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Sunday, October 23, 2016

In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grassroots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who’d just been elected in a landslide.

The 51-to-44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as … well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was, ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic agricultural economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small — but politically powerful — world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University, but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the pre-eminence of middle-man food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

“Agriculture is no longer a way of life,” he infamously barked at them. “It’s a business.” He callously instructed farmers to “get big or get out” — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomerated, industrialized, globalized, and heavily subsidized corporate-run food economy. “Adapt,” he warned farmers, “or die.” The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, “releases people to do something useful in our society.”

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, freethinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting Twinkieization of America’s food. They were sickened that nature’s own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers. “The central problem with modern industrial agriculture … (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul,” said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Oregon. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The “good food” rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.

  • Buford2k11

    Just wait until these food corporations start to withhold food from parts of the country they don’t like…they can starve a population without breaking a sweat…that is because the gop is already starving the poor…and trying take more food away…control the message and you control population, control the food and the opposition will die…simple…strategery…the corporations now feel empowered by the CU decision to go full on and take complete control of our government…then they can do what they want to make us all more compliant with their rule…coupled with a militarized police force? who knows where this will end…Happy Thanksgiving….

    • Lola Johnson

      This is a really scary thought. Stalin used that technique against the Ukraine, and 9 million people starved to death.

      • ObozoMustGo

        Lola… I revise my remarks to Buford above… just slightly…. to include you in the stone cold idiot of the day award. Congratulations!!

        BTW… what was Stalin’s ideology? Do you even know? That’s right. Communist. And what are Communists? Well, Communism is a brand of socialism. And which party in America most closely aligns with the goals of socialism? You know, the candidate that likes to spread the wealth around? That’s riiiiiiiiiiight…. The DemonRAT party has socialist goals and Obozo openly admits it. And which candidate for President was endorsed by Communist Party USA? Hmmmmm……. Odd….. They endorsed Obozo. Yes they did.

        So Obozo is much more like Stalin than he is like George Washington.

        The next time an idiot like you demonstrates how absolutely ignorant and stupid you are, I will have to give them the same smackdown I gave you. Or, you can go study history a little bit and realize that the bounty we have in America is BECAUSE OF CAPITALISM, not socialism.

        Happy Thanksgiving!

        “America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.” – Josef Stalin

        “The goal of socialism IS communism.” – Vladimir Lenin

    • ObozoMustGo

      Buford… you have to be one of the most stupid posters I’ve seen in this sewer called ‘The National Mendicant’ in a long time… that means a few hours around this sea of insanity. How stupid can one be to think that a company who makes food would willingly NOT SELL FOOD to people who want it? You get the stone cold idiot of the day award for your inability to think. Congratulations!!!

      Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Dominick Vila

    My biggest problem with our agri-business, besides the exploitation of human beings and the subsidies issues, involves the use of genetically modified seeds, pesticides, and growth hormones. I can’t help wondering how the long term effects of chemical substances added to our food will be on the American people in decades to come.

    • Buford2k11

      We have been seeing it in the “red states”…or is that because of the water?

      • Dominick Vila

        All kidding aside, dumping chemicals in our water supply does not help. Remember what happened when Allied Chemical dumped kepone in a nearby river? Signs had to be posted warning fishermen, and the public in general, not to throw cigarette butts in the river because it could catch on fire! These are the same guys that some illustrious Republican Presidents who affirmed that regulations are not needed and that the best suited to police themselves are the corporations committing the “crime”.

    • Jane Caspar

      Another problem with agri-business which I learned of when my husband was in Cornell Ag School ,which may have been addressed later , was that the big business people found the hybrid seed with the greatest yield and planted all the acreage to that one crop. Nature does not work by business and greed rules, so that if one bug or plant disease should crop up, the whole of the harvest could be lost in one season. This led (within the farming and genetic communities )to the collecting of heritage varieties and the planting of seeds resistant to different things and study on what was best for the crop. I think ,in a way, this parallels the big business attitude in many things, their only criteria being ‘get the most money’ with the least care for ‘ the best for the people or land or anything else but gain’.

      • Jane Caspar

        I should have added,which I really feel, is that real farmers love and protect the land while corporations have no respect for anything but financial gain.

    • Mark Forsyth

      I am late to the discussion this Thanksgiving Sunday morning Dom,but I fully concur with your feelings for GMO’s.Neither the manufacturers nor the purveyors of these seeds know what the long term effects of their use may be,though they claim otherwise.There are some small,limited,and tightly controlled studies that already display a variety of negative effects upon pregnant women and their offspring who have been exposed to and consumed these perverted food? products.
      I’m sure by now that you are familiar with the disingenuous law suits brought by the likes of Monsanto and other agribusinesses against unknowing farmers whose “normal” crops were contaminated by wind drift cross pollination.When taking their crops to the processors and getting paid,the farmers were cited for patent infringement because when sampled before harvest by trespassing Monsanto agents on the farmers’private lands,the plants that were stolen were tested and found to be predominantly gmo.Sadly,in some of those early cases,Monsanto prevailed.The average farmer has no funds to defend himself for a prolonged litigation.
      Neither the organic farmer or the agribusiness can control the wind.The mere planting of a gmo crop is enough to contaminate other crops for hundreds of square miles.Add to this brew Monsanto’s GMO Roundup Ready crop seed.This engineered seed is capable of withstanding the deleterious effects of the powerful herbicide Roundup.The problem with it is that land once planted with these seeds is not capable of growing anything else for a very long time.The Mosanto contract that the farmers must sign,forbids the collecting and use of the crop seeds by the farmer thus requiring him to purchase more seed each year as well as ever increasing amounts of Roundup Herbicide in a failing effort to control the resulting super weeds that have become Roundup tolerant.
      Now here comes a further cluster fuck.Consider the number of former Monsanto corporate officers who sit in very high places in our various government offices,departments,and bureaus,and the realization of the fox guarding the henhouse becomes apparent..It behooves each and every one of us to consider our selves not just as consumers but also at some level of consciousness as farmers.It is high time for the collective Consumer/Farmer to grab his collective shotgun and remove the fox.

  • Allan Richardson

    I remember one of the quotes I learned in school studying history, regarding the reason for the original farm subsidies, although I have forgotten the citation. Farming is the only business that has to buy its supplies at RETAIL and sell its product at WHOLESALE. This explains the rise of “agribusiness” perfectly: farmers forced to sell out to big corporations, who can then buy THEIR supplies at wholesale, and undercut the remaining farmers, who then had to sell out also.

  • ObozoMustGo

    An Obozo Thanksgiving!

  • Kurt CPI

    No question about this. Your local organic farmers provide the freshest and healthiest food on the planet. Organic produce, organically raised meat and poultry, and wild fish from the nearly mercury-free North Pacific waters of Canada and Alaska will keep you healthy AND delight your palate. Big Agriculture GMO products are loaded with herbicides and pesticides that cause all kinds of health issues. And if you don’t support your local folks for your own sake, do it because they’re your neighbors, knowing they’ll return the favor. Happy Thanksgiving all…

  • mandinka

    Both groups make use of illegals so there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them

  • Montesquieu

    Where unleashed along with the courage and industry that liberty begets, competition has been proven to best motivate genius and creativity

  • Thomas Aquinas

    Since free markets spontaneously make us aware of where to apply our efforts, centralized planning and control are useless in free markets.

  • sigrid28

    In tandem with the pushback against agribusiness by real farmers nationwide, two ideas– “permaculture” and “Transition Towns”–have been gaining recognition nationwide.

  • Socialism is Evil. Organized.

    In part, the desire to satisfy primitive collective instincts motivates people to chase superstitions such as socialism and communism.