Letter from Langdon: Voices Rising


Published in The Yonder, 8/17/11
by Richard Oswald

For the past 13 years, members of the Organization for Competitive Markets have gathered to talk about unfair markets and antitrust violations in the agriculture business. The voices were rising again last week in Kansas City.

Agriculture and the people who build lives around it have never really been known to cry wolf. We seek understanding and occasionally we argue for fair treatment, but creating problems where none exist is something few of us do.

If there’s anything life on the land teaches it’s self-reliance. America’s farmers and ranchers don’t beg for assistance because they’re just too busy to take the time.

Occasionally when things get bad enough, leaders emerge who speak up for the rest of us. That’s what the Organization for Competitive Markets does. It speaks up, and that’s why the theme of the 13th annual OCM Food and Agriculture Conference was titled “Voices
Rising from the Land.”

The first voice we heard was when Mike Callicrate opened the meeting.

Mike’s voice is well known among many in the beef industry, not only because he has always spoken up against packer power and market concentration but also because he has long been
a pioneer in the farm-to-community food movement.

Mike came through loud and clear when he told the audience that a wealth of food is created on America’s farms and ranches while big agribusiness performs the task of marketing and distribution. In Mike’s words, “We create the wealth, they do the laundry.
They’re over-paid for what they do.”

Then Brother David Andrews’s invocation filled the room. His was the second voice and his rose all the way to Heaven.

More voices would follow throughout the day as panelists addressed the shortcomings of GIPSA (that’s the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act) rule enforcement, transgenic seed concentration, global fertilizer cartels, improprieties in the way beef checkoff taxes are allocated and used, and a nationwide coalition headed up by multi-billion dollar agribusiness concerns that want to confuse the public into thinking of them
as family farmers and ranchers.

The Promise of 2009
Two years ago in St Louis at the 2009 OCM conference, it looked like there would finally be some strong enforcement of the laws governing the livestock markets because the Obama
administration named Dudley Butler head GIPSA administrator. Since then packers have enlisted the help of many in Congress to muffle enforcement.

During last Friday’s conference Fred Stokes, OCMs executive director said, “We’ve been having a tough time getting the politicians to act.”

According to lobbyist Steve Etka of Etka Consulting, the latest ploy to deny livestock producers a voice in how they market their produce has been to deny funding in Congress for
Grain Inspection and Stockyards Administration’s enforcement arm. One way to see that a law isn’t enforced is to fire all the police.

Packer power also has implications for food product safety. “Food safety as it relates to the Cargill turkey recall counters claims that concentration lends itself to better (quality) control,” Etka said. What happens instead is that any problem in the overly
concentrated supply chain leads to instant problems across the nation for many more consumers.

Seed Talk
Speaking of concentration, seed patents in the hands of too few have had negative consequences for cotton, soybean, and corn producers in the U.S., according to Peggy Thaxton- Smith. Genetic modification of cotton seeds has virtually halted improved
yields and led to problems as funding for public research has been lost and researchers are forced to rely on private grants.

Of course the only ones who offer grants are large seed companies like Monsanto who control gene patents and place the burden of controlling the spread of these new transgenes
squarely on the backs of farmers and researchers.

“They tell me it’s my responsibility to keep transgenes out of my cotton,” Thaxton-Smith said, but Monsanto won’t divulge the critical proprietary information she needs to identify
them herself.