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Corporate ag takes us down the wrong road; other news

(Friday, Dec. 15, 2006 ­ CropChoice news) ­

1. 8th Circuit undercuts states rights; Delivers blow to family agriculture
2. Our perverse farm plan
3. Public utilities block wind energy
4. Congress extends tax on imported ethanol until 2009
5. U.S. corn exports to drop dramatically due to ethanol growth, report finds
6. New England Farmers Union forms; Six new states join NFU
7. Corporations control your dinner
8. Packers aim to provide both food and fuel
9. Corn Growers join manufacturing and labor representatives for globalization summit
10. Corporate ag takes us down the wrong road

1. 8th Circuit undercuts states rights; Delivers blow to family agriculture

For Immediate Release: December 14, 2006

Contact: Emily Eisenberg
202-314-3104, eeisenberg@nfudc.org
Contact: Liz Friedlander
202-314-3191, lfriedlander@nfudc.org

WASHINGTON (Dec. 14, 2006) - The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a blow to states rights and family farming Tuesday, when it ruled in St. Louis that Nebraska's ban on corporate farming, known as Initiative 300 (I-300), is unconstitutional.

I-300 bans non-family farm corporate farming, but also serves as an effective ban on packer feeding of livestock.

"Given the massive acceleration of meat packer concentration in agricultural markets in recent years, the failure of federal Justice Department anti-trust enforcement and the failure of USDA's Packers and Stockyards enforcement of anti-trust, the last thing rural America needs is for the courts to take away states' ability to deal with the problems of agriculture market concentration and non-competitive markets," NFU President Tom Buis said.

Farmers Union has been a long-time leader and supporter of this amendment - Nebraska Farmers Union spearheaded a 1982 citizens' petition drive to add the ban to the state constitution. The amendment prohibits non-family farm corporations from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity, with a number of exceptions.

In December 2005, the U.S. District Court for Nebraska struck down I-300 on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against out-of-state corporations. Nebraska's appeal, filed with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeks to reverse the December 2005 decision because I-300 promotes family farming and keeps rural communities viable.

"It is very disappointing that two federal court decisions have been made based on 'facts' that may or may not be facts," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen said. "The people who voted to put I-300 into our state Constitution have not yet had their day in court. There has been no trial to determine the validity of the claimed facts, all of which are in dispute in this case. The 8th Circuit Court denied us, yet again, our right to a trial."

The Farmers Union leaders said that the implications of this case are far reaching, as the decision uses the dormant commerce clause to strike down the state's right to set its own standards. If this case stands, it will weaken the ability of all states to determine their own standards for the conduct of commerce.

2. Our perverse farm plan

By George Pyle
Prairie Writers Circle

In farm country, Christmas comes about every five years.

The next visit of Santa Claus -- or in this case, Uncle Sam -- is due in 2007. The wish list of American agribusiness giants and their vassals at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the same as always: many billions of federal dollars propping up an unnatural, anti-competitive, security-undermining, environment-destroying system that gluts the world with cheap grain and pig manure.

And any warm feeling taxpayers might get for thinking their money goes to support the traditional family farm springs from about as much reality as flying reindeer.

After 52 public forums from Florida to Alaska, many presided over personally by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, and more than 4,000 public comments, the USDA clings to its willful misreading of the situation, promoting policies that endanger the planet and destroy farmsteads from Nebraska to Niger.

Some hold out hope that Congress, after decades of agreeing that the solution to every farm problem is larger production subsidies, might take another course. The ascension of the Democrats, specifically the fact that conservation-friendly Tom Harkin of Iowa will be chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, provides some encouragement.

But the USDA's own summary of the issues facing American agriculture -- "Strengthening the Foundation for Future Growth in U.S. Agriculture" -- still views farming as an industrial process needing to ramp up production and increase exports.

It's a sad missive that refers to the dependency of livestock and vegetable producers on straightjacketing production contracts with giant processors as "opportunities," and calls the need for farm families to balance their budgets with off-farm jobs a "choice."

It's a business plan that assumes poor nations whose agricultural base is destroyed by America's market-glutting production will magically start having the kind of disposable income necessary to buy our grain and meat. Our government's refusal to deviate from this view was the key reason why the last round of World Trade Organization talks, once seen as a chance to bring poor nations into the fold, collapsed in July.

It's a blueprint for yet another round of taxpayer subsidies for the so-called "program crops" -- generally wheat, corn, rice, soybeans and cotton -- that push farmers to max out their production using all the fertilizer and pesticides they can afford.

