Eddie Tape #96. Farm and rural. Interviews with representatives from Political Research Associates, Rural America Community Transportation Association, Congress's Office of Technology Assessment, American Farmland Trust, and the National Farmers Union
00:00Copy video clip URL John Foster “Chip” Berlet introduces himself. He notes that he works at the Political Research Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He talks about the destruction of family farms in America. He notes that in the late 1970s he was editing the magazine Public Eye and noticed the rural right wing movements spreading theories about Jewish banking conspiracy and other theories designed to harm the US economy. Out of desperation, some of the farm owners in the corn and wheat belts began to believe them. Soon organized hate groups formed.
03:05Copy video clip URL Berlet notes that he was researching such a hate group in Wisconsin and was working with a group that became the Center for Democratic Renewal. CDR had asked him to research this hate movement so they could respond against the absurd allegations.
04:56Copy video clip URL Berley notes that the governments response to these facist groups was to go after them and extinguish them. Because the groups were so hated, no one cared about the methods used to eliminate them.
06:04Copy video clip URL Berley investigated and concluded that while he did not agree with the hate mongering theories of the fascist groups, they did deserve a trial. He says the FBI encouraged a SWAT team mentality. He also had arguments with people at the Anti-Defamation League who supported this violent approach.
08:09Copy video clip URL Berley says we need to define this as a social problem. The only reason farm communities listen to radical thought is because they’re financially desperate. He says we need to help the farm community.
09:36Copy video clip URL Washington, DC. Then a change of location: interior of an office building and Dave Raphael introducing himself as the Executive Director of the Rural America Community Transportation Association. They enter the office. He says that the association’s mission is to help rural citizens receive reliable and practical public transportation options. He notes that the need for people to get around in small and rural towns is neglected.
11:43Copy video clip URL He adds that to determine the need for transportation we look at the proportion of old and poor people and the federal resources around for it. Forty per cent of the US are rural residents and less then three per cent of US transportation funds go to rural areas. He adds that most rural areas are not served by public transportation.
13:40Copy video clip URL Raphael notes that one of the association’s biggest tasks is education. They want to get people to understand that this is a real problem. He notes they try to make people aware that the “public” isn’t just urban and suburban citizens. He adds that transportation means freedom, the freedom and independence to move.
15:58Copy video clip URL He notes how all of this affects the elderly and argues that it makes no sense to limit people’s mobility. If we do that, we institutionalize them before their time, warehousing people in a retirement home which can be costly.
17:10Copy video clip URL Raphael says that the struggle is between highway construction and public transit. The bulk of the US resources are towards road building. Within the transit sector, the struggle is between the public and the “un-public” and to see that the needs of the elderly and poor in small communities are met.
19:44Copy video clip URL Raphael notes that one significant development is the Disabilities Rights Act. The association believes that access to services and jobs is a fundamental right. They believe mobility ought to be viewed as a basic right.
21:04Copy video clip URL Raphael says that the idea that “people are moving out of rural areas” isn’t a legitimate argument for not dealing with the issue. He says the idea that everyone will one day live in cities is “metro-pollyanna”. He thinks the notion that this is a disappearing issue is just a way of getting out of responding and taking action.
23:15Copy video clip URL Raphael says that the Congressional perspective is mixed. There is a growth of rural consciousness. There is now Congressional Rural Caucus. They focus on rural health. There is a confusion that rural means agriculture, so the movements tends to lean toward agricultural and farm issues. These, he notes, are important, but not the whole story. The association encourages a look at basic human need issues: health, housing, transportation.
25:00Copy video clip URL Raphael says the spread of city to rural brings issues such as transportation, environmental issues, growth and land use between people who’ve lived there a long time and the new comers.
27:57Copy video clip URL Raphael notes that rural communities found there are unique ways to meet their transportation needs. There are thousands of community-based organizations providing public transportation: social service, non-profits, etc. They don’t look like urban transportation. The associations are trying to combine those organizations into a national network. He adds that transportation issues they face aren’t just rural. Inner city neighborhoods where public transportation doesn’t serve also need to be attended to so those residents can enjoy freedom of mobility.
29:53Copy video clip URL Raphael talks about the development of rural land for use as a shopping mall as an example of poor land use. The cost is high and malls create transportation needs. He adds they are built without thought to energy and land use consequences.
32:06Copy video clip URL END interview, Camera runs non-directionally as the videographer and subject talk friendly.
32:34Copy video clip URL Raphael shows the videographer a directory of organizations working at the grass roots level.
34:37Copy video clip URL Video cuts.
34:44Copy video clip URL Video resumes. Interview with Mike Phillips, an associate at the Office of Technology Assessment. We are a research support agency to Congress. We research science policy for various committees. He notes his area of interest is food and agriculture.
35:53Copy video clip URL Phillips talks about family farm issues. He notes this is an era of biotechnology, farms need to adapt to this to be competitive. He explains that biotechnology is a modification of living organisms through the use of recombinant DNA for changing biological systems such as plants and animals. Modifying and cloning genes allows scientists to go beyond biological barriers. The ability to replicate bovine somatotropin through the use of recombinant DNA technology means that a cow can produce more milk, allowing farmers the ability to increase dairy output.
