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Farm bills aren't just for farmers; other news

(Friday, March 31, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Food, sustainability and the environmentalists
2. Farm bills aren't just for farmers
3. Organic dairy being corrupted by factory farms
4. Fee based economy
5. WTO deadlock persists as clock ticks on Doha talks
6. Is Whole Foods wholesome? The dark secrets of the organic-food movement
7. Farm groups send message about Canadian Wheat Board
8. ACGA endorses Grassley/Baucus 'Alternative Energy Extender Act'

1. Food, sustainability and the environmentalists

By Tom Philpott
Grist, Mar. 21, 2006 via Garden State EnviroNews

The other day, a prominent Canadian journalist paid me a visit to interview me for his book on building a sustainable future. At one point, I expounded on the closed-nutrient cycle of old-school organic farming, contrasting it with what writer Michael Pollan deemed the "industrial-organic" way. In the old-school organic style, which relies on animals, farm wastes are recycled into the soil, providing all the nutrients necessary for the next harvest. The industrial- organic farmer, by contrast, imports his or her soil fertility -- just like the conventional farmer. The difference is that the organic farmer is likely shipping in composted manure from far-flung places, while the conventional grower is hauling in a processed petroleum product.

"The problem," I continued -- my interlocutor's eyes may well have been glazing over -- "is that most small vegetable farms these days, including my own, don't have enough animals to produce the nitrogen we need. So our transition to real organic farming is ongoing."

The journalist then asked me a question that stopped me short: "Do you think real organic farming could feed the world?" I stammered something like "I hope so," and had him jot down a couple of books to look up. It wasn't until after he left that I realized why his question made me so uneasy.

What he was asking me, in essence, was, "can sustainable farming feed the world?" To which the only wise response is, "can unsustainable farming feed the world -- for long?"

To an extent, the problem is one of semantics, centering on the definition of "sustainable." To many green types, places like Whole Foods and Wild Oats teem with "sustainably produced" stuff -- everything from T-shirts to apples, chicken and eggs, even versions of Twizzlers and TV dinners. But the great bulk of it falls under the rubric of industrial-organic -- like the wares on offer at Wal-Mart, only a little less so, these goods depend on a culture of cheap and plentiful crude oil and labor.

The cheap-oil problem has certainly gained traction among greens. Blogs devoted to "peak oil" abound; this very blog seems like one at times. Most of these discussions, though, devolve into sniping about biofuels and hybrids. It's important to wonder how we'd get around in an era of super-high oil prices.

But I don't understand why more people aren't worried about what we'd eat.

The cheap-labor problem certainly doesn't garner much attention in environmental circles. The amount Americans pay for food as a percentage of income has fallen steadily since 1980, leveling off about at 10 percent -- less than any people in history. Meanwhile, growth in real wages has stagnated. According to Robert Pollin's indispensable Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity {1 http://www.powells.com/partner/25450/biblio/1844675343 }, real hourly wages peaked at $15.73 in 1973 and by 2000 stood at $14.15 (2001 dollars). And that was after a rare three-year growth spurt provoked by the stock-market bubble; since 2000, stagnation has returned.

What these two facts -- cheap food, stagnating wages -- reveal to me is a vicious circle. We need our food supply as cheap as possible to feed low-wage people; we need lots of low-wage people -- farm workers, slaughterhouse workers, clerks at our number-one grocer, Wal-Mart, and so on -- to sustain our cheap-food system. Whatever else it does -- and it works pretty well, if you're a major shareholder in transnational corporations -- this cycle consumes enormous resources and, yes, severely damages the environment.

How do we keep labor so cheap? One way is by prying open foreign labor markets. Want to agitate for higher wages in the textile plant? Fine. We'll move the plant to China. Better take what the company gives you. Pollin quotes the sometimes-sainted Alan Greenspan on why wage growth lagged productivity growth in the go-go late 1990s: Even then, workers were "traumatized" by the specter of job insecurity, the chairman noted approvingly.

How do we keep food so cheap? One way is by opening our market to foreign-grown food. As Ken Meter {2 http://gristmill.grist.org/user/Ken%20Meter } has shown{3 http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/2/9/211544/4045 }, we're about to become a net food importer. If you think Mexican labor is cheap in California's and Florida's tomato fields, imagine how much cheaper it is down in Mexico. Another way, as I have shown here ad nauseam, is subsidies. Last year the federal government cut checks to commodity- agriculture producers amounting to $23 billion -- roughly equivalent to Bolivia's GDP. In those terms alone -- never mind steep environmental and social costs -- cheap food is actually a pretty pricey proposition.

But that $23 billion figure shouldn't make farmers the equivalent of Reagan's welfare mothers of the 1980s. The payments urge overproduction, which pushes prices down and eats into farm incomes. The real beneficiaries of this welfare scheme are grain buyers: processors like Archer-Daniels Midland and Cargill, and feedlot operators like Smithfield Foods. And, of course, their shareholders.

