Guess Which Candidates Support the Farmers Bill of Rights?

Jim Goodman and Anthony Pahnke September 9, 2019

President Franklin D Roosevelt shakes hands with a farmer en route to Warm Springs, Georgia in 1932.

In his 1944 State of the Union Address, Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt not­ed that while the Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­teed a set of polit­i­cal rights, they were in some respects inad­e­quate. To ensure equal­i­ty, Roo­sevelt pro­posed an Eco­nom­ic Bill of Rights that would guar­an­tee full employ­ment with ade­quate income; free­dom from unfair com­pe­ti­tion; ade­quate hous­ing, health care, and edu­ca­tion; Social Secu­ri­ty; and fair incomes for farmers.

Many items from the Eco­nom­ic Bill of Rights have emerged in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, such as the call for free post-sec­ondary edu­ca­tion, afford­able hous­ing, anti-trust enforce­ment, Medicare for all, and a liv­ing wage. Yet, only Sens. Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) have expressed their sup­port for rur­al peo­ple by endors­ing a Farm­ers Bill of Rights.”

Basi­cal­ly, the Farm­ers Bill of Rights aims to break the stran­gle­hold of the big agri-cor­po­ra­tions, stop the wave of farm con­sol­i­da­tion and re-empow­er the small, fam­i­ly farm­ers who actu­al­ly work the land.

Besides a fair income, the Farm­ers Bill of Rights seeks to guar­an­tee farm­ers fair and open mar­kets that are not dom­i­nat­ed by a hand­ful of cor­po­ra­tions. It pro­motes access to local sup­ply stores, mechan­ics, and pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties. The pro­pos­al intends to assure the pro­vi­sion of cred­it to women, begin­ning, immi­grant and minor­i­ty farm­ers, while push­ing for rea­son­able envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards for all rur­al peo­ple. More­over, the propo­si­tion includes the right to trans­par­ent and accu­rate enforce­ment of pro­duc­tion prac­tices, includ­ing organ­ic and coun­try of ori­gin label­ing, as well as the right to repair our own equip­ment rather than being forced to pay cor­po­ra­tions that feel they still own” the rights to what we purchase.

Why do we need a Farm­ers Bill of Rights now? Rur­al peo­ple are enti­tled to the right to live in healthy, vig­or­ous com­mu­ni­ties that have qual­i­ty schools, med­ical care, and oppor­tu­ni­ties for all. And farm­ers and con­sumers used to enjoy legal pro­tec­tions. The Pack­ers and Stock­yards Act of 1921, which became part of the Grain Inspec­tion, Pack­ers and Stock­yards Admin­is­tra­tion (GIP­SA) in 1994, was pre­vi­ous­ly known as the Farm­ers and Ranch­ers Bill of Rights. Pro­tec­tion from the preda­to­ry prac­tices of the high­ly con­sol­i­dat­ed meat pack­ing indus­try was sore­ly need­ed back in 1921 as it is today.

Yet, in 2017, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion decid­ed not to final­ize the Farmer Fair Prac­tice Rules with­in GIP­SA. The rules clar­i­fy what counts as fair trade prac­tices, which helps farm­ers and ranch­ers under­stand their rights in the mar­ket­place and impedes cor­po­rate over­reach. To make mat­ters worse, GIP­SA was then absorbed with­in the Agri­cul­tur­al Mar­ket­ing Ser­vice, whose mis­sion is more ori­ent­ed to pro­tect­ing the inter­ests of cor­po­rate agribusi­ness than those of fam­i­ly farmers.

While cor­po­rate agribusi­ness con­tin­ues to con­sol­i­date, with lit­tle more than a wink and a nod from gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors, farm­ers must take the price offered in the mar­ket­place. Now, unlike 1921, the mar­ket­place is a glob­al one that pits farm­ers against farm­ers world­wide. Buy­ers pay as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, dri­ving down the prices that farm­ers receive. Accord­ing to the Nation­al Farm­ers Union (NFU), farm­ers earn less than $.15 of every food dol­lar. As incomes have slumped over the last few years, input costs have increased for feed, seed, fer­til­iz­er, fuel and machin­ery. This con­sol­i­da­tion squeezes farm­ers and con­sumers alike because even in super­mar­kets with seem­ing­ly thou­sands of brands on the shelf the real­i­ty is most are owned by a hand­ful of cor­po­ra­tions. In short, mar­ket­ing choice for farm­ers and shop­ping choice for con­sumers have become lit­tle more than illu­sion. And Trump’s tar­iffs on imports from our trad­ing part­ners and their retal­ia­to­ry tar­iffs on our agri­cul­tur­al exports have caused even more pain in rur­al America.

So, in addi­tion to all the parts of Roo­sevelt’s Eco­nom­ic Bill of Rights that are cur­rent­ly receiv­ing atten­tion, those of us in farm coun­try are in des­per­ate need for a Farm­ers Bill of Rights.

Kudos to Sens. War­ren and Sanders for endors­ing the Farm­ers Bill of Rights. To the oth­er can­di­dates: When will you get on board and come up with some seri­ous farm pol­i­cy dis­cus­sion, some real solu­tions to the ongo­ing dev­as­ta­tion of rur­al America?

Jim Good­man is an organ­ic dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wis­con­sin and Antho­ny Pahnke is the Vice Pres­i­dent of the Fam­i­ly Farm Defend­ers and Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions at San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty. Jim can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_YoEptDLJYD’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/ and Antho­ny at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JumaIadzvu’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/
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