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Written by Steve Dittmer   
Monday, 22 November 2004

Vol. 1, Issue 2

The Short Line-up Card
There are several organizations that are the driving forces behind an extreme makeover of American agriculture.  Last issue we mentioned just a few of the items on their wish lists.  It is important to understand that with their limited participation in terms of members or supporters and limited budgets, these groups within agriculture have shared their vision with each other, determined how they will work together and split up the task list to work efficiently.  There are some interlocks in directors, agreements and contracts.  But their shared general philosophies, use of similar public relations and media methods and willingness to use legal methods toward similar goals - or at least - to use each other along the way toward different goals, is what makes them more powerful than their numbers or ideas would seem.

This contrary coalition, the anti-capitalists or anti-establishment coalition, or what we have termed the Liberal Activist Groups (LAG) includes the following:

  • R-CALF, ("Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund") concentrates on trade and marketing issues and uses lawsuits to attack the system ("Legal Fund" is in the name, after all).  As an alternative to long-established organizations, it disparages NCBA, USDA, big packers, big feedyards, big retailers, etc. on a regular basis.  They define "big."
  • The Organization for Competitive Markets is an "agricultural anti-trust" group, focused on the packers and so-called "captive supply," using anti-trust law as a weapon for its attorneys.  It is a driving force behind several lawsuits against packers and the proposed ban on "captive supplies."
  • The Livestock Marketing Assn. is a group of auction markets focused on destroying the cattlemen's national beef check off, having filed lawsuits that have landed the check off in the U.S. Supreme Court.  This group fights any idea that takes business away from auction markets, as is their right.  But some progressive auction markets have broken away from this group and are providing new and improved services and sales to cattlemen, innovating for new market demands, rather than using the legal system to beat up on auction market customers.

These are the most visible, fringe agricultural groups active presently.  Their allies include, but certainly are not limited to:

  • The Consumer Federation of America, the group run by Carol Tucker Foreman, has historically lobbied and testified against agriculture's mainstream and attacked USDA for decades. 
  • Consumer's Union, has attacked "factory farms" and CAFOs, food inspection systems, pesticide use, the BSE response and the fast food industry.
  • Public Citizen, a Nader-founded consumer activist group.  Their Global Trade Watch challenges "corporate globalization," their label for the system we have now.  They denigrate mainstream beef production as unhealthy and unsanitary, and its production practices as responsible for "pervasive food safety problems."  They favor a transition to organic farming instead.  They boast of organizing "massive protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO)."  They feel labor and environmental standards in trade pacts must be based on the standards of the ILO --  the International Labour Organization, the specialized UN agency involved with social justice, human and labor rights.  Public Citizen filed an extensive legal brief opposing the check off and mainstream agriculture in the Supreme Court case.

In addition to the above, there is a long list of groups that promote what they term as "sustainable agriculture."  This means that consumers should only buy locally grown, fresh food from small family farms.  No corporate farms or ranches, no feedyards or large packing plants, no retail chains and no chain restaurants should be involved.  This approach also opposes chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and GMOs.  How they expect to eat only locally grown food in northern climes, and have a balanced diet year-round, is not addressed.  This group includes both secular and faith-based organizations.

GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment) has a Factory Farm Project established to "eliminate factory farming."  They are also fighting antibiotic use in animals, irradiated beef and have a 35-page manual on "confronting CAFOs."  They are also responsible for "The Meatrix," a cartoon nightmare version of farming.

The Agribusiness Accountability Project, is an effort that promises "necessary systemic reform" of the food system, preaching that "corporate concentration and vertical integration among transnational agro-food companies...threaten the global food system."  This group is faith-based.

This is just a partial list of key groups to know.  The complete lineup card is much longer.  The number of activist groups out there trolling for causes to justify their existence is astounding.  Agriculture is a large target and the average citizen is ignorant of production methods and, therefore, gullible.  Food is essential to life.  That makes the food chain a popular target for these groups - and their lawyers.
Next time: we begin profiling the players.

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