Back to my Canadian journalist visitor. He spoke with great knowledge about energy issues, about fluid local grids where everyone's a producer and everyone's a consumer. About food -- even though he tends a garden plot, even though he shops at farmers markets -- he seemed, like so many environmentalists, like so many people nowadays, out of his element.

Why is it so difficult to get people interested in the politics of food? In a culture where food production takes place in such abstraction, food becomes banalized into minimal rituals of ingestion, digestion, and expulsion. Food, when we do think of it, becomes a kind of sport, another spectacle to consume: chefs puffing like fullbacks on Iron Chef, Emmeril bellowing idiotically like some sort of high- school football coach.

Can sustainable agriculture feed the world? That depends, I suppose, on what you're trying to sustain. But I seriously doubt that industrial agriculture -- or its bastard child, industrial-organic -- can for much longer.

Copyright 2006. Grist Magazine, Inc.
file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/ltoy/Local%20Settings/Temp/GW%7D00 001.HTM#Food,_Sustainability,_and_the_Environme

2. Farm bills aren't just for farmers

By Paul D. Johnson
Prairie Writers Circle

Someone once said federal farm bills should be called food bills, because they affect all Americans, not just farmers.

The present farm bill expires in 2007, so talk has already begun on where to go from here. Fundamental change is needed.

We need to loosen the corporate grip on agriculture and revamp the government's role. The present system has forced many farmers out of farming, ravaged the free market in food, encouraged an environmentally destructive agriculture, and promoted cheap calories that feed our obesity epidemic.

The next farm bill should promote a freer, more local market in agriculture, sustainable, soil-saving farming, and a safer supply of more healthful food.

And we should not forget the need to ensure a nutritional safety net for millions of low-income Americans.

Let's get our priorities straight. Here is a shopping list for the next farm bill:

  • Progressively reduce excessive corn and soybean subsidies. These give factory confinement of chickens, hogs and cattle a cost advantage. Pasture production is better for animals and the environment, and results in more healthful food for consumers. And subsidy-driven corn production has given the food industry a cheap sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, a tool to increase profits by pushing calories through supersizing at fast-food outlets.
  • Expand conservation programs. Eighty percent of this money is now used to take land out of production and plant it with soil-saving vegetation, such as native grass. While this is a good idea, most of America's soil loss and water pollution are from working farms. More reward should go to active farmers who use the best environmental practices.
  • Expand rural development programs that promote food that is locally grown, processed and marketed. We need more small dairies that bottle their own milk for local consumers, medium-scale meatpacking and farmers' markets. By cutting the distance food travels to reach consumers -- now an average of 1,400 miles -- fossil fuel use would drop, our air would be cleaner and our food fresher. Increased crop diversity would result if local farms supplied more of the local diet. This would increase food security by decentralizing our food system, leaving it less vulnerable to large-scale disruption due to contamination, terrorism, insect crop pests and disease.
  • Put free enterprise back into agriculture by updating existing anti-trust law. Open to entrepreneurs the markets now dominated by the giants of food handling and processing that cut special deals with retailers. Huge meatpacker Tyson, for example, does this with Wal-Mart, effectively shutting out local meat producers.
  • Redirect agricultural research at public universities toward development of more sustainable, environmentally friendly farm practices. Today's university research is too heavily influenced by the interests of corporations that supply farmers and process food.
  • Embrace the idea that in a just society, no one should go hungry or malnourished. This means that, despite the pressure of federal budget deficits, we must provide ample support for school lunch programs and food stamps, which are funded by farm bills.

Every U.S. senator and representative will have a vote on the next farm bill, which will affect your land, your water, your community, your supermarket and the food on your plate. If this matters to you, give them an earful.


Paul D. Johnson is a northeast Kansas organic market gardener and a family-farm legislative advocate for several churches in Kansas. He wrote this for the Land Institute's Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

3. Organic dairy being corrupted by factory farms
New study highlights both corporate exploitation and ethical brands

Contact: Mark Kastel, 608.625.2942

CORNUCOPIA, WI: A smoldering five-year debate in the organic community had gasoline thrown on it when one of the country's preeminent organic watchdogs released a report this week alleging a handful of leading marketers are shortchanging organic consumers.

The report and scorecard, rating 68 different organic dairy name-brands and private-labels, was produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. It profiles the growth and commercialization of organic dairying and looks at the handful of firms that now seem intent upon taking over the organic dairy industry by producing all or some of their milk on 2000- to 6000-cow industrial-style confinement dairies.

"Consumers who pay premium prices for organic products do so believing that they are produced with a different kind of environmental ethic, a different kind of animal husbandry ethic, and social justice for family farmers," said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Institute and the report's primary author. "Our report, Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk, and the accompanying dairy brands scorecard will empower consumers and wholesale buyers who want to invest their food dollars to protect hard-working family farmers who are in danger of being washed off the land by a tidal wave of organic milk from these factory mega-farms."

