Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Target Big Ag in Iowa

May 21, 2019
 Democracy Food

Presidential candidates have long visited Iowa to pay lip service to rural communities, donning cowboy boots on farm visits and eating deep-fried butter at the state fair. However, a true commitment to American farmers must include breaking up the food monopolies that lower the prices farmers get for their crops while raising the cost of the seeds and other inputs they buy. And at the other end of the food chain, these food monopolies reduce choices for consumers and make food more expensive. So it’s a hopeful sign that several of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have made tackling corporate control of agriculture central to their campaign platforms.

Two candidates stand out as having the strongest policies addressing these issues so far. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) commits to breaking apart recent mega-mergers between seed and agri-chemical companies, such as last year’s acquisition of Monsanto by the German chemical company, Bayer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has pledged to tackle consolidation in the meat packing industry, which has shuttered medium-sized plants serving regional markets and reduced livestock prices for farmers. Iowa is ground-zero for extreme consolidation in the hog industry, which led to the state shedding 82 percent of its hog farms between 1982 and 2007, even as hog production ramped up due to factory farms that popped up across the state.

Sanders is going even further by seeking to reinstate our country’s grain reserve, which would buffer our food system against the growing threat of extreme weather due to climate change. A grain reserve would allow the government to buy crops during surplus years and sell them during times of drought, disaster or other conditions that drive prices up. Current farm policies encourage nonstop overproduction, leading to a steep decline in prices of crops like corn and soy that only benefit corporate buyers and the meat industry, which feeds cheap corn and soy to its factory farmed animals.

Presidential candidates have no business visiting Iowa if they are not committed to addressing the root economic and policy causes behind the loss of family farms. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have set the benchmark this election cycle on the issue, and other candidates should come out strong, too. They must make restoring a fair playing field for farmers and consumers central to their campaigns – and we must hold whomever is elected accountable for following through on his or her promises.

Big Pork Finally Loses

May 4, 2018
 Food  North Carolina

Justice is served: North Carolinians should not be required to sacrifice their health and well-being for the corporate factory farm next door.

A groundbreaking lawsuit filed by people living next to a factory hog farm in Bladen County, North Carolina against Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods was heard in federal court last month.

And the verdict is finally in: the jury awarded the 10 plaintiffs $50 million.

Summary of the Factory Farm Lawsuit

The jury found that Murphy-Brown “substantially and unreasonably interfered” with the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their properties around Kinlaw Farms, which raises hogs under contract with Murphy-Brown.

This is what the actual complaint said:

“Plaintiffs have suffered episodes of noxious and sickening odor, onslaughts of flies and pests, nausea, burning and watery eyes, stress, anger, worry, loss of use and enjoyment of their property, inability to comfortably engage in outdoor activities, cookouts, gardening, lawn chores, drifting of odorous mist and spray onto their land, inability to keep windows and doors open, difficulty breathing and numerous other harms.”

It’s being referred to as a “nuisance” lawsuit, but it’s far worse than you can imagine. During the trial, an expert testified to finding bacteria from hog poop on 14 of the 17 homes located within a half mile of Kinlaw Farms.

Take a moment to consider that– bacteria from the 15,000 hogs raised on the industrial factory farm next door making its way to the walls of your home.

No More “Nuisance” Lawsuits Against Factory Farming in North Carolina

There are still seven more groups of lawsuits to go to trial. However, these will be the last “nuisance” lawsuits of their kind…. even though another 850,000 North Carolinians live within three miles of a factory hog farm. This is not because other people aren’t suffering, and not because other people aren’t deserving of justice.

No, these lawsuits will be the last of their kind because in 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a terrible bill (House Bill 467, often called the “hog nuisance bill”). It stripped the citizens of North Carolina of the ability to use the court system to hold toxic and polluting hog farms accountablefor anything other than lost property values.

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed this bill, but the legislative supermajority, comprised of many members who receive robust campaign contributions from Big Pork, easily overrode his veto.

North Carolina Lawmakers Want to Protect Factory Farms from You

It’s bittersweet: the Kinlaw Farms lawsuit and the eight that will follow are both groundbreaking and the end of the road.

Across the country, and here in North Carolina, Big Ag spends lavishly to elect sympathetic politicians. As of 2017, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics, the four original sponsors of the nuisance bill had raised $417,900 throughout their time in office from Big Ag—including $45,750 from the North Carolina Farm Bureau and $30,000 from the NC Pork Council. The North Carolina Farm Bureau gave $458,000 to the 2017 legislature; the North Carolina Pork Council gave $235,200.

Thanks to a legislature that is beholden to Big Pork, if the toxic and polluting factory farm next door makes you sick, makes your life unbearable, or causes you to lose income, you no longer have any recourse.

Our democracy is broken, and passage of HB 467 is a perfect example.

Corporations like Smithfield/Murphy-Brown use their economic and political power to influence elected officials and to buy public policy.

When corporate influence shapes public policy, corporate profits come ahead of people’s interests. And if our elected officials are carrying water for Big Pork, they certainly aren’t accountable to us, the citizens of North Carolina.

Corporate influence in our political system is one of the biggest threats to our health, environment, food, and water.

But we have a huge opportunity before us.

What You Can Do

2018 is an election year, and we can elect leaders who will be accountable to us and not to Big Pork. If you can vote, you have the political power to make our democratic process work for us. From local races, to races for the US House and Senate, you can vote for candidates who care about our issues and who refuse to take contributions from corporate polluters that put their profits over the health of our communities.

North Carolina’s primary is May 8th. If you can vote, join us on May 8. It’s the first step in taking back our democracy.