40:06Copy video clip URL Phillips says that he’d like to see the US agriculture use these advances in a constructive way, minimizing negative effects on the environment and safety for food. Agriculture degrades the environment. These new technologies give farmers the chance to diminish things like pesticides flowing into ground water.
42:05Copy video clip URL When asked about the negative consequences of biotechnology, Phillips notes that in the next few years we should see biotechnology products come to market and we’ll see the effects then. It will mean change in a farmer’s management capabilities. Farmers will have to be computer literate and understand how to use biotechnology systems advantageously. It will mean change in the supply industry. Chemical and pharmaceutical industries will dominate what was once a relatively independent seed industry. This means the potential for a monopoly power to emerge, exploiting farmers. He warns that it could be tough on small farmers, adding that policy makers need to take this seriously. Phillips adds that we have laws now that allow patenting of living organisms.
51:42Copy video clip URL Phillips says the major chemical companies like DuPont are getting into biotechnology. Pioneer is the only independent seed company. Most have merged with big companies or have been bought by them.
53:21Copy video clip URL When asked how can we be sure the interest of the people will be monitored, Phillips says that in DC there are public interest groups making themselves known to give advice to legislature. His organization provides analysis of what’s going on and offers policy options and their consequences.
55:12Copy video clip URL He adds that there are vaccines that are genetically modified , but no seeds to show. The interview is interrupted when the videographer stops recording.
56:12Copy video clip URL Phillips says biotechnology will allow dairy farmers to increase the output of dairy cows. This will provide advantage to the larger farmers. We are seeing moratoriums passed by various legislature that would not allow this technology to be sold. They have since expired and legislatures are attempting to stop them again or make it mandatory that milk jugs containing milk from genetically engineered animals are labeled as such. Phillips adds that there is no difference in milk produced naturally and milk produced through genetic manipulation. He says the FDA already ruled that the food is safe. However, the animal’s safety is still pending.
59:59Copy video clip URL Radio interference in the wireless microphone.
01:00:15Copy video clip URL Phillips says that this new technology has to be the most studied technology that’s ever gone before the FDA. The literature is extensive. He claims there are no negative effects with biotechnology and mass production of an animals natural hormone can begin. It has been approved for use in South Africa, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and is pending approval in the US and in Europe. The FDA wants to be sure that the’ve left no stone unturned. They want to make sure this technology is safe.
01:04:14Copy video clip URL Phillips says that the future for American agriculture is bright but adds that the over use of fertilizers, pesticides have had a negative impact. He warns that we don’t want to lose sight of the goals the US has for agriculture, and that we have the tools we just need the wisdom to use it in ways that are beneficial to society.
01:10:06Copy video clip URL Phillips notes that special interest groups have found a niche and might take things out of context and manipulate for their own use.
01:12:13Copy video clip URL END interview.
01:12:25Copy video clip URL Interview with Ralph Grossi, President of the American Farmland Trust. He notes that the AFT is concerned with the amount of land available for future generations and how it’s maintained. He notes that this country takes its best farm land and develops it into houses and strip malls. He adds that we are substituting inferior land for the prime land being used for houses and commercial purposes. He notes that the AFT and other groups are working with the Department of Agriculture on programs that will allows farmers to address this issue in a more concerted way. He adds we are losing more than a million acres a year just to urban sprawl, and that we need to control how that happens. He says they’ve identified areas that are contaminated by farms. But the big question is how to address these problems knowing that family farms are struggling to survive.
01:16:31Copy video clip URL Grossi suggests that we should focus on how to fix things more than focusing on who to blame. He observes that regulation programs have mixed success and that his organization favors voluntary programs and rewards to replant trees and bring back wetlands. He also questions whether or not subsidy programs are truly serving a public benefit or have they outlived their usefulness. Given the environmental issues, he is suggesting the money used as government subsidy be awarded to farmers for stewardship purposes for farmers who want to plant more trees, bring back wetlands, cleaning up ground water, reducing chemical use. All of these programs need funding. He wants to reorganize the farm subsidy system.
01:20:55Copy video clip URL He notes that too many farmers look to the government to solve marketing decisions and that farmers need to get back to a market economy and apply subsidy money to rewarding farmers who want to help clean up environmental issues. He notes that one purpose of subsidies is to help even out the peaks and valleys of the market place. A large percentage of the subsidies go to farmers making over one hundred thousand dollars in sales. But there are other mechanisms in place that can also help even out the market peaks and valleys such as forward contracting, crop insurance programs to take care of risk.
01:22:50Copy video clip URL Grossi says that one perception is that farmers are polluting our land. But his organization is combating this by offering demonstrations on the farmer’s own land to show how they can cut inputs of nitrogen and herbicides by 20 and 30 per cent without affecting their yield.