The Cornucopia Institute's report was a year in the making and involved in-depth research and surveys of the nation's dairy product manufacturers located in every region of the country. Company owners and senior management had to approve and personally verify their responses to the Institute's 19 survey questions. Brands received scores ranging from "five cows" (ranking as the best) to "one cow" (substandard) based upon an analysis of the responses and other outside research. The scorecard and report can be easily viewed on the organization's Web page at www.cornuocpia.org .

The good news in the survey, according to Kastel, is that "the vast majority of all name-brand organic dairy products are produced from milk from farms that follow accepted legal and ethical standards." But consumers should also know that nearly 20% of the name-brands now available on grocery shelves scored a lowly one cow-the substandard rating. "Even though these packages show cows idyllically grazing on grass-covered pastures, with glowing prose attesting to the marketer's commitment to organic ideals, the milk might well have come from dairies that confine their cows to dirt feedlots and small sheds," Kastel added.

The scorecard's release comes amidst a growing national debate occurring in the organic farming community over the rise of confinement, factory farms in organic dairying. Public interest groups have accused the USDA of purposefully ignoring the matter for years, which has allowed these gigantic farms to gain a foothold in the marketplace.

A booming, lucrative $15 billion market for organic food and a severe national shortage of organic milk are two factors that industry observers mention as driving the "get organic milk from any source" philosophy.

"The organic industry's growth and success has been built on a loving collaboration between family-scale, ecological farmers and consumers hungry for quality food produced in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive approach," Kastel said. "But some companies are willing to cut corners to make a buck, and they are hoping consumers won't notice. We are shining a spotlight on these activities," Kastel added.

Corporate dairy interests haven't been taking Cornucopia's work casually. The nation's largest milk bottler, Dean Foods, which controls the Horizon Organic label, has already gone after the nonprofit group by mobilizing some of their farmers and employees to complain about Cornucopia. And they've worked with other members of their industry lobby group, the Organic Trade Association, to go after Cornucopia's funders and supporters.

"Even though there are legions of organic consumers and farmers and many other public interest groups on record in support of cracking down on the companies that are abusing their customers' trust, I guess we should feel some pride when an $11 billion corporation and an agribusiness-dominated trade group are frightened enough to go after us," said the organization's Board president, Margaret Hannah. "We will continue to bravely speak truth to power."

A much more anonymous but powerful organic dairy interest was also noted in the report. The Aurora Organic Dairy, in Colorado, is the nation's biggest factory farm dairy. They produce private-label dairy products for a number of chains such as Safeway, Wild Oats, Giant, and Costco. "No matter where you are in the country, if you are a farmer producing organic milk that truly meets the expectations of consumers by pasturing your animals, you are most likely facing competitive pressure from Aurora's 6000-head factory farm," observed Kastel.

Addressing Dean's Horizon brand-the biggest organic brand in the country-was somewhat of a conundrum, Kastel acknowledged. Dean/Horizon procures milk from their own 4000-cow plus farm in Idaho and purchases more from other mega-farms, plus they are helping aggressively develop other factory farms in the U.S.

But Dean/Horizon also purchases 50% or more of their milk from family-scale producers scattered across the country. "Our research has found nothing to indicate that family farmers whose milk is marketed under the Horizon label aren't every bit as dedicated and ethical as farmers associated with other competing brands," Kastel said.

"We have a moral obligation to produce milk that conforms with the expectation that our customers have in the marketplace", said Francis Thicke a family farmer from Fairfield, Iowa. "Furthermore, these industrial dairies, that are multiplying at a frightening rate, have the potential to create a glut in organic milk, endangering the livelihood of ethical family producers all over America."

Consumers who want to see how their favorite organic brands fared on the Cornucopia's ratings scorecard can visit the organization's Web site at http://www.cornucopia.org .

# # #

The Cornucopia Institute, a nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.

Editor's Note:

The New York Times has run a story on our study in their Wednesday, March 22 edition. If interested, you can view the story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/22/dining/22milk.html

You should also be aware of the fact that Dean Foods (Horizon) has responded to our aggressive oversight with a "greenwashing" campaign. Some of their spin includes:

1. Since The Cornucopia Institute filed legal complaints with the USDA alleging organic livestock management violations at the Aurora Dairy in Colorado, Dean no longer buys milk from Aurora Dairy. What this means: They were happy to buy from this chain of factory farms for years, building their market share, until we turned up the heat.

2. 80% of Horizon milk comes from independent family farms (as opposed to Deans' two company-owned operations-including their 4000+ cow confinement farm in Idaho). What this means: This could be correct if you want to label as "family farms" some of their suppliers that milk thousands of cows, including a 10,000-cow dairy farm in California. In meetings with socially responsible/religious investors in New York last month, Dean Foods refused to divulge what percentage of their milk comes from farms with over 1000 cows.