The government dropped nearly $144 billion on farm subsidies between 1995 and 2004, according to calculations by the Environmental Working Group. The bulk of that money went to an ever-shrinking number of giant companies and cooperatives that continue to soak up both the taxpayers' money and their neighbors' land.

The resulting cut-rate price of corn further encourages feedlot fattening of cattle, hogs and poultry rather than the more natural grazing. The nitrogen-heavy runoff from those massive feeding operations, combined with all the fertilizer that flows from wheat and corn fields in the Plains and upper Midwest, endangers municipal water supplies and once-teeming sealife downstream in the Gulf of Mexico.

Soil conservation is always a part of farm legislation, but a small part. In Kansas, for example, federal farm payments over the decade ending in 2004 totaled $6.2 billion for production subsidies and $1 billion for conservation. When budget hawks start looking for savings, it is the conservation plans, not the subsidies, that are on the chopping block.

True conservation farming, where land is lovingly husbanded everywhere, not hyper-farmed here and left fallow there, is the key to sustainable, affordable food production. And we can have it for a fraction of what we now spend on production subsidies.

If we tell Congress that is what we want.


George Pyle, an editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, is author of "Raising Less Corn, More Hell: The Case for the Independent Farmer and Against Industrial Food.” He wrote this comment for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

3. Public utilities block wind energy

12.10.06 Sioux City Journal

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) ---- A national wind-energy advocate blasted Nebraska for not doing more to turn its stiff breezes into power, placing much of the blame on Nebraska's dominant electric utility.

While adjoining states such as Iowa and Colorado have hundreds _of wind turbines, and the policies in place to encourage more, Nebraska has less than 50 and should not "bury it's head in the sand, or the coalfields, for that matter," Dan McGuire told members of the Nebraska Farmers Union gathered in Grand Island for an annual convention.

Nebraska ranks sixth among all states for wind generated, McGuire said, "but the Cornhusker state is lagging way behind other states," in the development of wind farms, he said.

McGuire is executive director of the American Corn Growers Foundation and Wealth from the Wind, a program of the corn grower's group. He has Nebraska roots, having pushed for ethanol development in the state and once serving as executive director of the state wheat board.

When talking about wind energy, McGuire said, officials in other states often ask him "What's wrong with Nebraska?"

Nothing, says a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Public Power District, the largest electric utility in the state that provides electricity to about 1 million people in the state.

McGuire said NPPD and rural electrical cooperatives have been fighting development of wind farms.

The utility owns a 36-turbine wind farm near Ainsworth that began operating earlier this year, NPPD spokeswoman Jeanne Schieffer said. She also said the utility promotes research of wind energy, often considers proposals for wind farms and generally wants more renewable energy to be used in the state.

Costs, especially of new power transmission lines, must be taken into account when considering new wind farms, she said.

“We continue to study it and we've been studying it for a long time," Schieffer said of wind energy. "We'll add renewables when it's most cost effective for our customers."

Nebraska is the only state where all electric customers are served by publicly owned utilities.

While Nebraska is positioned to be a possible leader in wind energy, Gov. Dave Heineman said during the convention Friday, it faces unique challenges. Federal financial incentives for wind energy, he said, are available only to private companies.

That doesn't justify the state's scant development of wind farms, said Robert Byrnes. He owns Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems, which helps develop wind farms.

"Forty states have figured this out," he said after listening to Heineman, "a lot with a heck of a lot less than we have."

McGuire said he and other wind-energy advocates had wanted to avoid going to the Nebraska Legislature with proposals to encourage more wind-farm development but may do so.

4. Congress extends tax on imported ethanol until 2009


Associated Press Writer

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- U.S. corn farmers and ethanol makers will continue to have less competition from foreign imports of the renewable fuel until 2009.

Included in legislation passed late Friday and early Saturday by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate was an extension of the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol.

The tax was set to expire in October 2007 but will continue to be imposed until January 2009, said U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

A leading producer of ethanol is Brazil, which presumably would be the source of more supply. But Brazil has its own gasoline supply concerns, and it's uncertain how much additional fuel it would be able to provide.

The tariff encourages domestic ethanol production, discourages dependence on foreign energy and keeps other countries from competing with American production, Thune said.

"They can already get a certain amount in. But this at least will ensure there will not be a huge flood of imported ethanol coming in from Brazil or someplace else when we're trying to nurture this industry," Thune said.

