheaded agenda of corporate agribusiness and the industry's allies in Washington.

One of the biggest mistakes that Democrats made in the first days of the Bush administration was to support the nomination of Ann Venemen to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Venemen, with her close ties to agribusiness and the biotech industry, was precisely the wrong choice. An unyielding supporter of free-trade initiatives, and an unquestioning backer of even the most controversial schemes to genetically modify crops, Venemen was a dream-come-true pick for multinational food-processing corporations, chemical companies and big agribusiness interests. But for working farmers and the residents of rural regions and small towns, she was a nightmare selection.

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats quickly got on board to back the Venemen nomination, which sailed through the confirmation process with little challenge.

Now, after a four-year tenure that confirmed all the worst fears of her critics, Venemen is leaving the Department of Agriculture for what will undoubtedly be a very lucrative return to the agribusiness and biotech sinecures she occupied before her sojourn in Washington. And the president has again selected a nominee for Secretary of Agriculture who is unacceptable.

Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns, who the president has named to replace Venemen, has a troubling track record of taking the side of agribusiness over that of working farmers. To wit:

  • Johanns has been a wild-eyed advocate for free-trade initiatives, particularly the granting of permanent most-favored nation trading status to China. In less than a decade, as the free-trade agenda has been implemented, America's traditional advantage in agricultural trade has dropped by 61.6 percent. "This is a man-made catastrophe, an economic disaster," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen says of the current free-trade regimen. "Through conscious policy we are outsourcing food production."
  • Johanns was an aggressive supporter of the 2002 farm bill, which continued the misguided practice of directing substantial portions of U.S. farm-support spending into the treasuries of the largest agribusiness conglomerates and factory-farm operations. "This farm bill continues to tap taxpayers' hard earned money to keep the farm economy limping along while the giant food processors and exporters reap cheap commodities to expand their control of the world's food supply," says George Naylor, president of the National Family Farm Coalition.
  • As governor, Johanns initiated what Nebraska farm advocates saw as an attempt to gut I-300, the state's 23-year-old ban on corporations owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in the state. Johanns's push for a review of I-300 drew harsh criticism from family-farm advocates last year. "There seems to be no useful purpose in modifying Initiative 300 unless the purpose is to subject Initiative 300 to legal attack," argued Robert Broom, an attorney who successfully defended I-300 from constitutional challenge in federal trials. Under heavy pressure from rural voters, Nebraska legislators declined to give Johanns the authority to establish a task force that many expected to attack I-300.

Could Democrats block Bush's nomination of Johanns to serve as Secretary of Agriculture? It's not likely in a Senate where Republicans will hold a solid 55-45 majority. But opening a debate over the Johanns nomination would begin to establish that there are differences between the two parties when it comes to protecting the interests of rural America.

Making clear those distinctions will be critical if Democrats want to alter the color scheme on those blue state/red state maps of the United States. Right now, the maps are mostly Republican red. They will only show more Democratic blue if Democrats recognize that one of their most famous partisans, William Jennings Bryan, was right when he urged the party to take up the cause of rural America.

"Ah, my friends," Bryan told the Democratic National Convention of 1896, " we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose -- the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West], who rear their children near to Nature's heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds -- out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead -- these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak."

If Democrats want to improve their fortunes in the elections of 2006 and 2008, they should learn to speak once more for the interests of rural Americans. And the best place to start doing so is by challenging the pro-free trade, pro-corporate agribusiness policies of Mike Johanns -- and by speaking, bluntly, about the threat those policies pose to working farmers and rural America.

4. Letter from America: New USDA boss faces trouble with Congress and farmers

ALAN GUEBERT, AG COMM via The Agribusiness Examiner: To hear President George W. Bush tell it, Michael Johanns, Bush's nominee to succeed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, is an accomplished trade negotiator, ardent defender of American farmers, ranchers and biofuels and a proven leader with "executive skill."

Moreover, explained Bush December 2, Johanns, governor of the nation's fourth largest farm state, Nebraska, and now in line to lead nation's fourth largest government agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "grew up close to the land."

Right, as U.S. farmers are fond of reminding politicians who boast they grew up on a farm, "So did every mule and hog in America."

Truth is, nothing in Johanns' background has prepared him for the challenges he now faces in what he somewhat romantically calls his "dream job," running the $82 billion, 113,000-employee USDA.

After a rapid and certain confirmation by the U.S. Senate in January, nothing about leading USDA will be romantic. Johanns' will face domestic and foreign farm fires immediately --- if not sooner.

First, America's ballooning federal debt, an all-time record $413 billion in 2004, guarantees USDA farm programs will go under the knife in Congress in 2005. Already, rumors suggest the White House has alerted all federal agencies to expect heavy budget cuts; maybe two to four percent below 2004 levels.

For USDA that means the fiscal conservatives in Congress who won sweeping election victories in the Republican "red" heartland last month could slice as much as $3 billion from food aid and farm support programs.

That will be a tough diet because Congress, with Bush's blessing, already made the easy cuts in 2003 and 2004. For example, in the last two fiscal years Congress lopped more than $1 billion from 2002 Farm Bill soil and water conservation programs.