3. Dean is investing $10 million to build a "model" farm. What this means: This project is another industrial-scale farm (planned for 2000 cows) in "desert-like" conditions in Idaho. Cornucopia has dubbed this "Dean's 10 million-dollar gamble." No legitimate organic farm in the country, even in areas of bountiful rainfall and plentiful pasture, currently operates with over 500-1000 cows, and even that is a tremendous aberration in terms of scale (the average organic farm is probably 50-75 cows).

4. Dean has implemented programs to help family farmers and has created a market for hundreds of independent farms. What this means: Cornucopia does not dispute this. Dean pays excellent milk prices, and independent farms that ship to them are undoubtedly meeting high standards. But other major competitors (HP Hood and Organic Valley) competitively match their programs. And we must question Dean's commitment to continuing to buy milk from family farms when they persist in developing more industrial-scale facilities.

4. Fee based economy

by Richard R. Oswald
Missouri farmer

Lately, I keep running into the fact that not all costs of some things are reflected in their list price. While 'lowest prices always' is the theme of our economy, we sometimes fail to recognize that there may be additional fees.

You see, ours is becoming a fee based economy.

Take hotel rooms for instance. For today's hotels, the World Wide Web is something like the vibrating motel beds of the 50's, when one thin dime would make the bed shake for 5 minutes. For instance, at big city hotels where everything comes at a price, you only get service if you pay the fee. Internet service goes for $8 to $10 per day. Much the same is true of shuttles and parking, and using the telephone. If you check out late and go home early, you may not have to pay for the room, but you will be charged a late check out fee. There are disparities though. Parity has a definite meaning even in the lodging business, because out in the country along the Interstate where pickings may be slim and rooms are cheap, Wi-Fi, parking, and even breakfast is free.

You get the picture.

You all know about credit card fees. Paying one day late can cost a fee larger than the bill. Some even charge a fee just for the right to possess their card. Personally, I think that paying $50 per year just for the supposed prestige of having a piece of laminated plastic in my billfold is a bit pricey.

A while back, one of the nation's largest brokerages was fined for charging its customers way too many fees. They were making more money from their customers than the customers were making using the services that were provided. It's pretty bad when folks charge you to take your money. It's even worse when they charge you for paying them on the spot.

Back in 2003, after lengthy negotiation, I bought a new pickup. The dealer drew up the papers on the sale but the numbers were $50 too high. When I asked about it he pointed out the closing fee on line 17. I quietly suggested that the $50 fee should never be seen or spoken of in his dealership again lest that should also be true of their newest customer.

Fifty dollars magically disappeared from line 17.

Checking accounts are notorious for the fees they earn. There are fees for writing too many checks, fees for wire transfers, and fees just for having the account. Banks seem to like to charge fees. Take loans for instance. Once upon a time it was good enough just to sign the loan papers. Bankers planned to make back the cost of paper and ink in the form of accrued interest, but today most loans come complete with their own set of fees. Usury rates are no longer good enough. Borrowers are expected to repay the lender for his cost of doing business. Even budget hounded FSA charges loan fees for low cost CCC grain loans. I don't begrudge them the fee because I get the service I deserve right in my own county, but I wonder if the fees collected by some of the proposed to be closed county FSA offices count against operating costs of that office, or go into GWB's petty cash account?

It's a very taxing situation.

So I got to thinking about the day when the fee based economy will find its way into the country. It took a while to get the indoor plumbing and electric lights that our city cousins enjoyed years before us, but eventually the playing field was leveled. It's just a matter of time before we and fee are synonymous.

Someday my local grain elevator will call and ask for corn. "Well" I'll say, "yes I have corn. Do you want that at the bin or delivered? There is a load out fee if you want it at the bin, or if you want it delivered we charge a delivery fee. Want it dry? Well, I'll have to charge you for that."

You can see the possibilities.

I understand the situation completely. We're all under a lot of pressure because the government says we don't have inflation, but these pesky fuel costs keep rising. If you think fuel costs don't mean inflation to the average American, next time you're staying at one of those fee free motels on the Interstate, try counting the Wal-Mart trucks that pass your window.

We all have to find a way to pay what I call the OPEC fee. That's the difference between what the price of oil was before the Mideast war and midsouth hurricanes, and what it is now. Throw in the recent terrorist attempt to blow up the Saudi pipeline and you have a prescription for $5 diesel fuel. Now, when I sell my corn, I have to consider what the fee for tractor fuel, for fertilizer, for chemicals, and for hauling my produce to the terminal might be. Makes it pretty hard to guess what the selling price ought to be when I don't know what the OPEC fee will be 6 months from now.