About 5 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced this year and more plants are in the works.

Nebraska has a dozen ethanol plants on line, producing upward of 650 million gallons a year.

Doug Sombke of Conde, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said the U.S. has environmental and other standards imposed on farmers and ethanol producers that foreign competitors don't have.

His group supports fair trade but not free trade, he said.

"If other countries are competing on the same playing field as we are, that's one thing. But when they're not, that's a whole different issue," Sombke said. Republican and Democratic farm state members of Congress who pushed for the tariff extension went against the wishes of President Bush, who earlier this year supported at least a temporary reduction of the import tax on ethanol.

"I think it makes sense ... when there's a time of shortage of a product that's needed, so consumers have a reasonable price, it seems to me to make sense to address those shortages," Bush said in a May interview with the cable network CNBC.

"And dropping a tariff will enable the foreign export of ethanol (to get) into our markets, which will particularly help on our coasts," Bush said.

Thune said the problem isn't a shortage of ethanol but of transportation. "I don't think there's going to be a supply issue. The one thing we have to develop is the distribution system," he said.

5. U.S. corn exports to drop dramatically due to ethanol growth
New farm bill should shift focus from exports to domestic markets, report finds

News release from Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Contact: Ben Lilliston

Minneapolis - If only a quarter of proposed new Midwest ethanol plants come on-line, up to half of corn in Midwest states currently sent for export could be diverted to domestic ethanol production, according to a new report issued today by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Recent projections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture concur that a significant portion of corn for future ethanol plants will come from exports.

Staying Home: How Ethanol Will Change U.S. Corn Exports, by IATP’s Mark Muller and Heather Schoonover, looks at the stunning growth planned for ethanol plants in the Midwest and their potential impact on corn exports. The paper (at http://www.iatp.org) includes data on how corn exports for individual Midwest states could be impacted by new ethanol plants, including, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Corn-based ethanol production in the U.S. doubled between 2001 and 2005, and is likely to double again the next few years. The U.S. already has 100 active ethanol plants capable of producing more than 5 billion gallons of ethanol a year. An additional 58 plants either under construction or expansion are expected to increase that capacity to 9 billion gallons. Another 150 ethanol plants have been proposed around the country, which could double U.S. capacity by 2008 if they are built. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that much of the corn for ethanol production will be diverted from exports.

“Over the last few decades, U.S. farm policy has driven over-production in a few commodities in order to increase exports,” said Muller. “We are entering a new era, where domestic uses are more important drivers of commodity markets. Given this new context, spending billions of dollars on initiatives such as expanding the transportation infrastructure on the Mississippi River for export markets is an irresponsible investment of taxpayer dollars. Instead, policymakers should focus on building and diversifying opportunities for renewable fuels and energies; promoting farm practices and cropping systems that build soil health and improve water quality; and ensuring that farmers and rural communities benefit from these new opportunities.”

The report found that government projections are likely underestimating the impact of ethanol on export levels because they don’t take into account proposed ethanol plants in their projections. Some Midwest states, particularly Nebraska and Iowa, could theoretically need to import corn from other states in order to meet their expanded ethanol capacity even if only a fraction of the proposed plants come online.

“A new Farm Bill next year needs to embrace the promise of ethanol and tackle the challenges it poses,” said Schoonover. “Simply growing more corn may help meet short-term demand, but it raises a number of ecological concerns. The forthcoming Farm Bill should look beyond the near term and encourage the next generation of renewable energies and fuels, which will likely come from cellulosic material in prairie grasses and other cutting edge technologies. Farmers and rural communities stand to benefit much more from incentives for local ownership of ethanol plants, investments in local and regional transportation needs, fair market prices, and value-added opportunities, than they do from exports.”

“This IATP report affirms earlier complaints about the Army Corps of Engineers planning work on expanding Upper Mississippi and Illinois River locks - namely that they have consistently over-projected the grain export market,” said Mark Beorkrem of the Mississippi River Basin Alliance. “Environmentalists since the late 1990's have told the Corps that barge traffic was declining long term. No longer can lock expansion proponents ignore that despite rising grain production, farmers can and will find other, more financially-attractive markets for their grain than the export market. The Administration, Congress and the Corps should abandon lock expansion efforts and instead invest taxpayer dollars into developing domestic markets for agriculture products.”

