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Amstutz selection evokes only silence of the lambs

by A.V. Krebs
Editor, Agribusiness Examiner

(Friday, May 2, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Obviously when Mary Ellen Lease, the 19th century Kansas populist, urged "farmers to raise less corn and more hell" she surely had no idea that her clarion call would be so overwhelmingly ignored by the vast majority of this nation's beleaguered 1.9 million farmers in 2003.

It has now been over a week since Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced the appointment of Daniel Amstutz to oversee the "rehabilitation" of agriculture in war-torn Iraq and yet save for THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, my colleague nationally syndicated farm columnist Alan Guebert and Oxfam, all has been eerily quiet on the western front.

Meanwhile, as Oxfam's policy director Kevin Watkins told UK's The Guardian's Heather Stewart, Amstutz will " arrive with a suitcase full of open-market rhetoric", and will more than likely try to dump cheap U.S. grain on the potentially lucrative Iraqi market than he will be encouraging the country to rebuild its once successful agricultural sector.

"Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission," Watkins said.

"This guy is uniquely well-placed to advance the commercial interests of American grain companies and bust open the Iraqi market --- but singularly ill-equipped to lead a reconstruction effort in a developing country."

Indeed, as has been previous noted here Amstutz is presently the president of Amstutz & Company, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting practice, specializing in agribusiness and international trade issues. In 2000 Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Cenex Harvest States Co-op, DuPont and Louis Dreyfus all formed Pradium Inc. to offer real-time, cash commodity exchanges for grains, oilseeds and agricultural by-products as well as global information services. Amstutz became Pradium's chairman.

Indeed, he has had, in USDA's words of massive understatement, "extensive experience in managing organizations and with commodity merchandising and international trading."

An executive with Cargill, he served as assistant vice president for feed grains and then president of Cargill Investor Services (1954-1978), then as a partner at Goldman, Sachs & Company; before serving as USDA Under Secretary for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1983 to 1987 (and president of the Commodity Credit Corp.),and then as Ambassador and chief negotiator for agriculture during the Uruguay Round General Agreement, on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks in 1987-1989.

After leaving his Ambassador's post he was executive director of the International Wheat Council and the North American Export Grain Association,

As Canadian journalist Brewster Kneen points out in his authoritative book Invisible Giant: Cargill and Its Transnational Strategies (Pluto Press: Sterling, Virginia:2002) much of Cargill's lobbying --- and that of all agribusiness's --- is carried out through such trade associations.

Guebert also notes: "Before Veneman selected him as USDA's man in Baghdad, Amstutz was serving as president of his Washington, D.C. consulting firm that specializes in agbiz and international trade issues. A web search shows he regularly testifies before government panels to promote cuts in federal farm price support programs, increased decoupling, tariff elimination and free agricultural trade."

It was during the Ronald Reagan and George Bush administrations that efforts were being made to further weaken the U.S. farm economy and invest even more economic control in the hands of corporate agribusiness. That effort was clearly evident in their concerted efforts to utilize GATT in eliminating necessary U.S. farm programs and preventing Congress from exercising any future control over production or the pricing of agricultural products.

The U.S., for its part, sought to have all agricultural programs put "on the table," meaning that all government farm programs that impact price, production, consumption, or trade in any way be eliminated. That included dairy and commodity programs, import restrictions on agricultural products and existing conservation programs. Throughout the 80ís and early 90ís these programs were the mainstay of net U.S. farm income.

What the Reagan, Bush and Republican administrations sought and finally achieved in the 1996 "Freedom to Farm" bill was a plan to "decouple" so-called "welfare-type payments" to farmers for a seven year period while they "adjusted" themselves to a "free market" or more accurately what could be described as a "transition" out of agriculture.

One need look no further than the drafter of that U.S. proposal --- Daniel Amstutz --- to learn who its major beneficiaries were intended to be.

In the face of these facts one can rightfully ask where were the voices of those groups who represent the family farmers of this nation, thousands of whom have not only suffered, but in many cases been forced out of agriculture by Amstutz's machinations???

Where was the voice of the American Corn Growers Association?
Where was the voice of the Center for Rural Affairs?
Where was the voice of the Family Farm Defenders?
Where was the voice of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives?
Where was the voice of the Land Stewardship Alliance?
Where was the voice of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center?
Where was the voice of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture?
Where was the voice of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference?
Where was the voice of the National Family Farm Coalition?
Where was the voice of the National Farmers Organization?
Where was the voice or the National Farmers Union?
Where was the voice of the Organization for Competitive Marketing?
Where was the voice of the Ranchers and Cattlemen's Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA)?
Where was the voice of the Rural Coalition?
Where was the voice of the Western Organization of Resource Councils?

One can only wonder looking over this "silence of the lambs" what a powerful united voice they could have been in raising the consciousness of their fellow Americans in respect to the folly of Amstutz's selection. Yet, the fact that these progressive "grassroots" farm organizations failed to speak truth to corporate power at this moment in history only magnifies the serious public relations problem family farmers in this country presently face.

On the one hand you have a public that generally cares little about the economic realities of how food gets on their table. On the other hand you have a majority of reluctant farmers unwilling to seriously educate and organize that same public so they can not only be seen as united, but be seen as making an effort to factually and intelligently counter the self-serving propaganda that is constantly being force fed to the public by corporate agribusiness and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This editor has long argued for the establishment of a "rapid response network" within family farm agriculture that was equipped and prepared to counter such propaganda through the mass media, the Internet, telephone trees, etc. so that within hours of such actions like Veneman's appointment of Amstutz these farmers would be "raising less corn and more hell" in a united outcry surely loud enough to be heard by the public while at the same time forceful enough to resonate within the halls of Congress and the nation's ever so few remaining corporate media centers.

Our nation's farmers not only owe such "calls to arms" to themselves, but they also need to continually demonstrate their willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with their fellow peasant farmers no matter where in the world as this grim reaper now known as corporate agribusiness continues to wreck its havoc on people's lives, nations' general welfare and humanity's very staff of life --- food!!!

The opportunity of opposing the appointment of man whose sole purpose will undoubtedly be the corporate commercialization of agricultural reconstruction efforts in Iraq is not only a missed opportunity of tragic dimensions on the part of U.S. family farmers, but a historical tragedy of catastrophic proportions for the very birthplace of agriculture.

The Agribusiness Examiner is available at http://www.electricarrow.com/CARP,/a>