That's the way I look at LDPs, DCPs, renewable energy grants, and all the rest of the 2002 Farm Bill provisions. They're simply something like a user fee for the American consumer; "Want it cheap? Want it now? You have to pay for the privilege."

Trouble is, too many of us are out in the country along the Interstate where competition is keen and margins are thinner than the dimes that used to make the bed shake.

Big hotels collect the big fees, little hotels scramble for the business. It's the same way for agriculture. Renewing those taxpayer funded Farm Bill fees and spreading them out among more producers would put up a lot of 'No Vacancy' signs on America's small farms and ranches. Why build Manhattan Hiltons when what we really need are Bed'n Breakfasts in Boise and Booneville?

Local, renewable energy can be whatever grows or blows, but we shouldn't forget to grow a little food along with it. In the USA, what sells is cheap food and lots of energy.

It just so happens that's what we have for sale.

Our fees are very reasonable.

Richard R. Oswald
15593 245th
Langdon, MO
(660) 744 2513
cell (660) 744 4297

5. WTO deadlock persists as clock ticks on Doha talks

By Martin Khor (TWN), 13 March 2006

The lack of a breakthrough at the London meeting of the "Group of 6" Ministers last weekend does not quite spell disaster for the Doha negotiations nor the end of hopes that a final deal can be attained before the US President's fast track authority runs out.

But it indicates the persistence of a deadlock on some or several issues, which is proving extremely difficult to resolve. Meanwhile, time runs on, with the deadline of the end of April for concluding the full modalities for agriculture and non agricultural market access (NAMA) approaching ever nearer.

Only the most optimistic can now believe that this deadline can be attained. For it to have had a chance would have required very significant progress at the London talks. Even if that had happened, it would require time and effort for the G6 (the US, EU, Brazil, India, Australia, and Japan) to convince all the other WTO members to go along with whatever they had agreed to.

And that is not something that can be assumed to be easy. Most WTO members are in the dark about the negotiations going on among the G6 or the "G6 plus 4", and many are unhappy about the lack of information as well as of their participation in decision-making.

From various reports, it appears that the London talks could not make progress because the EU and the US were unable to make any meaningful new offers in agriculture, yet they and other developed countries demanded that the developing countries had to agree to very steep cuts in industrial tariffs.

The EU and the US continued to go on the offensive in NAMA, certainly as a tactic to ward off the demands for them to do more in agriculture, and probably also because they (and others like Japan) really do want significant cuts in applied tariffs in order to open up the markets not only of Brazil and India but many other developing countries as well.

The developed countries have been demanding that developing countries take on a coefficient of 10 or at most 15 for NAMA. For a developing country with an average bound tariff of 30%, a 15 coefficient requires it to slash this to 10%, thus indicating a reduction rate of 67%.

In contrast, a developed country with an average bound tariff of 5% would only have to cut its tariff by 33% to 3.3%, if a 10 coefficient is applied.

Thus, by asking for "dual coefficients" of 10 (for developed countries) and 15 (for developing countries), the developed countries are obviously disrespecting the principle of "less than full reciprocity", which is widely understood to mean, at the least, that developing countries be allowed to undertake a lower degree of tariff-reduction commitments than developed countries.

On top of this, the developed countries are arguing against the right of developing countries to fully make use of the already small "flexibilities" in the NAMA framework, such as exempting 5% of products from formula cuts or from being bound. This would steal the "special and differential treatment" from developing countries - in what is supposed to be a "Development Round."

Reports on the London talks indicate that the EU and US, joined by the other developed countries, stuck to this aggressive line in NAMA, which might have caused the Brazilian and Indian Ministers to feel outraged at the injustice of the negotiating situation.

Not only were the rich nations balking at liberalizing their agriculture (which they should have done long ago), but here they were demanding their pound of flesh from the developing countries in NAMA.

It is thus easy to understand why Celso Amorim, the Brazilian Minister, repeatedly stressed the critical need for upholding the principle of "proportionality", when he spoke at the London School of Economics and at press briefings shortly before the G6 meeting began.

Proportionality in principle means that the developed countries have to make deeper commitments to open up, and developing countries are expected to do less. In operational terms, as defined by some developing countries in the current negotiations, they will undertake to cut they tariffs by a fraction (two thirds or less) the rate of cut of the developed countries.

This "proportionality" is also a way to push the developed countries, especially the EU, to offer higher tariff cuts in agriculture: "If you want us to do something in NAMA, you have got to do a lot better in agriculture."

In actual fact, this linking of Northern commitment in agriculture to Southern commitment in NAMA is already a big concession that the major developing countries have made.

The developed countries have already enjoyed exemptions from GATT rules for agriculture (their weak sector) for many decades (constituting a major special and differential treatment for them). Then in the Uruguay Round they had agreed to liberalise their agriculture in exchange for the developing countries accepting TRIPS, services and TRIMS agreements in the multilateral trading system.

