E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Even the playing field, mandate COOL

by Richard R. Oswald
Missouri farmer

(Wednesday, June 23, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- It was reported that the Bush campaign spent over $80 million in a one month time frame, largely through ads that were designed to discredit John Kerry. Meanwhile, Kerry has opted out on public financing in favor of collecting his own campaign funds through donations. The fact that lately he has surpassed George Bush in donations, combined with the spending of the Republicans points out just how far behind the curve many rural communities are.

It is difficult for me to imagine how politicians can gather such huge sums when simple public works in rural areas are so hard to complete. There are schools in the Heartland that would give their eyeteeth for just a fraction of what a presidential campaign gleans from influence seekers at a single evening fundraiser, and everything from public libraries to ambulance districts struggle to survive on penny levies. Many small communities see the answer to be industry, but countless corporations give a cold shoulder to rural development and attempt to control the competition from home grown industry through aggressive business practices. Even as rural infrastructure suffers, big business rushes to the aid of politicians who advertise with slogans and sound bites. What is real in all the campaigning is difficult to identify.

One would think that those who donate would expect candidates to use the money responsibly; to inform the country of pressing needs and policies for improving life at home. The sad truth seems to be that much of the money that goes to candidates does so not to enhance communication between them and the voters, but to obscure the issues and buy influence for future business opportunities. It is all about perception.

Farmers and ranchers are about families, communities, and country. Self employed people don't fit well in the corporate labor statistics model. We are unpredictable and unquantifiable to political bean counters except to color rural state maps in hues of red or blue at election time. Even in the face of well funded farm programs, our votes are not purchased but given freely to those whom we think deserve them. We recognize the fact that America is more important than any selfish motivation.

We all know what a Tyson or a Cargill is about. Squeezing dollars from a cranky economy is what they do even as they seem to squeeze people in the same way.

The influence of large corporations is no more evident in any branch of government than it is at USDA. As small producers, many of us hope for that lucky break, for the government action that will keep the wolf from the door and give us access to markets that promise profitability and sustainability. We want what is good for us, but we also want what is good for our people, our families, and our land. We have known other generations and realize that the future lies with passing on what has been passed to us. Yet, we are encouraged to turn our backs on the past to please a business plan that sacrifices long term investments for short term gains.

We should not be sacrificed to corporate donors.

Few issues point out the differences between corporate and sustainable models as well as Country of Origin Labeling. COOL held the promise of identity for all US Ag producers. It promised us the right to individuality. USDA's approach has been to encourage the granting of that identity only at the pleasure of multinational corporations. They will profit from our work either way, it is only the way the profit is achieved that is to be decided.

USDA, the agricultural agency that we think should represent us, in fact, represents the corporate donor who sees profit in anonymity. The same corporations that proudly display company logos on food packages and skyscraper offices could deny us the right to be distinct through voluntary COOL. We are being forced into a merger without disclosure, and without the same simple antitrust protection that courts should be offering to corporations and citizens alike. Likewise, the people of the nation and the world are being denied the freedom to select my food production over all others.

Mandatory COOL is the only way to assure justice for all. It should be the law.

This opinion piece was originally published on 06/21/04 on http://www.dtn.com