As such, any new cuts will dismantle many rural development programs, slice deeper into conservation and begin paring farm price support programs.

Current ideas center on cutting annual "base" payments guaranteed grain and cotton producers under the 2002 Farm Bill as well as lowering Farm Bill-pegged commodity prices that deliver greater government support as commodity prices fall.

Johanns' job in the budget fight will be two-fold. First must position himself and the President as a defenders of farmers so rural congressman and senators have political cover with their constituents when cuts are made.

The operative line Johanns must learn is "Congress wanted deeper cuts, but the President and I limited the damage." It may pinch the truth, but, hey, this is politics.

The second job will be far harder --- convincing farmers and ranchers that less money for American agriculture is good for them and the country.

The supporting line for that argument is plain: America must reform (read that cut) most of farm price support programs to complete world trade talks.

That script was a better seller before November 22, the day USDA announced that for the first time in nearly 50 years the U.S. will not run and farm trade surplus in 2005. The news shocked American farmers who have long warmed themselves with the thought that "America feeds the world."

Not anymore. According to USDA's latest estimates, U.S. farm exports in 2005 will be $56 billion, nearly $7 billion under 2004's. More importantly, 2005 ag imports will be (in a curious coincidence) an identical $56 billion, $9 billion more than as recently as 2003.

That means in just four short years White House economic and trade policies have taken the US farm trade surplus from $13.6 billion in 2001 to zero in 2005.

Gov. Johanns will be looked to by farmers to stop that freefall. While Bush touts Johanns' trade experience, the governor's actual experience is mostly as a salesman. Over the past six years he has led nearly a dozen one-and two-day Nebraska trade junkets to the Far East and South American.

If that makes Johanns a trade expert, then anyone who has watched a baseball game at New York's hallowed Yankee Stadium is Babe Ruth.

Johanns' best links to agriculture came as a politician; he has not farmed since childhood in Iowa. As Nebraska governor, though, he served as chairman of the National Governor's Association Biotechnology Partnership with American business.

Johanns' ties to agribusiness were tested last January when he led an effort to undermine a Nebraska law called Initiative-300, the toughest anti-corporate farming law in America. It was a raw political move to open the nation's biggest red meat-producing state to corporate livestock integrator-meatpackers.

The effort quickly backfired, however, and Johanns was soundly rebuked by Nebraska farmers and ranchers who cherish their independence almost as much as their cherish their guns.

It is a lesson Johanns may endure again as he prepares to battle for Bush farm policy initiatives--budget cuts and more free trade --- in the U.S. and abroad. Both will be met with worry and anguish on the farms and ranches of America.

Bottom line for Secretary-to-be Johanns? He's Ann Veneman with a firmer handshake and a quicker smile. The problems he faces, however, are the not only the same as Veneman's, they are bigger, too. [ November, 2004 ]

5. Federal programs and free trade battles: What an ag secretary does

BY MARK ANDERSEN / Lincoln Journal Star

Fighting losing international free trade battles and defending cuts to federal farm programs will consume the next Secretary of Agriculture, say two policy analysts.

In choosing Gov. Mike Johanns, an experienced administrator and farm son from a red Midwestern state, they suggest, President Bush chose somebody who can do a better job of selling bad news back home.

That's not something outgoing Ag Secretary Ann Veneman of California could do, said Mark Ritchie, president of the Minneapolis based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a non-profit advocate for policies supporting family farmers.

"When she brought bad news, it was pouring gas on the fire," he said. Johanns may at least make the bad news more acceptable to the red states, he said.

Alan Guebert, who writes a farm policy column for about 80 newspapers, including the Lincoln Journal Star, said Johanns could avoid Veneman's mistake and "talk to farmers every now and then."

Guebert said Johanns' main role would be to implement Bush administration farm policy rather than craft policy.

Opening up more markets to trade will be the number one issue for Johanns, and that's a losing proposition, Guebert said. Next year will be the first year in half a century that the United States has not had an agricultural trade surplus.

"Can he reverse that? Not a chance. The trend is clear and it will continue to go that way."

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa welcomed Johanns' nomination.

"Growing up on an Iowa dairy farm, he understands the need for a department that works for the family farmer," said the Iowa Republican, who added he has been calling for someone with a strong background in international trade.

"As governor, he (Johanns) has demonstrated that he understands the importance of trade to the future of a prosperous agriculture community."

As governor, Johanns led a delegation of Nebraska's farm and business leaders on a trade mission to Japan, Taiwan, China, Singapore and a half dozen other countries.

Guebert said the appointment of a Midwesterner with trade mission experience was more political than meaningful.

"In choosing Johanns," he said, "Bush can reward all the Midwestern senators like Grassley," who have been demanding the next Ag Secretary be from a central farm state.

"Geography is not a key element of the USDA," he said, "but it makes good politics."

Guebert characterized Johanns' trade missions as junkets.

"There's no negotiating that goes on in those things," he said. "That's like saying that because I visited the dugout of the New York Yankees, I'm qualified to play ball."