Since in reality the developed countries exploited the loopholes in the Agreement in Agriculture and did not liberalise their agriculture (as subsidies and tariffs were still extremely high), the developing countries paid heavily in vain during the last Round. Thus, in these Doha talks, the developed countries should now effect real cuts in subsidies and tariffs without asking the developing countries to pay yet again.

But at London, the same demand was being made again by the EU and US Ministers, that India and Brazil (and presumably other developing countries too) have to cut not only their bound industrial tariffs but their applied rates significantly too, if they want some progress in agriculture.

A report by the Press Trust of India (PTI) said that Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told the US and EU that the Doha talks should be wound up if concerns of the developing countries in agriculture and NAMA were not taken on board.

"We might as well wind up the talks and go home if the concerns of developing countries in the area of market access are not met," he reportedly said at the G6 meeting. Nath had told the developed countries to make their level of ambition in agriculture clear, and said developing countries would be willing to do two-thirds of that in industrial goods.

"Whatever developed countries were willing to do in agriculture, developing countries were willing to match in NAMA but here also developed countries must do 10% more," he said, according to PTI. He stressed that the principles of "less than full reciprocity" clearly meant that developed countries would offer greater percentage reductions in tariff than developing countries in average terms.

Nath added that the Hong Kong Ministerial had agreed that domestic support cuts (by the rich countries) must be effective. "For me, this is the central barometer of this Round. Otherwise any market access commitments by developing countries cannot be justified."

The London meeting discussed the results of simulations of the application of various coefficients in NAMA and percentage cuts in agriculture on the tariffs and markets of ten countries (i. e. the G6 plus four other countries). It is not known what conclusions, if any, were drawn on the simulations.

It can be expected that Brazil and India would have used the data to push forward their points on proportionality and less than full reciprocity.

The developed countries would not appear to have been moved by that. The US Trade Representative Rob Portman is reported to have said that "less than full reciprocity" remains a vague concept in the negotiations and the WTO Director-General apparently said the terms means different things to different members.

Both Amorim and Nath complained after the meeting about the unfairness of the developed countries insisting on a coefficient of 15 for developing countries.

On the other hand, the EU was not ready in London to move on agriculture. It reportedly would not improve its offer on market access, either on the thresholds for tariff bands, on tariff cuts, or on the number of sensitive products (which would enjoy less than formula cuts).

Another significant question emerging from the London meeting is whether the WTO's members are willing to consider lowering the "level of ambition" in order to allow the negotiations to conclude in time.

For the time being, no one among the G6 is openly posing the question. And the Brazilian Minister, for one, is adamant that for the Round to have any meaning at all, it must yield real results in market opening in agriculture. This means that the level of ambition must be maintained.

"If we don't have an ambitious result, we won't have a result at all," Amorim said at the end of the London talks.

He also indicated that to have an ambitious result, the "incremental approach" [in which a little progress is aimed for on various issues] would not be enough.

Brazil seems to believe that only a big push at the highest political level can give the negotiations the breakthrough it requires. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met in London, during the period of the talks, and tried again to get a Summit going.

They issued a joint statement calling for a meeting of heads of government to discuss the WTO talks. "A meeting of leaders will be crucial to orchestrate this breakthrough. Current offers fall well short of the deal we want."

However, there has not been any enthusiastic response to their call, which had been first made weeks ago. As of now, there is not much likelihood of a political summit to save the Round.

As for the G6 Ministers, apparently no firm date was fixed for their next meeting, but it is expected to take place sometime in April.

As it is unlikely that "full modalities" for agriculture and NAMA will be settled by the end of April, the deadline set in Hong Kong, the WTO members will eventually have to agree on what can realistically be achieved by that date, and what new deadline to set for the full modalities. +

6. Is Whole Foods wholesome?
The dark secrets of the organic-food movement.

By Field Maloney
Posted Friday, March 17, 2006, at 1:34 PM ET

A scene from Whole Foods grocery

It's hard to find fault with Whole Foods, the haute-crunchy supermarket chain that has made a fortune by transforming grocery shopping into a bright and shiny, progressive experience. Indeed, the road to wild profits and cultural cachet has been surprisingly smooth for the supermarket chain. It gets mostly sympathetic coverage in the local and national media and red-carpet treatment from the communities it enters. But does Whole Foods have an Achilles' heel? And more important, does the organic movement itself, whose coattails Whole Foods has ridden to such success, have dark secrets of its own?

Granted, there's plenty that's praiseworthy about Whole Foods. John Mackey, the company's chairman, likes to say, "There's no inherent reason why business cannot be ethical, socially responsible, and profitable." And under the umbrella creed of "sustainability ," Whole Foods pays its workers a solid living wage-its lowest earners average $13.15 an hour-with excellent benefits and health care. No executive makes more than 14 times the employee average. (Mackey's salary last year was $342,000.) In January, Whole Foods announced that it had committed to buy a year's supply of power from a wind-power utility in Wyoming.