The full report is available at: www.iatp.org

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works globally to promote resilient family farms, communities and ecosystems through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

6. New England Farmers Union forms; Six new states join NFU

OKLAHOMA CITY (Dec. 6, 2006) - The National Farmers Union Board of Directors approved the formation of the New England Farmers Union (NEFU), its newest chapter that will bring six new states to the organization. With the adoption of NEFU's charter, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island will now have official representation within NFU. It will also work to represent New England agriculture to Congress via NFU's legislative affairs department.

"We are particularly excited about this new NFU chapter," NFU President Tom Buis said. "New England has a strong tradition of family farming, but will add a new dimension to our organization due to its vast reliance on the fishing industry. The issues and challenges that family-run fishing operations face dramatically overlap with the ones our family farm members face in the land-locked states of the Midwest and the great plains."

For the last several years NFU has worked closely with the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA) and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association (CCCHFA). CCCGA Executive Director Jeff LaFleur, will serve as the new chapter's president, and CCCHFA Executive Director Peter Baker will serve as Vice President.

"I look forward to bringing New England's agricultural issues to the table at one of our nation's oldest and largest farm organizations," LaFleur said. "NEFU will represent the interests of farmers, fisherman and consumers, as these groups are intricately connected and face many common challenges."

LaFleur said that NEFU will focus on increasing the economic viability of family farms and fishing operations, and fostering the development of sustainable food production in New England.

"I would also like to emphasize nutrition education to consumers, and work to foster the connection between food producers and consumers," LaFleur said.

7. Corporations control your dinner

By Debra Eschmeyer, National Family Farm Coalition
Posted on December 5, 2006, Printed on December 5, 2006
This story first appeared in the East Texas Review

Most everyone has been told to not play with his or her food, yet somehow agribusiness is playing Monopoly with the nation's food supply.

When pouring your next glass of milk, consider who decided what the cow ate and who controls the distribution of profits. One would think the farmer and consumer take the lead roles in managing the supply of safe and healthy food. The farmer should control his or her business while mainly battling unpredictable weather -- expecting the price they receive for a quality product to be set by a fair and honest marketplace.

However, in today's market, the lack of competition is wielding just as much force as Mother Nature as witnessed by the recent proposed acquisition of the Chicago Board of Trade by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) to become the CME Group Inc. -- combining the two largest U.S. futures exchanges.

If you think this and similar mergers do not affect your freedom of choice and the quality of food you eat, think again. Food is not simply a commodity to produce at a larger and larger scale, squeezing the family farmer out along with the value of safe and healthy food.

The CME is already the world's largest commodity broker determining futures and cash prices for products such as cheese, butter, live cattle, timber, and fertilizer as they set the benchmark prices for farm country. Within seconds the coarse yelling on the trade floor is translated around the world, affecting farm gate prices and grocery bills of billions of people.

If this merger goes through, the newly formed CME Group will enjoy unprecedented power over global food markets to the detriment of producers and consumers and the glee of large agribusiness and traders -- lining their own pockets with money generated by destroying family farmers and the consumer value that exists in having diversity in the market.

The new CME Group could still end up with the Go to Jail card, as the U.S. Department of Justice must decide whether this merger violates federal anti-trust laws. The CME does not have a clean slate either. Last July six U.S. Senators including Clinton, Specter, and Feingold sent a letter calling on the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether cheese trading on the CME is susceptible to price manipulation. The study was requested to fully evaluate the CME in light of the upcoming farm bill. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is also currently investigating the nation's largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, for alleged racketeering and insider trading on the CME.

Family farmers already know from previous paychecks that this is not a good forecast. Because the CME is a privately owned corporation, it does not have to follow normal transparency and accountability rules. The CME is subject to nominal oversight by the CFTC over the trading of futures, but there is no external oversight for cash trading.

With market consolidation and little to no oversight, competition and economic fairplay are almost defunct in the U.S. food system. Consumers will pay more for fewer choices; farmers will get paid less -- don't pass go, and don't collect $200 -- that will go to the commodity trader living down on Park Place.

Lack of competition is not new to modern agriculture. The largest producer and processor of hogs in the U.S., Smithfield Foods, Inc., recently announced plans to purchase Premium Standard Farms, the second largest hog producer. On top of owning 20 percent of the nation's hogs, Smithfield would then envelope the ContiGroup, the largest cattle feeding entity in the world, and they control 40 percent interest in Premium Standard Farms. Pork or corporate profit for dinner?

