In an unprecedented display of protest, members of the Upper Midwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (GrainRAGE) temporarily shut down the Wayzata, Minnesota, international headquarters of Cargill on March 21.
Prior to the arrival of employees at the offices of the nation's largest private corporation, GrainRAGE members in white biohazard suits and respirators blocked the road into the Cargill compound with cars and their bodies.
Two people were arrested for trespassing after they shackled themselves to cars used to block the entrance to the Cargill Inc. headquarters. Traffic was backed up for nearly two miles along West McGinty Road while firefighters cut a 18-year-old women from the vehicles.
Shortly after police cleared the GrainRAGE demonstrators, an Ag Action Network (AAN) group arrived, 75 strong with puppets and huge banners. A festive rally proceeded, the centerpiece being a mock trial of Cargill. Evidence was given by a local organic farmer, who testified about how genetic engineering affected his livelihood. An AAN activist spoke about the plight of farmers in Minnesota, emphasizing the 1,500 family farms lost this year to large agri-businesses like Cargill. A teacher talked about educating children on the real history of the US. A representative from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) spoke about Cargill's ties to the World Trade Organization.
The demonstrators said they'd come to show support for farmers gathered the same day in Washington, DC, for the "Rally for Rural America."
"We are following the lead of peasant farmers around the world by acting in self defense against genetic engineering and corporate agribusiness," said GrainRAGE member Foster Wildness.
The demonstrators called attention to the fact that Cargill is one of the world's foremost proponents of genetic engineering. It develops genetically modified organisms, and last September donated $10 million to the University of Minnesota for a plant genetics research facility.
Cargill also has ties to biotechnology leader Monsanto. Cargill sold its international seed business to Monsanto in 1998 and has agreed to manufacture commercial livestock and poultry feeds produced from Monsanto's proprietary germ plasm.
Cargill controls upwards of 45 percent of the global grain market, including more than 40 percent of US corn exports and a third of US soybean exports. Cargill is also one of the world's largest producers and distributors of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Farmers' groups around the world maintain that they are being put out of business because corporate agribusiness conglomerates, including Cargill, now control the markets for both agricultural inputs and products. In the recent years, direct actions against corporate agribusiness and genetic engineering have been on the rise.
In late 1998, Indian farmers burned Monsanto's genetically engineered cotton crops. One month later, Indian farmers stormed Monsanto's offices and destroyed the company's records. In France, members of the 20,000-strong Peasant Confederation destroyed Novartis' genetically altered corn seed in January 1998 and AGR-EVO genetic rice test plots in June 1999. Test crop trashings have also become frequent in Britain and the United States.
In February Greenpeace volunteers successfully boarded a barge carrying Cargill's genetically modified soybeans and demanded that the vessel leave British waters. GrainRAGE is a network of people in the Upper Midwest who promote small scale organic agriculture and food self-sufficiency by attacking corporate agribusiness and all forms of biotechnology.
US soybean growers are still planning on using genetically engineered soybeans, despite being mad about what they see as corporate favoritism toward foreign soybean growers by the Monsanto Corp., manufacturers of Roundup Ready soybeans, according to the American Soybean Association
The anger stems from the fact that US soybean farmers pay more than their Argentine competitors for Monsanto's Roundup Ready genetic seeds. A recent US General Accounting Office report showed a disparity in prices in that a bag of Roundup Ready seed sold for about $12 to $15 in Argentina and from about $20 to $23 in the US in 1999.
Monsanto admits that it does charge more in the US for its seeds, but that the situation is unavoidable due to "weak intellectual property protection and lax enforcement of seed laws in Argentina." According to Monsanto, 25 to 50 percent of all Argentine soybean seeds are sold in violation of seed laws, suppressing the price of Roundup Ready seeds there. Also, Monsanto has patent protection for its product in the US, but lacks such in Argentina.
Soybean growers in Missouri and Illinois recently expressed resentment at Monsanto for giving unfair advantage to Argentina, a competitor of the US in world soybean markets. American Soybean Association (ASA) President Marc Curtis warned that farmers might take matters into their own hands by cutting back on purchases of Monsanto chemicals, adding, "The next step lies in the hands of the farmers. If they decide to reject Monsanto products, that could send a strong message."
The ASA wants Monsanto to discontinue "technology fees" that add up to about $6.50 for every 50-pound bag of Roundup Ready seeds sold in the US. The fee isn't charged in Argentina.
After the GAO report, Bill Lambrecht of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, the St. Louis-based soybean association asked Monsanto to refund more than $300 million to US farmers. The company said no.