01:24:56Copy video clip URL Grossi adds that the loss of wetlands is linked to the issue of prime farmlands. There is very little prime farm land left that’s not in production. He says that to keep farmland productive we need to address the fact that we lose one million acres a year to development. We have to have better land use planning at the local level. It doesn’t mean stopping growth, but it means that not everyone can have a house on 5 acres, and a more dense development where a delivery of services is more efficient and where mass transportation is more efficient.
01:26:46Copy video clip URL Grossi talks about this issue in relation to edge cities. Urban sprawl into farmland is a critical issue. In Los Angeles people are in their car four hours a day. The environmental effects are obvious. It affects quality of life. Food must be brought in from the outside. He adds that we’ve had a dramatic import of food from overseas. The US prides itself on feeding the world yet we rely on imports.
01:29:29Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing.
01:29:40Copy video clip URL Video drop outs. Stop/re-start digitizing. Grossi notes that we need to pay attention to the future of our food supply.
01:30:05Copy video clip URL Grossi gives the videographer a tour of the AFT facility. He notes they’ve had good support from people who understand the issues. He adds that most of their work is policy-oriented and that their objective is to put programs in place. He says the have awareness campaigns and demonstrate projects to show farmers how various programs work.
01:33:18Copy video clip URL Grossi shows the National Environmental Challenge Award for innovation presented by President Bush at The White House for their work with farmers and sustainable agriculture. The tour continues. Dr. Dave Dyer is in his office working on an evaluation report.
01:36:43Copy video clip URL The tour continues as Grossi searches for others in the office.He shows a map that documents shift in population. It shows that the US population is shifting to the coasts which is now endangering farmland on the coasts.
01:38:21Copy video clip URL New subject. Interview with Cheryl Cook who introduces herself as Assistant Director of Legislative Services for the National Farmers Union. She notes the NFU was founded in 1902 in Texas. Their mission is to help family farms sustain existence. She defines a family farm as a farm operation where a family takes most of the capital risks and does the majority of the work. She defines a sustainable family farm system by its profitability, the sustainability of national resources, and the sustainability of the community.
01:42:12Copy video clip URL Cook notes that at one time every farm community had a post office, stationary store, hardware store. Now they all look the same with a Walmart. She says we don’t want that to happen with our food, but farmers take that risk by joining companies like Tyson. The top four companies control seventy per cent of the market of boxed beef. Consumers deserve more diversity than that. This means too many farmers are taking on additional risks by investing in their farm’s upgrades but not being able to cover the costs if the big contracting company such as Tyson or Perdue decides they don’t want that contract anymore.
01:44:45Copy video clip URL Cook talks about her experience as a bankruptcy lawyer. She tells the story of a surviving wife and her son of a farmer who had passed trying to get a loan to fix up a barn, but they walked out of the bank with enough money to build a new barn. The county office talked them into this. So they built a barn big enough to facilitate a 30-cow herd. Then they went back to the same county office and got operating costs for only 27 cows. The barn payments were based on revenue from milk of 30 cows. Because the woman only had 27 cows she was never able to meet loan payments. Four or five years later she was in bankruptcy court. This is typical of what many NFU members experience.
01:47:20Copy video clip URL She notes that industries like ConAgra control fertilizer, seed, right up to the grocery store shelf where the consumer might think they have choices not realizing that ConAgra owns many of the brands. This goes back to the question of whether or not we are “Walmart-izing” our food.
01:48:34Copy video clip URL When asked about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Cook says that there are 108 nations that are members of GATT. GATT is a set of rules that these nations follow. Agriculture is a new addition to the GATT negotiations. The NFU is skeptical that countries with widespread hunger would agree to submit their farm programs to the free trade table that GATT presents. The European markets say ‘we’re not going to pull the rug out from our farmers.’ She notes the US position in GATT issues was initially to phase out all trade distorting subsidies by the year 2000. In late 1990 the Bush administration called for a 75 per cent reduction in domestic supports and a 90 per cent reduction in export subsidies. We’ve seen far short of that this year. We’ve united the agricultural community squarely against the GATT.
01:50:44Copy video clip URL Video signal loss. Stop/re-start digitizing. There is much tape loss and degradation. Cook continues talking about the Dunkel Draft and its four basic elements for agriculture. It calls for 20 per cent cuts in domestic programs. Some of our farm commodities such as milk, wheat, have been hit hard in the last few cuts. Other commodities such as sugar, tobacco, would receive a 20 per cent cut right off the bat.
01:52:44Copy video clip URL Cook explains that the American public spends about 10 per cent of their income on food. The government says to farmers that they’ll supply them with money if they put a lower price on food they produce. Consumers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking tax payers are subsidizing the farmers. The law has tried to recognize that a corporate farm doesn’t need subsidy the way a family farm does. Cook says we don’t need to unnecessarily subsidize.
01:58:50Copy video clip URL The videographer and Cook talk about reducing tariffs and the market access provision of the Dunkel Draft.
02:02:40Copy video clip URL They talk about the possible formation of Multilateral Trade Organization, an organization to administer and enforce the GATT rules.
02:03:05Copy video clip URL END. Interview ends in mid-sentence.