In 2002 the late Senator Wellstone joined with Senators Daschle, Harkin, Feingold and Grassley to reinstate some degree of competition into agriculture and to reign in the excessive control of a few giants in the livestock sector. Unfortunately, the measures to benefit farmers and consumers that were won in the Senate were negotiated away in the conference with the House. Let's hope following the 2006 election that Congress will listen to the public and restore democratic fairness to the markets that are critical to our nation's economy and diet.

The CME Group merger is yet another win for corporate agribusiness players and a loss for consumers and farmers in the game of food system Monopoly.

Debra Eschmeyer is the project director of the National Family Farm Coalition, a non-profit that provides a voice for grassroots groups on farm, food, trade and rural economic issues to ensure fair prices for family farmers, safe and healthy food, and vibrant, environmentally sound rural communities here and around the world.

8. Packers aim to provide both food and fuel By PHILIP BRASHER DesMoines Register
Dec. 3, 2006

REGISTER WASHINGTON BUREAU -- Washington, D.C. - The people who process your T-bones, pork chops and chicken nuggets someday may provide the fuel for your truck or car, too.

Several of the nation's biggest meatpackers and livestock producers, including Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc., are setting up renewable energy units.

Smithfield, the largest U.S. hog producer and pork processor, has invested in facilities that will convert manure into methanol, an alcohol used in biodiesel production, and to make biodiesel from animal fats and vegetable oils.

Tyson, the largest processor of beef and chicken, figures that the animal fat generated by its many slaughterhouses could be a major feedstock for the booming biodiesel industry. Tyson also is considering making biofuels from manure.

"We see this as a big win," Jeff Webster, a senior vice president of Tyson, said at a recent presentation to analysts and investors in New York. "It is a big win for ranchers and rural farmers. It's a win for energy independence. It's a win for our environment, and we believe it'll be an advantage and a big win for our shareholders as well."

Perdue Inc., a major chicken producer and processor on the East Coast, also has set up a bioenergy division. Initially, the company will supply corn for ethanol production, but Perdue also is looking at investing in biofuels plants, possibly even building its own.

At the very least, these packers' moves are a sign of how big business is taking an interest in biofuels, lured in part by the government subsidies.

The packers also bring new political clout to the renewable energy industry. They know their way around Washington, and they have many friends in both parties and in regions of the country where the biofuels industry has traditionally had little presence: Tyson is based in Arkansas, Smithfield in Virginia and Perdue in Maryland.

That clout will be tested when lawmakers consider extending tax credits for biodiesel and ethanol production and as Congress writes the 2007 farm bill. The biodiesel industry wants to revive a special subsidy program that expired this year.

The packers' move into biofuels also means that they will have some financial stake in the same industry that is driving up corn prices and increasing the cost of producing the meat the packers sell. The ethanol business has gotten most of the public attention recently, but biodiesel production is booming as well.

There are 87 biodiesel plants in operation nationwide, capable of producing more than 580 million gallons annually, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Dozens of construction and expansion projects now under way will push production capacity to 1.4 billion gallons. Actual production numbers are not available - plants don't disclose their output - but the National Biodiesel Board estimates production could reach 250 million gallons this year, up from 75 million in 2005 and 25 million two years ago.

The industry's future growth could be limited by the availability of vegetable oils, animal fat and recycled grease needed to make biodiesel. The industry's goal is to produce 2 billion gallons by 2015, or about 5 percent of current on-road diesel use.

Tyson alone produces 2.3 billion pounds of beef, poultry and pork fat a year, enough to make about 300 million gallons of biodiesel. Animal fats can cost at least 25 percent less than vegetable oils.

"We'll need all the feedstock that we can get," said Joe Jobe, chief executive of the biodiesel board. "Animal fat will play an important role in that. "It's good to see other agricultural partners begin to start moving and helping to drive some of the economics in this whole effort."

Look for them to help drive the politics as well.

9. Corn Growers join manufacturing and labor representatives for globalization summit
ACGA aids formation of new coalition to help forge a new global trade and investment agenda

Colorado Springs, Colo. - Nov. 21, 2006 ­ Keith Bolin, President of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) and other key leaders of his organization met with dozens of other farm and rural leaders as well as leaders from the U.S. manufacturing sector, organized labor and the academic community at a recent conference in Colorado Springs., Colo. The purpose of the conference, organized by the Organization for Competitive markets (OCM), the National Farmers Union (NFU), ACGA and others, was to find common ground on the pressing issues of globalization.

