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Is Stabenow really defending farmers?

August 23, 2011

Yesterday, MLive reported that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow were touring Michigan as part of an effort to reassure farmers that they would not allow “rookie members of Congress” to make significant cuts to farm subsidies.

Stabenow made it a partisan issue by saying that the GOP wants to cut $48 billion from farm programs, but that she will fight to make sure there is funding for bad-weather related crop damage.

Ag Secretary Vilsak said that farmers need migrant workers and that the current immigration system is broken. Unfortunately, Vilsak nor the Press reporter bothered to follow up with this statement on how the former Governor of Iowa would “fix” the current immigration policy.

The rest of the article included comments from two of the farmers in attendance. One was a Suttons Bay grape grower who is also Chairman of the Michigan Agriculture Commission, Donald Coe. The only other voice was an apple farmer from Oceana County, both of which spoke in favor of maintaining subsidies in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill.

There are farmers and then there are corporate welfare recipients

As we reported in early June, Senator Stabenow held a hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill in Lansing, that was essentially a forum for agri-business representatives to beg for a continuance of millions in subsidies for Michigan.

According to the Environmental Working Group, $4.35 billion in taxpayer subsidies have gone to Michigan farmers in the past 15 years. What is meant by “farmers” has primarily been large agri-business operations that grow mono-crops like soy & corn and big livestock operations. In other words the small farmers who are growing food for local consumption are generally not the recipients of the Farm Bill Subsidies.

The 2012 Farm Bill is being lobbied heavily by agri-business, but what should be happening is a national dialogue on the kind of food system we want. This is exactly what the group Food and Water Watch has been doing, a cross-country tour where they talk with local communities and farmers about what a real food system would look like. Here are the major talking points they have come up with so far:

-Level the playing field for farmers

-Make markets fair for farmers and consumers

-Ensure food security by restoring the grain reserve

-Make healthy food accessible for all people

-Rebuild local infrastructure for regional food systems

-Make smart government food purchases

-Support new sustainable farming programs

-Promote environmental stewardship

-Require full safety reviews and labeling of GE foods

-Stop subsidizing factory farms and dangerous technologies

This is the kind of information the public needs, not surface coverage of politicians telling agribusiness people what they want to hear.

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