Agrilogics
  • Combines are beginning to roll through U.S. soybean fields.

    American farmers have harvested about 6 percent of the 2018 soybean crop, the USDA’s latest Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin says. That number is up from 4 percent at this time last year.

  • A recent report from the European Commission shows that the United States has become Europe’s main supplier of soybeans, reaching a 52% share compared with 25% in the same period last year.

  • In South Africa, more than 50% of working age adults don’t have jobs. But is the country asking the right questions when it comes to understanding what drives people’s employment-related decisions? Research on unemployment mostly focuses on getting wages right. But there are also many non-monetary reasons that motivate South Africans’ work-related decisions.

  • Late on August 22, US President Donald Trump launched into some trademark Twitter diplomacy. After apparently watching a segment on Fox News, the President felt moved to instruct Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South African land farm seizures and expropriations and large scale killing of farmers.”

    Newsroom editors scratched their heads. State Department officials scrambled.

    The South African government, which had spent months gingerly navigating the Trump presidency, swiftly hit back. Officials called the tweet “unfortunate” and “divisive” and hauled in the US Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires for a dressing down.

    South Africa is engaged in an intense debate about equitable land ownership and righting the wrongs of a racist past. The government wants to allow land expropriation without compensation in some cases.

    But why, after barely touching on African issues during his administration, had the American president chosen to focus on a domestic debate in South Africa?

    And, more importantly, how had the fate of a few thousand white South African farmers become a regular feature on Trump’s favored Fox News?

    South Africa has become a twisted meme for the far right online. A favorite for extreme right-wingers like Katie Hopkins, a British provocateur, and Laura Southern, a Canadian alternative media personality, who have developed a substantial following.

    There is no shortage of extreme voices on South Africa. Posts about white genocide and land grabs are everywhere on Facebook or YouTube.

    Spend a little time, though, in this alternative media universe, and the name of one South African will keep cropping up: Simon Roche.

    Roche is ubiquitous, doing interviews with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and ultra-right media like Red Ice, or appealing directly to his followers on social media from an overstuffed leather couch.

    “Hello I’m Simon Roche. We represent the white people of South Africa, who are presently being told that they can expect to see a genocide against them,” says Roche in a fundraising post. The video has more than 800,000 views.

    He is the public face and a leader of the Suidlanders, roughly translated from Afrikaans as Southerners or South Landers. The Suidlanders believe South Africa is heading toward a brutal race war where whites will be targeted by blacks.

    Their members come from across the country, and from a cross-section of society. They are farmers, business people, and suburbanites, organized into more than 30 districts across the country. What unites them is their race -- they are exclusively white -- and their genuine belief in their founder’s doomsday prophecy.

    The Suidlanders are planning for the evacuation of their members to rural South African refugee camps they will set up.

    “I don’t think it is racism. I don’t get up in the morning hating black people”

    There is a key distinction between the Suidlanders and South Africa’s khaki-clad hate groups of the past like the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) or Boeremag that focused on aggressive nationalism.

    The Suidlanders cast themselves as victims and they push that myth far beyond South Africa’s shores.

    “The online strategy and propaganda of the Suidlanders uses the same tactics as terrorist groups for recruiting members,” says an official of a South African intelligence agency who is not authorized to talk publicly.

    The Suidlanders claim their membership is now more than 130,000 strong. That figure is most likely inflated, says our source, but something impossible to verify since they do not keep membership lists.

    The South African government is concerned enough, though, to have undercover agents embedded inside the group, according to the source.

    Ultra-right-wing groups have always had some appeal to fringe elements in South Africa. The ongoing land debate has given oxygen to the myth of white victimization like never before.

    With the Suidlanders
    Down a dirt road, and through the cracked fields of corn husks, a perfect circle of imposing green eucalyptus trees rises over the parched early-summer farmland.

    The ring of trees is the exact dimension of the circle of wagons during the Battle of Blood River on December 16, 1838, where a few hundred Afrikaaners defeated thousands of Zulu fighters without losing a single life.

