There is no question that the recent disastrous events plaguing Wall Street and other segments of our economy are spilling over into broad areas of U.S. life.
Many people feel that the worst is yet to come. With continued job losses, manufacturers and dealerships closing, and retirement plans shaky or destroyed, it is easy to see that the list of citizens feeling the pain is endless. We have to ask, “Where was the oversight of these investment firms?” Countless questions remain unanswered as financial crooks get away with legal larceny.
This mess resembles the decades-long experience of tens of thousands of dairy farmers who, since 1981, have been forced to leave their treasured farms due to unstable, unorthodox milk prices. Family farmers working with the dairy subcommittee of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) have tried to warn other farmers about their future. Some have been fighting back relentlessly and have offered sensible solutions to the dilemma. As the voices warning of the current financial crisis were ignored, so were those who foresaw what was in store for U.S. dairy farmers.
Both Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have failed to adopt common-sense dairy programs that would have incurred no cost to the government and could have saved many of the farms that were forced out of business. Without dairy policies that treat farmers fairly, rural America will not revitalize.
Lack of oversight in our industry foreshadowed the lack of oversight in the financial sector, facilitating the continued takeover of local processors by large dairy companies, thus destroying independence in the dairy sector of the economy. Now that the local processors are nearly gone, milk must be hauled much longer distances to market at greater expense to farmers.
The seriousness of this ongoing disruption of local milk supplies is obvious when examining the recent Chinese milk contamination scandal. Finding melamine in Chinese products has caused havoc around the world and highlighted the need for consumers to know the country of origin of the food they purchase. Under current policies, melamine can be blended into other dairy products and wind up in the United States. Why has our government stood by and allowed local dairy farmers and processors to go out of business, leaving Americans vulnerable to these contaminated dairy imports?
These are only some of the serious challenges facing American growers that also stand to affect many American citizens. Several dairy farmers, working through the NFFC Dairy Subcommittee, have demanded an investigation for years. The Department of Justice started the appropriate investigation three years ago, and the lead investigator stated that he had found more improprieties in the diary industry than were found in the Enron scandal!
The investigation was stalled abruptly. But thanks to the efforts of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, the investigation was completed. Disturbingly, the results of the investigation have been in the hands of the Justice Department for one year with no statement or outcome published.
Now members of the NFFC have taken further action, delivering letters to all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging them to conduct a hearing on the dairy crisis. To this date, even with additional steps taken by farmers, there is no Senate hearing scheduled and the Justice Department has not yet released its findings.
So everyone should understand that what is happening today with the financial mess is exactly that most dairy farmers have experienced since 1981, with dire consequences for both farmers and consumers. As the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who ran a pharmacy, said, “When the farmers made money, then I made money.”
The government will undertake many efforts to save the financial industry, which should be saved because credit must be restored to our businesses, and, somehow, confidence in our banking system must be returned. We hope that just as much energy and focus will be devoted to putting American farmers back to work and to bringing fair and just dairy policies to them–-essential if Americans want fresh, local milk and other products from vibrant rural communities.
Arden Tewksbury is a lifelong dairy farmer and manager of the Progressive Agriculture Organization. PRO AG is based in Pennsylvania and is a member of the National Family Farm Coalition. Distributed by Minutemanmedia.org