E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


NCRLC joins 126 others in call for family-farmer friendly ag. policy

(Monday, Jan. 20, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- via the Agribusiness Examiner

MARK PATTISON, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE: The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is one of127 U.S. rural advocacy organizations urging changes in federal farm policy to give family farmers a better chance to compete against growing and consolidating agribusiness firms.

"Our country's farmers and ranchers are asking for nothing more than a fair market and a competitive share of the $900 billion that consumers insert into the food and agriculture economy annually," said the January 14 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

Among actions sought are changes in the contract system for farmers who raise poultry and livestock under contract to meat processors, and a ban on processors raising their own poultry and livestock.

Holy Cross Brother David Andrews, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, told Catholic News Service that these and other proposals for change in national farm policy were not covered in last year's farm bill. The contracts between farmers and processors are themselves particularly burdensome, Brother Andrews said.

One change in provisions he said is needed is lifting the confidentiality clauses in such contracts.

"You can't talk to your wife about what's in the contract, you can't talk to your friends, you can't talk to your neighbors," Brother Andrews told CNS . . .. Nearby farmers who also raise poultry and livestock for processors cannot talk over contract provisions with each other. The letter to Veneman said that farmers should be able to form associations and bargain collectively with processors if they so wish.

Another needed change is lifting the insistence on binding arbitration to settle contract disputes, he said.

Brother Andrews said the pacts were "contracts of adhesion," meaning they were one-sided in favor of the processor. He added that the Supreme Court last year ruled illegal such contracts between auto manufacturers and their dealers, and he believes there is sentiment in the new Congress to ban such contracts in farming.

"The importance of increasing market competition and fairness for America's farmers and ranchers became clear and compelling during last year's farm bill debate," said the letter from the rural life organizations. "While the conferees did not act on most of the substantive provisions, the leadership of both the House and Senate committees pledged to hold hearings with a view towards action."

On the first day of the Senate's new term this year, two bills intended to aid family farmers were introduced. One would end the use of binding arbitration in livestock and poultry contract disputes. The other would ban processor ownership of livestock.

"Robert Peterson, former CEO of IBP (a beef processing firm), has admitted in the past that packer-owned livestock has a 'significant impact' on the market," the letter said. "Packers inherently prefer their own livestock over those of other market players.

"Undue preferences are prohibited by the P&S (Packers and Stockyards) Act. Packers are strategically scheduling cattle (raising) to manipulate the market in their favor and so as to pay less to producers," the letter added.

The NCRLC also had a verbal skirmish with former Rep. Tony Hall, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' food agencies and a longtime congressional leader in the anti-hunger movement.

In December in Brussels, Belgium, Hall told reporters that African leaders who refuse to accept food aid because of a fear of genetically modified products "are in fact starving people to death (and) should be held responsible ... for the highest crimes against humanity in the highest courts in the world." Zambia has refused genetically modified food, and Zimbabwe has in principle accepted food aid but has mired it in red tape, delaying the shipments.

The rural life conference and other critics of genetically modified food signed a letter rebuking Hall for his comments.

"You criticize African leaders for protecting their people, while our government sends food aid containing StarLink, a variety of genetically engineered corn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved for human consumption in this country," the letter said. "Perhaps the United States should be tried for this crime against humanity."