Buchanan & Nader Team Up to Defend Farmers
9.17.00 | BRISTOW, Virginia -- On a sunny morning hours before a full roster of star musicians took the stage at Farm Aid 2000, farm activists, congressmen and presidential candidates Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader unanimously called for a repeal of the farm policies they say have caused commodity prices to plummet to a thirty-year low and bankrupted thousands of family farms.
Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson and Neil Young listened solemnly as one farmer after another detailed how the Freedom to Farm Act, passed by Congress and signed by the Clinton administration in 1996, has decimated their livelihoods. By promoting the drastic overproduction of grain, livestock and dairy products and restricting the government's ability to raise commodity prices, they said, the act has forced family farmers to sell their products for prices far below production costs, while padding the pockets of agribusiness giants who capitalize on their losses.
One farmer derided the act as "the best corporate farm policy money can buy."
Statements by forum participants covered everything from the plight of black farmers who lose their land at over three times the rate of white farmers, to the prevalence of suicide among farmers who want their life insurance policies to provide for their families.
Questions were then posed to Buchanan, Nader and -- representing Al Gore -- Democratic Senator Bryon Durgan (D-N.D.), about their respective proposals for solving the farming crisis in America. (Republican candidate George W. Bush was invited, according to organizers, and declined to send a representative.)
"Both political parties are bought and paid for at the business roundtable and that's why you get policies like this," said Reform Party candidate Buchanan, pinpointing global free trade as the root of the problem.
He proposed using the same antitrust laws which have broken up Microsoft to break up the agribusiness cartels, and also endorsed banning the import of commodities that are produced in the United States, pointing to the contentious China trade bill as a serious threat to family farmers in this regard.
Buchanan also demanded an end to "using food as a weapon" by easing trade sanctions against pariah nations.
Green Party candidate Nader drew the morning's rowdiest applause when he opened by saying, "I don't hear anybody naming names -- now let's really talk about the companies who own our government," and prattled off ConAgra, Archer Daniels-Midland, Monsanto, Phillip Morris, Purdue and Tyson, among others.
Joking that the "USDA should be renamed the United States Department of Giant Agribusiness," Nader ripped into the companies he said have orchestrated agriculture policy to their advantage, and went on to discuss his own solution to the family farming crisis, the result of a ten-year study called "Towards a Better Farm and Food Policy."
The report calls for the enforcement of antitrust laws against the giant agribusiness conglomerates, a prohibition of packer ownership of livestock and grain production, and a redirection of federal research funds toward ecologically sensible production methods.
Nader was the only politician in the forum to emphasize the issues of biotechnology and genetic engineering, proclaiming that "If they think they're going to get away with changing the nature of nature, they've got another think coming." He endorsed the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients, a policy the Clinton administration has rejected despite polls that show a majority of Americans support it.
After the panel, Nader was swarmed by supporters representing everything from land stewardship in Minnesota to industrial hemp in Massachusetts.
"They got the best Democratic representatives up there who voted all the right ways defending the administration that did all the wrong things," Nader griped to one farmer. "Let me tell you, I just hate seeing the best legislators representing these fat cats."