By Lynsi Burton
For the first time, Ramon Torres maintains control over his livelihood. He chooses what to farm and how to farm it, free from pesticides that harm workers, under working conditions he helps set.
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As part of a nationwide day of action protesting the legal doctrine of ‘corporate personhood’ enshrined by the controversial Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling two years ago, a diverse crowd of more than forty Occupy activists and allies staged a rally and march with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) through downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, Jan. 21. The demonstration began with a rally at the site of the former Occupy Minneapolis encampment, then marched to the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where Cargill has an office, to post a mock “Citizen’s Arrest Warrant” for Cargill Inc.
The colorful group, led by a large banner that read, “WANTED: Cargill Inc., For Profiteering Off People and Planet,” then took to the streets waving placards that outlined their grievances with the agribusiness giant. The crowd included environmentalists upset that Cargill, the largest U.S. importer of palm oil, is connected to the destruction of Indonesian rainforests, as well as food justice advocates who say Cargill’s support of free trade policies comes at a high price for farmers and food security. Occupy activists pointed out that the family that controls Cargill is the wealthiest in America and uses Cargill’s corporate status as a ‘person’ to exercise political influence in Washington, D.C., where the company spent $1.3 million on lobbying last year alone.
Rainforest Action Network’s Agribusiness Campaigner Ashley Schaeffer was among the protesters. She said, “Cargill is an enormously powerful agricultural company that has a dangerous stranglehold on our food supply. This is unhealthy to both people and the planet because Cargill continues to operate with the profits-above-all business mentality of a cutthroat trader.” Schaeffer continued, “Cargill has known for many years that its practices are contributing to abuses that include slave labor and rainforest destruction but the company stubbornly continues to operate without basic safeguards that could prevent these violations.”
Mark Muller, director of the Food and Justice Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), said, “We at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are thrilled by the local food movement. And yet we also recognize that we can only go so far given how far our political and legal system tilts in favor of corporations. Reclaiming our democracy from corporate control is crucial, and we salute all the activists that are working for a better food system and a better democracy.”
Hillary Lehr, also with Rainforest Action Network, commented, “Corporations aren’t people, everyone knows that. But the infamous Jan. 21, 2010 ruling on the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court case allows corporations unlimited political spending during elections, under a constitutional right equating money with free speech. If corporations have rights like people, shouldn’t that mean they can be arrested for their crimes like people, too?”
Cargill is the largest privately held company in the world and is owned by the richest family in America. Cargill’s annual revenue ($119 billion) is bigger than 70 percent of the world’s countries. Cargill is responsible for 25 percent of all U.S. grain exports, handles 25 percent of global palm oil trade (the world’s most used vegetable oil) and supplies about 22 percent of the U.S. domestic meat market.
Paul Sobocinski, a Land Stewardship Project organizer and family farm livestock producer from Wabasso, Minn. said, “Cargill wants to control the livestock industry, they’d like to turn family farmers into modern day serfs who do their bidding while Cargill walks away with the lion’s share of the profits. Cargill is fully integrated and one of the largest meatpackers and factory farm hog producers in the country. It’s time to hold them accountable. It’s time to take back our food and farming system from corporate agribusiness.”
The event in Minneapolis was part of a week of coordinated protests nationwide that included Occupy Congress in Washington, D.C., Occupy the Courts and mass demonstrations across the country on Jan. 20.
For more information on Cargill, see RAN’s Cargill fact sheet by clicking here.
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Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, visit www.ran.org.
Forgive me if you don’t see me jumping for joy at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent announcement that it intends to limit the use of a specific group of antibiotics in livestock production.
While the FDA’s decision to curb the use of cephalosporins in food animal production beginning April 2012 has been hailed as positive step in the right direction, I’d say it’s more a shuffle forwards—and a very reluctant one at that.
“We believe this is an imperative step in preserving the effectiveness of this class of important antimicrobials that takes into account the need to protect the health of both humans and animals,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, in the FDA press release. Now, as regular readers of my post will already know, I am passionate about the urgent need to curb the misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming systems. So what’s my problem with the FDA’s recent actions? After all, surely this is good news?
As various commentators—including Tom Philpott and Mary McKenna—have already pointed out, I am afraid that cephalosporins are nothing but small fry when it comes to overall antibiotic use in intensive farming. During 2009 alone, the FDA revealed that 80 percent of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. were used for animals—that’s an incredible 28,820,000 pounds out of the 36,080,000 pounds produced. Yet cephalosporins amounted to just over 91,000 pounds of this total—less than half of one percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. The FDA’s latest figures also reveal that cephalosporin use has decreased even further during 2010 to just over 51,000 pounds. To make matters even worse, the FDA’s announcement is actually a (less strict) rehash of proposals that were first announced in 2008, and which were immediately recalled after the usual uproar from the intensive farming industry lobby.
So what’s the real outcome of the FDA’s recent action? Well, certainly some positive media fluff for the FDA for appearing to take a stand by banning a minor antibiotic that was clearly already losing favor within the industry, yet a minimal impact on the day-to-day workings of the intensive farming industry. A cozy coincidence? I wish it was.
This rather insignificant move forward comes after a preemptive, giant leap backwards made Dec. 22, 2011, just as most of us were focusing on the upcoming holiday period. Notably without any accompanying press release or media fanfare in this instance, the FDA quietly announced in the Federal Register that it was withdrawing its long-standing intention to compel intensive farms to limit certain uses of the key antibiotics penicillin and tetracyclines for food-producing animals—an objective originally set in motion more than 30 years ago when government FDA scientists first began to fully appreciate the risks to human health from the laissez-faire non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in industrial farming.
We all know the story since then—over the years, the FDA has time and again cowed down to powerful political and legal pressure from the multi-billion dollar intensive farming industry lobby and its paid-up politicians, as antibiotic use in farming continued to spiral out of control in the pursuit of ever-cheaper protein and ever-increasing profit—not to mention the impact of intensification on animal welfare, our health and the environment. In its recent announcement the FDA warns that while it has not “ruled out” future regulatory action, it will instead “focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health.” I bet Big Ag’s CEOs are quaking in their boots.
Voluntary reform? Call me a cynic, but the FDA has got to be kidding. Despite decades of mounting evidence and the emergence of a global scientific consensus that the routine non-therapeutic use of medicinally important antibiotics on industrial farms across the world is leading to the development of life-threatening multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the powerful U.S. intensive farming lobby continues to aggressively dismiss the science and deny any possible risks to human health—just as the tobacco industry did in the 1970s.
While the FDA’s announcement of limitations for the use of cephalosporins in food animal production might well be a small step in the right direction, the FDA continues to show that it has no teeth when it comes to ensuring that the intensive farming industry puts human health before profit, so that these vital medicines can remain effective for as long as possible. Even the Government Accountability Office recently concluded that key government agencies—including the FDA—are simply not doing enough to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria to public health, and that “antibiotic use in food animals contributes to the emergence of resistant bacteria that may affect humans.” Far from being the proud industry watchdog working on behalf of U.S. citizens, the sad reality is that the FDA is happy to play the role of Big Ag’s lapdog.
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