A new coalition has taken shape as a result of the meeting and the following unifying statement was unanimously adopted by all participants:

Multinational corporate-controlled globalization is undermining the well being and prosperity of farmers and rural America, working families, domestic manufacturers, and the service industries depending upon them. It is built on policies that threaten and harm workers and families in every sector of the American and world economies.

We must address current corporate conduct and corporate control of government policy. Communities and families are under economic assault, and that assault undermines our fundamental American democratic values.

Existing trade agreements have caused tremendous trade deficits, harmed future American innovation prospects, resulted in tens of thousands of manufacturing company closures, and eliminated millions of manufacturing jobs. They have also compromised national security and undermined national sovereignty.

  • We support mutually beneficial fair trade policy that delivers broadly shared benefits for workers, farmers and manufacturers everywhere;
  • We believe that it is urgently necessary to pursue trade policies that recognize the full range of societal concerns;
  • We accept trade as fundamental, but it must balance producer, consumer and trading partner interests;
  • We recognize that markets serve the economic interests of individuals and businesses, but they must also serve democratic values.

We are committed to developing a New Global Trade and Investment Agenda that serves the people who make and grow things in all countries. The agenda must include and improve labor and environmental standards, food security, and national security. It must realign corporate and trade objectives to serve the nation’s public and private interests.

In addition to Keith Bolin, other ACGA leaders involved in the endeavor included Keith Dittrich, ACGA Chairman of the Board, John Dittrich, ACGA Senior Policy Analyst, Gene Paul, ACGA Board Member, and Larry Mitchell, ACGA’s Chief Executive.

10. Corporate ag takes us down wrong road

by Jim Goodman
Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2006 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Self-reliance is not a bad thing. While Emerson's thoughts on "Self Reliance" were controversial enough to get him banned from Harvard University, it seems that most Americans have willingly ceded their own self-reliance and therefore their right of choice into the hands of corporate America. They have given up choice in media, health care and even food.

Granted, not everyone can or wants to raise their own food. I guess, as a farmer, that's good for my business but I do want them to care, to take part in the decision on what they eat and how it is grown. Just as it is wrong for the corporate media to only offer part of the news, it is also wrong for the corporate food industry to basically say "shut up and eat."

When nearly 75 percent of the U.S. market spinach crop is grown in one valley in California and repeated bacterial contaminations ensue, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.

When millions of pounds of beef are recalled due to bacterial contamination and when, by the count of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73,000 cases of E. coli infection and 63 deaths occur in the United States each year, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.

When large numbers of U.S. adults and many American children are obese, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.

When scientists from around the world tell us the vitamin and mineral content of our food has fallen significantly over the past 60 years, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.

When ground water nitrate levels climb year after year because industrial-size farms raise too many animals producing too much manure on too little land, we must question the industrial concentration of our food system.

When the World Health Organization blames the increase of infectious diseases in part on the "industrialization of the animal production sector" and the emergence of H5N1 (avian flu) on "intensive poultry production," again we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.

We are told this is the safest food system in the world, but is it? Is high-tech, high-production, industrialized agriculture the way to feed the world? It seems not - millions still starve, the United States is obese and we still have tainted food.

We are comforted by a virtually unlimited choice in how to spend our food dollars, but is it really a choice when, of the nearly 40,000 food items found in the average supermarket, 50 percent of them are produced by 10 companies? Do we have choice when three companies control more than 75 percent of the beef produced in the United States?

Sadly, we as consumers have allowed this to happen. We have become complacent and dependent on this industrial food system. We must remember that the vast majority of contaminated food has come directly out of the industrial food system, not local markets.

We can seek out local alternatives and safer alternatives. While the cost for local or organic food may be slightly higher, we need to remember the highest cost food items are the most highly processed, least nutritious, and account for the highest use of chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Because they are the big cash cows of the corporate food industry, they also return less income to local farmers and communities.

Several years ago, Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Africa, shared with author Anna Lappe an analogy she used to help Kenyan women reclaim their power to choose. She asked them what they would do if they got on the wrong bus, going in the wrong direction? Well, of course, they would get off.

So why would anyone stay on the wrong bus? Perhaps you had the wrong information, you didn't think you had enough money to get on the right one, or you didn't even know there was another bus. All valid reasons, the same basic reasons farmers continue to follow the industrial production system and the same reasons consumers continue to eat the food it produces.

Well, it's time to get off the bus - it's taking us down the wrong road.