Last week, our Congress made passed an appropriations bill that will impact the future of food in America and beyond. It hurts both farmers and consumers, but of course it benefits corporate agriculture and Wall Street in many ways that extend beyond food. In a recent article entitled, Our Democracy is Dying, Marianne Williamson eloquently explained how corporate interests are now more powerful than American citizens. She said, “Whatever Wall Street wants, Wall Street gets. Corporatism is the new order of the day. One political party stands for it; the other political party won’t stand against it.”
To most of us, this isn’t a surprise. After all, we have known for a long time that lobbying and campaign financial contributions by corporate and wealthy donors greatly influence our regulatory and judicial systems, and have gotten out of control.
What is a surprise, however, is that our Democracy, for all intents and purposes, is actually no longer a Democracy at all. We have come to the point in this great nation when the U.S. government no longer represents the interests of its people, but is instead is ruled by a few rich and powerful. In fact, a recent study from Princeton and Northwestern universities has concluded that our Democracy is officially an Oligarchy.
This latest 1,600-page spending document was forced through Congress in less than one week, giving our lawmakers little to no time to review its contents. Here are just a couple of the terms related to food:
- A cut of several hundred million dollars from the Conservation Stewardship Program over the next 10 years. This program is designed to assist farmers and ranchers in improving soil quality; decreasing harmful erosion; improving water and air quality; providing habitats for biodiversity, wildlife, and food pollinators; sequestering carbon and reducing harmful greenhouse gases; and conserving water and energy. These cuts will not only hurt farmers and the environment, but people flock to states in which wilderness can be fully experienced and enjoyed. Tourism dollars are an important part of the budgets many of those states and will be lost if nature is not preserved by this program.
- The bill might also prevent the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing regulations that are meant to protect farmers and ranchers from deceptive, fraudulent, and retaliatory practices of Big Ag. The National Farmers Union says this bill will deny farmers protection when they use their first amendment rights to speak with congressional representatives. It will also deny them the right a jury trial. With the fact that seed saving is becoming increasingly difficult without the threat of lawsuit for patent infringement, the passing of this new bill is a slap in the face to American farmers.
- Want to know where your food comes from so that you can make informed choices? Well, that’s going to be more difficult, too, especially for meat eaters. This new bill will potentially eliminate the requirement for big meat companies to follow the Country of Origin Labeling rules for their products. This will make it impossible for consumers to know whether they are supporting local or foreign meat producers, and it will be harder for consumers when a food recall occurs. It will result in more waste in the name of keeping our food safe – and judging by the current list of food recalls, I use the term “safe” lightly.
Change is on the horizon, but it won’t come without you. If you are thinking about using your time and resources to help create a more fair and sustainable food system, stop thinking and start doing. We need your help more than ever. As Marianne Williamson said in her recent article, “our democracy is sick — it is really, really sick — and all of us are needed now to nourish it and make it well.” This is not the time for silence, or conversations that do not leave the dinner table, or frustration and feelings of helplessness. This land is OUR land. It’s time for us to take it back.