U.S. agribusiness seeks global control

A wide range of organizations, from the Sacramento Central Labor Council to Action for Social and Ecological Justice of Burlington, Vt., will converge on Sacramento, Calif., in late June to protest a move by U.S. agribusiness to take over the agriculture of the world.

From June 23-25, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is hosting an international meeting in Sacramento. Ministers of agriculture, environment and trade have been invited from more than 180 nations.

Agribusiness and industrialized agriculture will be showcased to the officials in preparation for the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting scheduled for September in Cancun, Mexico. Corporate agribusiness leaders hope to finalize in Cancun an Agreement on Agriculture that will enable them to sell agricultural chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to farmers in developing countries.

Many third-world countries have resisted U.S.-style agriculture because their trading partners in the European Union (EU) refuse to import GMO food products. But the U.S. and some other countries are attempting to use the WTO tribunals to force the EU to accept the genetically altered foodstuffs. The U.S. reportedly has also been tying AIDS relief to acceptance of GMO agriculture.

Industrial agriculture is highly profitable for huge companies that dominate the food system, like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland, but disastrous for consumers, public health, the environment, farmers and farm workers. Contrary to the corporate lies, small-scale sustainable farming works better for everyone, except big agribusiness.

Labor and the public have not been invited to participate in the Sacramento meeting, and their concerns, such as the effect of industrial agriculture’s use of toxic chemicals and genetically altered plants and animals on the health of farm workers, food processors (cannery workers, grocery clerks, etc.) and consumers, are not being presented. Worldwide, 40,000 workers are killed annually by exposure to pesticides. Agricultural workers are twice as likely to die at work as in any other employment sector.

The exclusion of workers’ concerns from these discussions is another example of how labor has been excluded from trade negotiations and other U.S. international policy talks. NAFTA has already eliminated nearly one million well-paying jobs, created a significant drag on growth and encouraged union-busting and depressed wages and benefits, as companies threaten to move overseas. It is certain that the passage of an Agreement on Agriculture will further damage jobs and the U.S. economy.

Everyone should have the right to know what they are eating, but the importance of labeling food products with genetically altered ingredients will not be discussed either.

The Sacramento Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture (SCSA), which is leading the mobilization to protest this exclusion and educate the public about the issues, has planned many activities, including a rally and march, teach-ins, debates, educational film showings and a Family Safe Food Festival.

Bill Camp of the Sacramento Central Labor Council and Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers have been invited to speak along with national and international environmental and organic agriculture leaders at the rally on June 23. The rally will culminate in a march through downtown Sacramento.

For more information on the SCSA activities, check out their web site, www.sacramentoministerial.org or call (916) 456-9435.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org