Farming facts at a glance

Federal ag policy is not written for farmers and consumers—the two groups whose well-being logically would be the rationale for having any policy at all—nor is it written in the interests of workers, conservation, small business, rural communities, good health or even good food. Instead, it’s written for the profit and global expansion of names like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Nestlé, Phillip Morris, Tyson, Unilever and Wal-Mart.

These powers have none of the dirt and grease of honest farm toil under their fingernails. They’re well-manicured, soft-hands people who work in faraway executive suites, genetic-engineering labs, banks and the backrooms of governments. With the complicity of our presidents and Congress critters, they’ve industrialized, conglomeratized and globalized food—a substance that, by its very nature, is agrarian, small-scale and local.

Here are some products of this perverse policy:

• Out of each dollar you spend on groceries, only 19 cents goes to the farmer, with corporate middlemen grabbing the rest.

• Thousands of efficient family farmers are driven out of business each year by rising costs and falling commodity prices.

• As farm prices continue to fall, consumer prices keep going up, creating windfall profits for conglomerate shippers, processors and retailers.

• An $8-billion-a-year federal farm program delivers zero dollars to thousands of farmers while feeding some $500,000 a year to the likes of Charles Schwab, the gabillionaire stockbroker who gets taxpayer subsidies to grow rice at his Butte County duck-hunting club (the rice paddies attract migrating ducks for his friends to shoot).

• Agribusiness dumps 8 billion pounds of pesticides on farmlands each year, with the result that 45 percent of America’s groundwater is dangerously polluted, while farm families, farm workers and people living next to the fields suffer poisonings, cancers, birth defects and death.

• A handful of corporations monopolize each and every aspect of the food economy, from seeds to chemicals, grain shipping to cotton trading, processing to retailing.

• Workers in fields, processing plants and supermarkets are routinely paid poverty wages, exposed to injury and death (farm work is the most dangerous there is), harassed, fired without cause and denied the right to organize.

• Food itself has become a clear and present danger, as quick-profit agriculture has given us mad-cow disease, feces contaminants, irradiation, infusion of sexual hormones, genetic manipulation, a toxic stew of chemical additives and an epidemic overdose of fats and sugars.

• The typical food product in any supermarket has traveled more than 1,500 miles to get there, wasting tankfuls of energy, destroying both freshness and nutrition and denying shelf space to local producers.