Ritchie, meanwhile, said the United States has lost a number of World Trade Organization rulings on agricultural policies, "and there are many more lined up."

When not defending trade policies, or overcoming crises like mad cow and foot in mouth diseases, the analysts said, Johanns likely would be defending cuts to federal farm programs.

The rumor in Washington is that Congress has been told that USDA can expect budget cuts in the range of 2 to 3 percent, Guebert said. Congress won't make cuts across the board but will wipe out whole programs in order to preserve others, he said.

For Johanns it will be a losing fight, he said. "He's going to take a whole lot of heat on it from every farmer and every farm interest."

Ritchie said the massive federal budget deficit was being wielded as a kind of whip to force changes in a variety of laws.

In Iowa, federal payments make up half of the state's annual $2 billion in farm income.

"He'll have a tough job back home explaining the changes that will be coming," said Ritchie, who called the selection of Johanns "very curious."

His name wasn't even on the mid-sized list, he said. "They went for somebody who can do a good job of defending the administration's policies and bringing bad news."

Background on Mike Johanns

  • http://www.theindependent.com/stories/051702/new_johannseurope17.html
    (Associated Press, May 17, 2002)
    LINCOLN -- Gov. Mike Johanns is leading a delegation of state agriculture directors to attend three days of meetings in Brussels, with the goal of opening markets for genetically engineered crops.
    Johanns left Friday for the trip and will return May 23. The delegation he is leading, as chairman of the 12-state Midwestern Governors' Conference, includes representatives from Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio.
  • http://www.theindependent.com/stories/052202/new_johannsag22.html
    Johanns leads talk about biotechnology with European leaders, (May 22, 2002 Associated Press)
    European leaders have been getting an earful this week from a delegation of farm state officials trying open markets for genetically engineered crops.
    Gov. Mike Johanns is leading a delegation of state agriculture directors attending meetings in Brussels, Belgium, with European Union parliament leaders, ag producer groups, and consumer and environmental groups.
    "We've been talking as publicly as we can about the safety of these products," Johanns said.
    Johanns said he expected the EU to require biotech products to be labeled so consumers can tell what they are getting.
    "If companies are required to detail the use of biotechnology ... you can begin to understand just how onerous this process can be," Johanns said. "What we do fear is labeling that is so onerous, so extensive, that it literally closes the market to our products."
  • http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry2e9b.html?recid=1741
    (Thursday, June 12, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Lincoln Journal Star editorial, 06/11/03: Gov. Mike Johanns and other Nebraskans are on a trade mission to Japan to find more customers for the state's grains and other products.
    But in other parts of the world, the dispute over genetically modified crops continues to slow trade opportunities for Nebraska and the rest of the nation's farmers and ranchers.
  • http://safefood.homestead.com/TaftLetter.html
    According to a recent news report, the Governors Biotechnology Partnership was founded a year ago by 13 founding members to explore ways to advance biotechnology.
    Governor Mike Johanns said, "The Partnership provides a platform for Governors to promote informed discussion about safe and efficient methods of food production for the whole world utilizing biotechnology. The promise of biotechnology includes new crops that mature faster, produce more, resist drought and insects, and provide better nutrition. The potential will exist to feed hundreds of millions of malnourished and starving people in underdeveloped countries around the world, especially in Asia and Africa, in a way never before possible."

6. US official urges African cotton growers to boost fabric production

December 8,2004
DAKAR (AFP) - Visiting US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick urged African cotton-growing countries to develop integrated textile production at home as a means of boosting competitiveness.

Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) -- the US law on spurring profitable trade for African businesses by eliminating customs duties -- "It will be increasingly important for Africa to have integrated (textile) production so as to reduce the costs," Zoellick told a press conference.

"It is important for Africa to develop fabric production in order to compete" in the world market, he said, noting for example that Mali exports yarn to Mauritius to be manufactured into textiles.

"AGOA is an advantage for African countries," Zoellick said, while noting that "other countries still are very efficient producers."

Speaking alongside his Senegalese counterpart Mamadou Diop Decroix, he noted that a 50-year-old system of tariffs will end on January 1, when quotas will be lifted on trade in textile products.

Zoellick also announced that a conference on biotechnology would be held in Mali in July 2005. "It's my understanding that it will focused mostly on cotton," said Zoellick, who was winding up a two-day visit to Senegal at the start of a five-country African tour.

West African countries blame US subsidies for pricing their impoverished cotton industry -- a pillar of many of their economies -- out of world markets.

African cotton-producing nations earlier this year reached an agreement with Washington to set up a special negotiating subcommittee on cotton on the sidelines of global talks on liberalising agricultural trade.

Zoellick's week-long tour, which will also take him to Benin, Mali, Namibia and Lesotho, is aimed at following up on the Doha round of trade liberalization talks of the World Trade Organization (news - web sites) (WTO).

On Monday, the US official met his European Commission (news - web sites) counterpart Peter Mandelson for the first time, in Paris, to discuss various contentious trade issues between Washington and Brussels.

The WTO ruled in September that US cotton subsidies were illicit under global trade rules, following a complaint filed by Brazil. The United States has appealed against the ruling.