    Inside SUVs and pickups and camper vans, families set up their tents and gather in small groups chatting, shielded from the outside world by the trees.

    The Suidlanders’ newest district organization is on a camping weekend -- and they agreed to let us come.
    The Suidlanders’ camping weekend ends with a raffle where winning numbers are chosen with a bit of target practice. - Brent Swails/CNN
    A whistle sounds and about 50 men, women and children filter into a corrugated iron hall. On the stage are flipcharts with handwritten lists in Afrikaans.

    “Suidlanders – Ezekiel 20:45,” one is headed.

    “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, set your face toward the south,’” the biblical prophecy reads. “I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees both green and dry.”

    Jan Fourie, a ramrod-straight man with a black beard arching along his jawline, stands in front of the group holding a dog-eared family bible.

    “You can see how the revolutionary climate is growing in our land. When the anarchy breaks out, we will flee. Moses was one man and he got his people out. You are all like Moses now,” he says in crisp, formal Afrikaans.

    The Suidlanders prepare themselves with survival and weapons training. Their leaders are setting up radio repeaters on farms for when the cell network fails.

    It will fail, Fourie -- a district leader of the Suidlanders -- tells members, because the war is imminent -- and they will be the victims.


    “You need to be prepared for the bomb throwers,” says Fourie, referring to black South Africans. “If you want to just tag along with us, then you are a traitor. I started giving these lessons to my daughter when she was 7 years old. When she was 16 she came to me and said she was getting nightmares. But we need to be prepared.”

    Later, Fourie demonstrates what to pack in a grab bag.

    One by one, he pulls out the necessities of life on the run from a black rucksack: small bible; compass; maps; backgammon boards; first-aid supplies; any necessary medications; penknife; whistle; playing cards.

    “Along with your grab bag, you always need your licensed weapon, your licensed ammunition and your weapon-cleaning materials,” insists Fourie.
    Jan Fourie demonstrates what to pack in a grab bag. - Brent Swails/CNN
    The Suidlanders are careful to do everything by the book because they know the authorities are watching.

    “We are constantly monitoring the Suidlanders to see if they change tactics or step out of the confines of the law. Should they do this, then we will move on them,” says the intelligence official.

    At sunset, the wind whips in, flattening some tents. Thunder and sheet lightning rush in from the West, pelting the campers with rain and hail.

    “We are going to eat like kings tonight, in spite of the weather,” says Simon Roche, stepping under an awning and poking his fire with a stick.

    “Are you guys alright?” he says in Afrikaans through the deluge to a couple shivering in their two-person tent.

    “Yes! … No!” they shout in unison.

    Roche leans back on a camp chair and ruminates.

    “Ten years ago, we were preparing even then to implement a civil defense plan to safeguard the welfare of our people in the event of a civil war in which our people are threatened. We are further along the timeline,” he says.

    “What would you say to the white South Africans that aren’t paying attention to this threat?” I ask him.

    “We think they are going to be caught in an almighty cauldron of conflict.”

    “There is no evidence that a group of people are killing farmers for political purposes”

    Gareth Newham of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS)
    Roche talks fast, switching between meandering white supremacist philosophy and lengthy personal anecdotes.

    He says the land debate has been a boon for the Suidlanders.

    And he praises Donald Trump’s tweet about the matter. “We saw a ray of hope. Maybe there are people out there who know and care and have power and influence. Only time will tell how much is smoke and mirrors -- shadows and dust.”

    One of his favorite topics, though, is his recent tour of the US.

    “We toured for six months last year. The thing that struck us was the classiness of the people who attended our talks,” he says. “They are not your radical neo-Nazi kind of people. In venue after venue, in presentation after presentation, we met sterling young guys -- great guys -- magnificent manners.”

    Both sides
    You may remember the people he is talking about from Charlottesville, Virginia, and the August 2017 Unite the Right rally.

