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1007 PD: Baxter Black; The Farm Bill 2008

Baxter Black Published on 27 September 2007

A big debate rages about the five-year $286 billion Farm Bill being considered by Congress. Its supporters on congressional ag committees are mostly from farm states, which is to be expected.

At the same time:

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• The percent of unionized laborers in the workforce continues its decade-long plunge.

• America continues to lose manufacturing industries: steel, automobile, shoes, oil, mining, lumber, tools, electronics and publishing.

• The economic well-being for workers stagnates despite increasing minimum wage and a booming Wall Street.

• Illegal Mexican immigrants contribute mightily to the U.S. economy, yet they still have enough to send money home to their family in Mexico.

• China, India, Philippines and east Asian and South American manufacturing and natural resource economies prosper.

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All of these tectonic forces are related.

The Farm Bill is all about subsidizing farmers to ensure an abundant, cheap food supply for consumers. Over the years, we producers in agriculture have considered banding together, negotiating with a common voice. Dairymen and grain growers, among others, have made visible protests, all to naught.

What if 50 years ago farmers had been able to organize and barter for higher prices for their lamb, corn, beef, soybeans, wheat, poultry, avocados, oranges, pork and milk? It would have been the equivalent of “unionizing” farmers. The resulting higher food prices would have required more protectionist legislation for Australian lamb, Canadian wheat, Dominican Republican sugar, Chinese cotton, Argentinean beef, Mexican vegetables and dairy products and Brazilian soybeans.

But, in response to consumer demand for cheaper food, I think politicians would have been forced to remove restrictions on imports, just as they have done for industries like energy, steel, clothing, timber, fishing, mining and automobiles. This would have resulted in an increasing dependence on politically shaky Third World countries for our daily bread. Today we would be at their mercy. To put it in perspective, consider our present perilous dependence on the Middle East for oil.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25,000 people die each day from hunger.

So, to those senators and representatives from urban districts who think subsidized farming is extravagant, I say, “It is. . . think of it as famine insurance.” PD

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