But even if Whole Foods has a happy staff and nice windmills, is it really as virtuous as it appears to be? Take the produce section, usually located in the geographic center of the shopping floor and the spiritual heart of a Whole Foods outlet. (Every media profile of the company invariably contains a paragraph of fawning produce porn, near-sonnets about "gleaming melons" and "glistening kumquats.") In the produce section of Whole Foods' flagship New York City store at the Time Warner Center, shoppers browse under a big banner that lists "Reasons To Buy Organic." On the banner, the first heading is "Save Energy." The accompanying text explains how organic farmers, who use natural fertilizers like manure and compost, avoid the energy waste involved in the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers. It's a technical point that probably barely registers with most shoppers but contributes to a vague sense of virtue.

Fair enough. But here's another technical point that Whole Foods fails to mention and that highlights what has gone wrong with the organic-food movement in the last couple of decades. Let's say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there's no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile. Which brings us to the question: Setting aside freshness, price, and energy conservation, should a New Yorker just instinctively choose organic, even if the produce comes from Chile? A tough decision, but you can make a self-interested case for the social and economic benefit of going Jersey, especially if you prefer passing fields of tomatoes to fields of condominiums when you tour the Garden State.

Another heading on the Whole Foods banner says "Help the Small Farmer." "Buying organic," it states, "supports the small, family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers." This is semantic sleight of hand. As one small family farmer in Connecticut told me recently, "Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry." There's a widespread misperception in this country-one that organic growers, no matter how giant, happily encourage-that "organic" means "small family farmer." That hasn't been the case for years, certainly not since 1990, when the Department of Agriculture drew up its official guidelines for organic food. Whole Foods knows this well, and so the line about the "small family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers" is sneaky. There are a lot of small, family-run organic farmers, but their share of the organic crop in this country, and of the produce sold at Whole Foods, is minuscule.

A nearby banner at the Time Warner Center Whole Foods proclaims "Our Commitment to the Local Farmer," but this also doesn't hold up to scrutiny. More likely, the burgeoning local-food movement is making Whole Foods uneasy. After all, a multinational chain can't promote a "buy local" philosophy without being self-defeating. When I visited the Time Warner Whole Foods last fall-high season for native fruits and vegetables on the East Coast-only a token amount of local produce was on display. What Whole Foods does do for local farmers is hang glossy pinups throughout the store, what they call "grower profiles," which depict tousled, friendly looking organic farmers standing in front of their crops. This winter, when I dropped by the store, the only local produce for sale was a shelf of upstate apples, but the grower profiles were still up. There was a picture of a sandy-haired organic leek farmer named Dave, from Whately, Mass., above a shelf of conventionally grown yellow onions from Oregon. Another profile showed a guy named Ray Rex munching on an ear of sweet corn he grew on his generations-old, picturesque organic acres. The photograph was pinned above a display of conventionally grown white onions from Mexico.

These profiles may be heartwarming, but they also artfully mislead customers about what they're paying premium prices for. If Whole Foods marketing didn't revolve so much around explicit (as well as subtly suggestive) appeals to food ethics, it'd be easier to forgive some exaggerations and distortions.

Of course, above and beyond social and environmental ethics, and even taste, people buy organic food because they believe that it's better for them. All things being equal, food grown without pesticides is healthier for you. But American populism chafes against the notion of good health for those who can afford it. Charges of elitism-media wags, in otherwise flattering profiles, have called Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" and "wholesome, healthy for the wholesome, wealthy"-are the only criticism of Whole Foods that seems to have stuck. Which brings us to the newest kid in the organic-food sandbox: Wal-Mart, the world's biggest grocery retailer, has just begun a major program to expand into organic foods. If buying food grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers has been elevated to a status-conscious lifestyle choice, it could also be transformed into a bare-bones commodity purchase.

When the Department of Agriculture established the guidelines for organic food in 1990, it blew a huge opportunity. The USDA-under heavy agribusiness lobbying-adopted an abstract set of restrictions for organic agriculture and left "local" out of the formula. What passes for organic farming today has strayed far from what the shaggy utopians who got the movement going back in the '60s and '70s had in mind. But if these pioneers dreamed of revolutionizing the nation's food supply, they surely didn't intend for organic to become a luxury item, a high-end lifestyle choice.

It's likely that neither Wal-Mart nor Whole Foods will do much to encourage local agriculture or small farming, but in an odd twist, Wal-Mart, with its simple "More for Less" credo, might do far more to democratize the nation's food supply than Whole Foods. The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy food for the rich. Could Wal-Mart's populist strategy prove to be more "sustainable" than Whole Foods? Stranger things have happened.

