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May 05, 2008

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Ellen Frankenstein

List of films is great! Look out for this one, Eating Alaska, coming Fall 2008:
A serious and humorous quest of an ex-urban vegetarian who moves to Alaska. From Alaska Native teens in talking moose meat and whale blubber to women trying to teach the filmmaker to hunt, this wry look at what's on your plate explores ideas about eating healthy sustainable food versus industrially produced food shipped thousands of miles.

Brad Wilson

King Corn is funny, but to a long time farm activist like me it is far too weak on farm justice issues, providing misleading information, and missing a great chance to ask Earl Butz something significant about his role in the U.S. losing money on farm exports 1981-2006, as USDA Economic Research data on full costs clearly shows. The National Family Farm Coalition has a great expose against King Corn now posted. As someone who has written manuals on the commodity title of the U.S. farm bill, I understand the challenges these two "city slickers" faced, but let's not let it block the fight against dumping.

Sadly, the greater context here is that Presbyterians and other churches inadvertently signed onto pro dumping proposals in the debate over the 2007-8 farm bill (Commodity Title). This includes all subsidy tinkering, such as caps and green subsidies. Subsidies are no substitute to fair farm prices for the world's poor. They still allow dumping. And dumping still subsidizes unsustainable corporate livestock factories, depriving diversified farmers (who grow both feedgrains and livestock) world wide of their fair share of the value added of livestock production. Presbyterian documents from the 1980s and 1990s clearly show that we once supported price floors and supply management, (true antidumping legislation) as well as price ceilings and grain reserves. Today farmers do this without church support, through their organizations and the National Family Farm Coalition. Farmers stand alone against dumping, which is a multitrillion dollar justice issue. As with the Theological Declaration of Barmen, churches need to learn to say "No!" and not just sign on to misinformed, pro dumping policy proposals.

Andrew Kang Bartlett

Hi Brad,
Thanks for your astute comments and analysis. The only place you are off is where the PC(USA) stood in the recent battle to revamp the Farm Bill.

The PC(USA) pushed for serious reform of the subsidies system. The http://www.pcusa.org/trade/farmbill/ educates about the deep ways the Commodity Title needed to change if it was going to work for family farmers here and abroad.

The following pieces, still up, attest to this.

* Five oft-cited reasons for farm programs actually symptoms of a more basic reason

* Industrial Livestock Companies’ Gains from Low Feed Prices

* National Family Farm Coalition's Food and Farm Bill Backgrounder

* Learn about cotton subsidies from Oxfam America site

* Articles on cotton and farm bill reform

Also, in the post - "It's the Agronomy, Stupid":

To defend those of us (including the PC(USA)), who have been advocating for reform of the subsidies system, at the most basic level, reforming the subsidies system is important because if less money was going to (especially the largest often corporate) commodity crop farms, those farms would not be pumping out so many corn kernels, soybeans and cotton, and reeking so much havoc on our diets and, yes, driving production and lowering crop prices.
Subsidies enable U.S. commodity crop farmers to continue farming, despite these low prices, and in the face of growing competition from farmers in Brazil, Argentina and China, to name the biggest producers. But Philpott is right that cutting subsidies alone will not solve all the problems. Many other parts of our food and agriculture system and policies drive overproduction. The National Family Farm Coalition explains many of those on their website.

http://presbyterian.typepad.com/foodandfaith/2007/11/its-the-agronom.html

So, I think we agree that price ceilings and grain reserves along with deep commodity title reforms will move us in the right direction.

Best, andrew

Brad Wilson

In my view there is no “serious,” deep,” “basic,” subsidy reform that allows a continuation of dumping (ie. subsidy caps, which include zero price floor levels, continue maximum dumping, and green commodity subsidies, green dumping, likewise does not qualify as just reform. We must restore adequate price floors and supply management (with nffc.org) as a way to eliminate dumping. That’s reform.

Consider this. The Presbyterian church strongly opposed the Reagan 1985 farm bill as unjust, but at least it had price floors and supply management. Both were seriously inadequate, and they caused dumping, but not nearly as much, especially potentially, as in the proposals the church has recently signed on to, including Dorgan-Grassley, Kind-Flake, and those of the Food and Farm Policy Project. (Nor did these proposals address the food crisis through the commodity title with price ceilings and grain reserves, again as nffc.org does). My family remembers seven cent corn here from the 1930s. That’s possible today with Presbyterian endorsements Dorgan-Grassley, Kind-Flake, and FFPP, but not the 85 bill, though it was also pro dumping. So even the unjust Reagan approach, if maintained long term, is better for addressing world poverty and millennium goals than these recent Presbyterian sign ons, better long term by multi-trillions, according to my crunching of historical USDA-ERS data.

