Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Farmers and Eaters: 0. Big Ag: Everything. Tell President Obama to change the score.

AliciaIf you were at all confused about who calls the shots in Washington D.C., let me offer you some clarity: corporate interests.

Last week, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution, HR 933, to avert government shutdown and fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year. As the Continuing Resolution (the CR) wound its way through the House and Senate (read our previous blog posts here and here for the play-by-play), some nasty pro-agribusiness riders were anonymously thrown in. and no one in Congress will claim responsibility for including them.

Farm Aid artist Lukas Nelson rallying for family farmers last week

Riders are controversial policy provisions that “hitch a ride” on bills in order to avoid full and open debate on an issue before taking a bill to vote. The bottom line for the CR is that it’s filled with all sorts of egregious goodies for the biotech industry and corporate meatpackers. And last night President Obama signed it into law.

The first – a biotech rider some have dubbed The Monsanto Protection Act – allows new genetically engineered (GE) crops to evade levels of regulatory review. The only bright side is that this provision would expire along with the CR itself on September 30th. But it creates a huge window of opportunity for Monsanto and other biotech giants to push GE crops through the marketplace without adequate scientific and regulatory review.

A second rider would rescind USDA’s “GIPSA” rule providing protections for poultry growers who contract with corporate poultry processors—a huge overreach on Congress’ part. Farm and ranch groups of all types have thrown up their arms in frustration over this last move—a heavy blow after years of work to secure basic protections for ranchers and livestock growers who contract with processors.

Montana Senator Jon Tester, one of the only farmers in Congress, introduced two amendments to remove these riders from the CR, but they were never allowed floor debate. His reaction to the fallout, as reported on Politico, was heated:

"We’re back to square one with the big meatpackers calling the shots," Tester told his colleagues. "These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country…We simply have got to do better on both policy and process."

Even though President Obama signed HR 933 into law, these issues will continue to play out in the following months. It is critical that farmers and eaters unite in pushing for the type of food system we want. We urge you to raise your voice and tell President Obama that you are deeply concerned by these riders and their restrictions on transparency and fairness in the food system.

Call President Barack Obama at (202) 456-1111. Here is a suggested template for what to say:

Hi, my name is _______ from _________ (city and/or state) I'm calling to express my deep concern to President Obama about two riders that were included in HR 933, the short term spending bill signed into law last night: Section 753 (the so-called Monsanto Protection Act) and the rider dismantling the USDA GIPSA rule.

It is critical that the government exercises basic oversight over the agricultural biotech industry through the review process for new biotech crops. Section 753 undermines transparency and science-based regulatory review of new crops on the market.

In addition, the GIPSA rider prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing basic contract fairness protections for poultry growers, further unraveling the important protections awarded to livestock producers in the 2008 Farm Bill. Without these protections, ranchers and livestock producers will continue to endure corporate abuses and unfair contract terms, with few avenues for securing justice in the marketplace.

Please share my concerns with the President and urge him to take a stronger stance in providing regulatory oversight of new genetically engineered products and in providing basic protections to ranchers and livestock producers issued in the GIPSA Rule. These issues are important to me as a _________ (farmer/eater/mother/father).

Thank you.

Let us know how the conversation went by leaving a comment here on our blog or on our Facebook page!

And be sure to join our email list for opportunities to take action with Farm Aid as these issues continue to unfold.

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