7. Farm groups send message about Canadian Wheat Board

by Paul Beingessner
Canadian farmer, writer

It surprised no one when Western Canadian farmers elected an overwhelming number of Conservative MPs in January's election. Despite the increased attention paid to agriculture by Paul Martin's government, the ghosts of Jean Chretien and Lyle Vanclief hovered over the Liberal party, ensuring its rural defeat. For many farmers, it was like pounding a stake into the vampire's heart, to be absolutely sure it was dead. No more sucking the life out of me, I can tell you!

As any party would, the Conservatives and their supporters used the victory to claim that it means the countryside supports their many policies. Hence, they claim a mandate to do as they said they would do.

None have been stronger in that claim than the Western Canadian Wheat Growers. They maintain the election is proof farmers in the West want to see an end to the single desk function of the CWB, and they never tire of proclaiming that message.

I suppose you could wonder somewhat if this were true. After all, the Conservatives didn't beat around the bush when it came to their intentions for the CWB. Any farmer who didn't know what they were planning likely couldn't find his way to a polling station anyway.

But if farmers gave that message to the Conservatives in January, they've been working hard to dispel it ever since.

The latest group to do so was the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. At its spring convention that wound up last week, SARM delegates left no doubt where they stood on the CWB. A majority, reported to be over 90 percent, voted in favor of a motion that read in part: "Be it resolved that SARM lobby the federal government to continue it's financial support of the government guarantees and single desk selling of the Canadian Wheat Board."

This followed on the heels of a motion at the Keystone Agriculture Producers convention that farmers, not the government, must decide the future of the CWB's monopoly. Wild Rose Agriculture Producers in Alberta took and even stronger stand than KAP, insisting the CWB's future rest with a farmer plebiscite, based on one farmer, one vote. Canada's umbrella farm group, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, has taken a similarly strong position on farmers' right to determine the future of the CWB.

While Conservative back bench MPs might take their policy cues from like-minded groups like the Wheat Growers, Agriculture Minister Strahl will be more likely to look seriously at the demands of major farm groups. SARM, with representation from 297 voluntary member RMs, can make an unbeatable claim to represent the views of rural Saskatchewan. No other group has such a democratic and all-encompassing representation across the province. If SARM delegates say something, you can be sure, like it or not, that it represents the views of the majority of farmers.

When faced with the fact that farmers do not support the minority government in taking unilateral action to change the CWB's mandate, Conservative politicians, including the Prime Minister, have fallen back on the assertion that it represents party policy, and therefore they will do it. Being elected gives them that right.

It is a very weak answer. No voter could even know all the official policies of any political party, let alone support each and every one. A wise government would understand this and put aside those policies that don't reflect the will of the majority. Mind you, a government ruled by an ironclad ideology might not. Such governments tend to be rather temporary in Canada.

While the major farm groups in the Prairie Provinces take a similar position on the CWB, the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan is alone in its unwillingness to articulate a clear policy. APAS' official position is somewhat convoluted and begins by saying that the issue of the CWB tends to divide producers. In that context, APAS says it will not " take sides on the philosophical issue of the CWB's existence."

If the resolutions coming from SARM, KAP and WRAP are any indication, the divide between producers has a very large group on one side and a very small one on the other. As an organization still struggling to grow, the APAS position seems motivated by the belief it will lose members if it takes a position on either side of the CWB debate. When debate about the CWB arises at APAS conventions, it is quickly scuttled.

By refusing to allow this debate, APAS is making a mistake. Whether or not farmers have the power to determine their marketing structures has implications for many farm issues. Failing to deal with this serves neither APAS nor farmers well.

(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax beingessner@sasktel.net

8. ACGA Endorses Grassley/Baucus 'Alternative Energy Extender Act'

For Immediate Release
Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330

WASHINGTON ­ March 21, 2006 ­The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) has endorsed the "Alternative Energy Extender Act" (S 2401) introduced recently by Senators Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Max Baucus, D-Mont . ACGA President Keith Bolin, a corn and swine farmer from Manlius, Ill., commended the Senators for their initiative and leadership in introducing the legislation.

"This Grassley-Baucus proposal will provide the certainty required within the financial sector for its continued support of the expansion of critical renewable energy infrastructure," said Bolin. "Passage and enactment of this legislation will help farmers move America towards energy independence.

T he Alternative Energy Extender Act includes provisions to:

  • Extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable electricity production for three years for wind generated electricity and other renewable electric generation.
  • Extend the excise and income tax credit for biodiesel, biodiesel mixtures, and renewable diesel until 2010.
  • Authorize additional funding for issuance of Clean Renewable Energy Bondsas enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to support renewable investment by municipal power authorities, rural cooperatives and tribes.
  • Extend for one-year the 30 percent tax credit, enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, for the cost of installing clean-fuel vehicle refueling equipment.

"The bottom line is that our nation needs a national energy policy which ensures affordability and reliability through diverse, decentralized, domestic and renewable energy sources," concluded Bolin.