    Thousands of white supremacists descended on the historic college town, prompting clashes between hate groups and counter-protesters. A young woman was killed when a neo-Nazi mowed her down with his Dodge Challenger.

    “Jews will not replace us,” was a favorite chant at the rally.

    The images of those hate groups on the streets of America are still raw, beamed onto phones, televisions and computers around the world.

    One of the frames an Associated Press photographer filed that day is packed with Unite the Right protesters holding makeshift weapons and flags: Confederate, American and Nazi.

    In the far bottom right of the image, a Unite the Right protester wearing a hard hat and protective glasses has a wide grin. An anonymous face in a sea of racists.

    But not anonymous to Carla Hill, an investigator with the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who actively tracks white supremacist hate groups.

    A few days later, President Trump faced reporters. Flanked by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is Jewish, Trump doubled down on his earlier comments about Charlottesville, when he equated white supremacists with counter protesters.

    “I do think there's blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it,” Trump said.

    Asked about the neo-Nazis specifically, Trump returned to the theme: “You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

    Roche sent a giddy audio message to the Suidlanders from Charlottesville.

    “I wish I was American because I would have smacked... I don’t know how many, but a good few of them needed a hiding. The guys did a superb job,” Roche says in his voice note, referring to the beatings meted out to counter-protesters, “The people behaved themselves respectfully and decently.”

    Investigators from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the ADL in the US say that the Suidlanders and other South African right-wing organizations are successfully taking their storyline of white victimhood to the US.
     
    “American white supremacists support Roche, because they have a long fixation with South Africa as a possible model. A microcosm of what is possible in the United States. They link the fate of white people in the United States to that of white South Africans,” says the ADL’s Hill.

    Hill says that multiple groups in the US use South Africa as a wedge issue, trying to demonize all black South Africans to get more people to join their cause.

    Heidi Beirich, the director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, agrees. Her team monitors scores of hate groups in America and closely follows the Suidlanders.

    “It is this idea that white people are the victims instead of the aggressors of these processes. But, of course, you have to sell that narrative. You want to be the victim, you don’t want to be the aggressor, or you will get no sympathy. It is like Holocaust deniers trying to minimize the genocide of Jews to salvage Hitler’s ideas,” she says.

    Ethnic cleansing
    But how do South African groups cast themselves as victims? After all, the apartheid government was a notorious aggressor.

    To understand, you need to drive around about two-and-a-half hours north of Johannesburg, where private citizens have erected a striking monument. Hundreds of white crosses – each with a name, date and age -- form a giant cross on the slope. The date on each cross is the day each person was murdered.

    Large white letters fixed to the mountainside spell out “Plaasmoorde” or “Farm Murders.”

    The monument has two aims: show how many white farmers have been murdered and give names to the victims -- who often barely get a mention in the local press.
    Large white letters fixed to the mountainside spell out “Plaasmoorde” or “Farm Murders” next to a major highway two and a half hours from Johannesburg. -


    “A systematic process of ethnic cleansing is a looming threat in South Africa,” says Ernst Roets, the deputy chief executive of AfriForum, a lobbying group.

    Roets sits in his office at Afriforum headquarters in Centurion near Johannesburg. A library of political tomes, including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” is joined by a small bust of Ronald Reagan adorning the wall behind him.

    AfriForum caters mostly, but not exclusively, to Afrikaaners. It fashions itself as a minority civil rights group -- the minority being white South Africans.

    AfriForum organizes protests and releases slick videos on social media that give horrifying details of farm attacks. Roets is a constant presence in the news media in South Africa.

    The biggest problem with AfriForum’s claims about possible ethnic cleansing and farm murders is that they are not true, says Gareth Newham of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), a South African research group.

    “There is no evidence to support that. There is no evidence that a group of people are killing farmers for political purposes. There is no evidence that they are doing it because they are listening to political leaders. It is happening because of crime,” says Newham.