Neither Andrews posts nor the Presbyterian web site “say no” to the many well intentioned but misinformed pro dumping proposals. Instead both “say yes” to BOTH sides, and nowhere clarify the controversy I’ve raised. (If think anyone can prove me wrong on this “nowhere,” please give it a try! I hope you’re right, at least somewhere I haven’t looked. I’ve reviewed a lot of stuff at the Presbyterian site.) Further clarification:

1. The Presbyterian web site links (well intentioned but) produmping and true antidumping info, but I see no guidance for distinguishing the two sides (the long term multitrillion dollar difference in dumping) in the brief descriptions of lists of links at pcusa.org.

2. The citations in Andrew's posted response mirror the web site. On one side he offers Daryll Ray, Tufts, and NFFC, which support my views. On the other he offers Oxfam and cotton articles and a page of links on both sides. (Oxfam has extensive false information on my points and is an inadvertent pro dumping organization, ie. “Fairness in the Fields,” “Farm Bill 101.” For a cotton example, “Cotton: The Great Depression for African Farmers” fails here, leaving out true antidumping info and giving false info about a “guaranteed minimum price” and false hope about WTO, including false claims that WTO “free market” solutions and subsidies rules would be effective). Andrew doesn’t address these contradictions in his post.

3. I see nothing written recently BY Presbyterians on the points I’m raising. Following Andrew's link to pcusa to trade/farmbill I find no presbyterian written document seriously addressing any of the concerns I’m raising here. (Though they did, seriously, in major documents in the 1980s and 90s, I see no quotes or significant references to, for example, "Rural Community in Crisis" June 1985, reprinted in “The Church: Responding to Rural America,” 1991.) For example, the top piece today, “PC(USA) Washington Office provides bullet points on the good and bad of the final bill,” does not address any of the commodity title issues I’m raising here. It strongly supports my thesis that the church is not endorsing true antidumping positions, only well intentioned but pro dumping proposals.

4. Specifically, the text of Andrew's new post, gives false information on the issues. So even as he argued I was “off,” he provided evidence that I am correct. Specifically, he falsely claimed that the “(... largest often corporate) commodity crop farms, those farms would not be pumping out SO MANY corn kernels, soybeans and cotton, and reeking so much havoc on our diets and, yes, DRIVING PRODUCTION and LOWering crop PRICES,” (emphasis added). This is false, as we have long known. Subsides neither cause overproduction nor lower prices in the aggregate (when the main crops are considered together). Both Daryll Ray’s “Rethinking ...” report and the piece on “It's the agronomy, stupid” address the supply aspect. Ray addresses the price aspect. Tuft’s online “Paradox of Agriculture Subsidies,” p. 21 cites leading econometric studies on subsidy elimination, stating that they typically find impacts of under 5% (and Ray found minus 3% for corn as land shifted from cotton). We’ve seen the same thing historically: price floors and supply management impacted prices and supplies; subsidies did not. Meanwhile, dumping, (IATP online: U.S. Dumping on World Agricultural Markets: February 2004 Update) has often been 20-40% and even more than 60% for cotton. And that’s just to get to zero, not up to a living wage. If anyone thinks they have evidence that contradicts these findings, please share it. Short of that I see nothing at pcusa to support the endorsements against the evidence.

5. Surely there is another hidden factor here: the National Family Farm Coalition, Universities like Tennessee and Tufts, and specific farm organizations almost never want to seriously fight the churches and hunger organizations and label their positions pro dumping, as I have, even though they know this is true, repeatedly say so privately, and know that anti dumping proposals cannot win without a change in the views of mainline churches, hunger orgs, NCCC, CWS, etc. (I realize that is not the fault of Presbyterians.)

Behind my position is enormous pain. We must not close off debate on these very serious charges that, recently, the Presbyterian church has been consistently taking stands that directly oppose its professed values against this pain, while providing seriously contradictory information to its members without clarification. Again, this is according to the specific evidence I’ve presented.

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