Food System Nearly Broke
by John Kinsman
on Friday, February 27, 2009 by The Capital Times (Wisconsin)
As our government
enacts a stimulus package and President Barack Obama announces bold initiatives
to stem home mortgage foreclosures, disaster threatens family farmers
and their communities.
response to plummeting commodity prices and tightening credit markets
leads to the basic question: Who will produce our food? This is a worldwide
crisis. U.S. policy and the demand for deregulation at all levels -- from
food production to financial markets -- contribute greatly to the global
collapse. The solution must be grounded in food sovereignty so that all
farmers and their communities can regain control over their food supply.
This response makes sense here in Wisconsin and was the global message
from the 500+ farmer leaders at the Via Campesina conference in Mozambique
farmers are going out of business because they receive prices equal to
about one half their cost to produce our food. How long could any enterprise
receiving half the amount of its input costs stay in business? As an example,
dairy farmers in the Northeast and Midwest must be paid between 30 and
35 cents per pound for their milk to pay production costs and provide
basic living expenses. Until 1980, farmers received a price equal to 80
percent of parity, meaning that farmers' purchasing power kept up with
the rest of the economy. Unfortunately, a 1981 political decision discontinued
parity, and today the dairy farmers' share is below 40 percent.
trade" and other regressive agricultural policies have decimated
farms. We are now a food deficit nation dependent on food imports, often
of questionable quality.
system is nearly broke, which is almost as serious as our country's financial
meltdown. With fair farm policies, farmers would get fair prices that
would not require higher consumers prices. The Canadian dairy pricing
system is the best example that proves fair farmer prices can and often
do bring lower consumer prices and a healthier rural economy. In addition,
excessive middleman profits are taking advantage of both consumers and
As more farmers
face bankruptcy, we all face a food emergency. European farmers speak
from thousands of years of experience on the importance of family farms
when they warn us, "Any time a country neglects its family farm base
and allows it to become financially bankrupt, the entire economy of that
country will soon collapse. It may take generations to rebuild the farm
economy and that of the country."
magnitude of this food emergency, the "farm crisis" does not
appear in headlines, so politicians are not compelled to provide political
or financial assistance to something that would likely fail to bring votes.
As farmers, we are now only about 1 percent of the U.S. population, and
have little power to expose and prevent our demise. However, our urban
and rural friends could be vital voices and advocates.
the financial giants will not solve the financial crisis in the country,
but the right policies and stimulus dollars could prevent a severe food
crisis by saving farmers and workers. Furthermore, farm income dollars
remain in and multiply at least two to four times in the local economy.
have proposed fair food and farm policies that can be implemented at a
fraction of the present multibillion-dollar policies destroying us. As
the Treasury Department develops plans to distribute the bailout funds,
the National Family Farm Coalition and others urge it to require banks
receiving funds to treat their borrowers fairly by providing debt restructuring
as an alternate to home or farm foreclosure or bankruptcy.
citizens can call the White House, 202-456-1111, or your members of Congress,
202-224-3121, to urge them to support policies that enable farmers to
earn a fair market price; request an emergency milk price at $17.50 per
hundred weight; provide price stability through government grain reserves
and effective supply management; support the TRADE Act to be reintroduced
in Congress; increase direct and guaranteed loans to family farmers; and
ensure that the food we raise can be marketed to local schools and institutions,
providing a better food supply at a fair price. We need these immediate
changes in our food and farm policy.
The Capital Times
a dairy farmer from La Valle, is president of Family Farm Defenders, based