Rural communities across America have become battlegrounds in bitter opposition to large corporate factory farms. Factory Farms raise thousands of animals in confinement and generate massive amounts of waste. These industrial size facilities resemble factories more than farms and have turned animals into machines, farmers into hired hands, and treat our nationís waters as an open sewer system. I should know. I reside on an operating fifth generation family farm whose livelihood and way of life are threatened by factory farms.
In the midst of the factory farm battle is the Farm Bureau. Purporting to represent the family farmer yet promoting corporate industrial agriculture, Farm Bureau has ushered a trend in agriculture that has sounded the death knell to the independent family farmer. Across America Farm Bureau lobbies with millions of dollars in the effort to stifle local control and place "Big Ag" rights over the rights of rural communities, family farmers, and the environment.
More than any issue, the concept of "local control" exposes Farm Bureau's deceptive corporate agribusiness agenda. On the surface their policy seems clear; local control is spotlighted and strongly encouraged.
Farm Bureau policy handbooks state that "land use planning can be best accomplished at the county or comparable levelÖ" Cloaked in vague terms opposing "government control" and demanding "property rights" Farm Bureau claims the best way to achieve all of this is to "support the principle of strong local government" which is "closest to the people." However, if you study their actual lobbying record in local and state government, you discover a perplexing tradition of waffling on issues of local control.
Enter factory farms. These industrial sites produce leaky football field sized cesspools of toxic waste and health threatening gases, odors and particulates. Yet, when rural communities organize and attempt to block the development of factory farms in their areas, Farm Bureau leadership suddenly does an abrupt "about face" on local control. According to past Farm Bureau statements communities donít want the authority and canít obtain the expertise to participate in the decision making process when siting these health threatening operations.
Unfortunately, Farm Bureau's well funded grip on local and state policy overpowers many local zoning boards and agencies. When it comes to advancing factory farms they usually get their way.
State politicians fear Farm Bureau and most are unwilling to risk political suicide and easily buckle to the Bureau's wishes. As a result Farm Bureau maintains the best of both worlds. They give lip service to local control and property rights while thwarting both concepts when they stand in the way of corporate profits. The fact is, Farm Bureau supports local control only when the local powers that be will make decisions which benefit their corporate agribusiness agenda.
Though they hide behind a "family farmer faÁade" in reality, factory farms are an integral part of Farm Bureauís agribusiness web and promoting them is just a "part of doing business."
For example, Farm Bureau has affiliates tied in with joint ventures or who are in direct partners with major players in the corporate livestock industry. Farm Bureau has links to Tyson, Land O Lakes, and Farmland Industries, to name a few. One Farm Bureau affiliate owns over 18,000 shares of stock in the third largest hog producer in the nation. This company polluted Missouriís countryside, damaged the standard of living, and helped push well over 70% of that stateí family hog farmers out of business since 1990. Farm Bureauís most recent agribusiness venture is the promotion of Dutch mega-dairies, which are vehemently being opposed by family dairy farmers and rural citizens in several Midwestern states.
What is good for Farm Bureau profits is not always good for the family farmer! Politicians and policy makers must learn this. Farm Bureau's corporate ties to agribusiness create conflicts of interest with farmers. Nowhere is this more evident than factory farming. These corporate ties reduce Farm Bureau's ability to serve family farmers and validate their ruthless, arrogant and often intimidating tactics which promote factory farms. They work fervently in the courts and legislatures to weaken existing statutes and foil new legislation supporting local control. The resulting lack of local control has made it common for citizens to initiate lawsuits in an attempt to keep factory farms at bay.
Farm Bureau acknowledges that the opponents of the industry have "won far too many public relations battles." Consequently, their approach to the factory farm issue has also been a public relations response. Farm Bureau is clever enough to know that if they lose their family farmer "stewardship" image they may well lose some of their political clout. Farm Bureauís P.R. fears are not unfounded, for the public is finally "catching on" and is becoming educated about how their food is produced.
In a recent survey, 73% of respondents revealed that they were concerned about preserving smaller family based pig farms. Another study in North Carolina showed that water quality concerns and livestock factories were ranked as bigger threats to quality of life than escalating taxes or crime. Citizens nationwide are demanding agriculture be responsible to families and the environment. In a nonbinding Illinois voter referendum, for example, over 70% of voters favored local control for factory farm siting and construction. It is time for these voices to be heard and counted in a meaningful way. It is time for Farm Bureau leaders to stop speaking out of both sides of their mouths.
The social, environmental, and economic costs of the industrialization of agriculture is one of the most pressing issues in our country today. To confront this issue we must reverse poor policy choices that are fueling corporate agribusiness interests. Restoring local control to citizens will be an important first step in restoring a sustainable agriculture system, the integrity of our food supply, protection of our natural resources and quality of life in America.
In their deceptive efforts against local control, Farm Bureau has hijacked true democratic human and property rights, damaged the environment, and forced family farmers off the farm. They have tainted the very reputation of agriculture with their "me first" policies. Farm Bureau has earned a new name-Factory Farm Bureau it is, and Factory Farm Bureau it will remain until this selfish interest group reforms its waffling and arrogant corporate "Agribiz attitude."
Karen Hudson is President of F.A.R.M. (Families Against Rural Messes) and is also a grassroots consultant on the GRACE Factory Farm Project team http://www.factoryfarm.org. Karen lives with her family on a century family farm in West Central Illinois and is deeply committed to educating the public about the impacts of industrialized agriculture.