American Soybean Association board member Darryl Brinkmann who farms 1,700 acres near Carlyle in Southern Illinois, says that some of the farmers he has talking to "are upset with Monsanto about this. They just feel that everything has been done for the benefit of Monsanto, and not for the benefit of farmers. Monsanto says they need to get their investment back. But if they're not getting it in Argentina, why should they get it from American farmers?"
Despite their unhappiness, the association was cited as saying it will not advise farmers to stop using genetically engineered seeds, which were planted on about half of the soybean acreage in the US last year.
Typical of the reaction to the disparity between the US and Argentine prices for Roundup Ready seeds was ASA board member Neal Bredehoeft, who told Lambrecht that the GAO report was a hot topic in coffee shops where farmers gather, adding, "there was always a suspicion that this was going on. This really puts us at a disadvantage. We've always felt that we can compete if we have a level playing field."
But Bredehoeft, who farms 1,900 acres near Alma in western Missouri, added that he has no plan to stop planting Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds. While some farmers may try to punish Monsanto, Bredehoeft said that most soybean growers he knows have already placed seed orders for this season.
One Midwest farmer, however, who has rejected the use of genetically engineered seeds, reacted to the ASA's position by recalling a popular expression of the 1960's: "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."
A nationwide audit of wage and hour practices in the poultry industry by the US Department of Labor is in the offing, according to Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest chicken and poultry producer.
Reuters News Service reports that news of the impending examination was revealed in a filing by Tyson with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The filing also notes that the study will examine practices that are the subject of a lawsuit against Tyson in which employees have alleged that the company failed to pay them for all hours worked and has not properly paid them for overtime hours.
A federal lawsuit against Tyson was filed June 22 in Alabama by 11 current and former employees. The case is in the discovery stages, and the plaintiffs are currently awaiting a request for class-action certification.
The Labor Department began its audit February 9 at 17 poultry plants, including five facilities owned by Tyson, and will eventually include 51 plants, the filing said.
Neither Labor Department representatives nor Tyson spokesman Ed Nicholson were available for comments beyond the details in the filing.
"A giant modern corporation operating in a local farm community can be likened to a bull elephant in a china shop," according to Dr. Willard Cochrane, one of the nation's leading agriculture economists. "The power of the giant overwhelms and shatters the local establishment."
Cochrane's analysis comes in a "A Food and Agriculture Policy for the 21st Century" report recently published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
"We have failed miserably in maintaining a family farm organization for US agriculture," Cochrane believes. "We must act quickly or the institution as we know it will cease to exist."
He believes that support programs put in place over the years -- price support, deficiency payments and acreage controls -- have failed to adequately address the great downward swings in farm prices that have hurt farmers. Consequently, over a 62 year period (1935 -1997), the US lost some 4.2 million farms, mostly smaller, family farms. Currently, there are only 575,000 small to medium-sized family farms struggling to survive.
"The farm programs put in place supposedly to help the family farmers, in fact, contributed to the demise of many of them," reports Cochrane. "The support programs contributed to the strong becoming stronger and the weak becoming weaker -- until in fact the weakest dropped out of farming."Such farm policies have left family farmers in "a farm depression."
Cochrane served as President Kennedy's Chief Agricultural Economist, and was an agricultural economist for the United Nations and the USDA. Cochrane is also the subject of a new book, Willard Cochrane & the American Family Farm, by University of Minnesota Professor, Dr. Richard Levins, published by University of Nebraska Press.
Major recommendations made in Cochrane's report include:
(ogonek) Creation of a special unit in the Department of Justice to investigate monopolistic actions in the food production and distribution system and to prosecute firms whose actions are deemed harmful to the efficient and equitable operation of the food and agricultural sector of the national economy.
(ogonek) A Farm Refinancing Agency be established to help producing units (small, medium and large) refinance at subsidized interest rates and/or relaxed payment schedules in periods of falling farm prices.
(ogonek) An annual cash subsidy ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 (depending on size of operation) should be made to legitimate, family-sized farms.
(ogonek) Establishing a federal program to monitor and regulate factory type operations in the production and processing of poultry, beef, pork and dairy products as they impact the environment.
(ogonek) A new federal agency to work with USDA agencies and state/local governments to build sustainable ecological areas for different species of plants and wildlife.
The complete report is available from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and can be obtained by calling 612-870-0453 or can be found at their website, http://www.iatp.org
A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201 email@example.com http://www.ea1.com/CARP/