    Newham and the ISS independently track farm murders -- as well as all other serious crimes. Farmers’ unions like AgriSA also keep stats on farm murders. Both say that farm murders peaked in 2001, at around 130 killings per year. Currently, farm murders are less than half that number.
     
    There were 62 murders on farms in the 2017-18 financial year, according to official police statistics, or around 0.3% of the 20,336 murders in South Africa during the same period.

    “There is no epidemic of farm murders in South Africa. There is an epidemic of murders,” Newham says.

    More people are killed in taxi violence, in gang violence, by vigilante mobs than in farm murders. More cops are killed. And rises in farm murders are in line with the overall increases in murder rates.

    But Newham says that even on a proportional basis, AfriForum’s arguments aren’t valid.

    Despite the facts outlined by the ISS, Roets insists farmers are killed in disproportionate numbers in South Africa and that government leaders and some black South African politicians are complicit, citing the incendiary remarks of Julius Malema, the leader of radical opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters.

    Malema has been charged with hate speech for singing a struggle song called “Kill the Boer; Kill the Farmer.” Now he substitutes “kill” with “kiss.”

    In June, Malema was criticized after telling a Turkish TV station that he was “not calling for the slaughter of white people for now.”

    In an interview with CNN, Malema didn’t row back from those comments.

    “No, no, I said I am not calling for the slaughter of white people for now. I will not be responsible for the future. I don’t know what will be happening in the future,” Malema told CNN.

    He denied that he is playing into the hands of groups like AfriForum.

    “They hate me for speaking equality. And they cannot imagine themselves being equal to monkeys,” he said.

    Dialogue is failing
    AfriForum’s assertive stance on land reform and farm murders has swelled the group’s numbers, but it is often ridiculed by the South African government and ordinary citizens on social media.

    Roets says that it is increasingly difficult for them to resolve issues through dialogue in South Africa. Not so in America.

    “We were very glad that there was a great acceptance of our concerns,” says Roets.

    Roets and Kallie Kriel, the head of AfriForum, went on an extensive tour earlier this year through America, meeting political leaders, visiting think tanks and media personalities.

    Roets hit the conservative jackpot with an extended interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Months later, another broadcast of Carlson’s likely sparked Trump’s South Africa-related tweet.
     
     
    2012
    White supremacists in US organize protests
    American white supremacist movements -- including neo-Nazis, skinheads, “traditional” white supremacists, Christian Identity adherents and racist prison gangs -- begin making arrangements for “nationwide” demonstrations with the goal of preventing the alleged “genocide of whites” in South Africa, according to research compiled by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism (ADL). The organizers dub their efforts to rally as the “South Africa Project.”
    Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images
     
    2015
    Manifesto of mass shooter reveals white supremacist views
    Court documents show Dylann Roof, the man who killed nine people in a massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was obsessed with Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until 1980, when its name was changed to Zimbabwe.
    Suidlanders Media YouTube
     
    2017
    Roche tours the US
    Simon Roche of the Suidlanders, a white survivalist group that is preparing for a race war in South Africa, spends six months travelling to so-called alt-right conferences in the US. Roche also meets with internet personality Mike Cernovich, known for his role peddling far-right conspiracy theories including “Pizzagate” and Swedish far-right radio host Henrik Palmgren. While in the US, Roche also appears on fringe right-wing media organization InfoWars on several occasions.
    Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon
     
    JUNE, 29 2017
    Conservative pundit tweets support
    Conservative author Ann Coulter writes “The only real refugees: White South African farmers facing genocide” while retweeting far-right personality Tara McCarthy.
    IMDB
     
    JANUARY 2018
    More right-wing figures propagate ‘white genocide’ narrative
    The narrative of an alleged “white genocide” in South Africa is picked up by more far-right figures internationally. It starts with Canadian far-right personality Lauren Southern, who appears in a documentary called “Farmlands” while visiting South Africa. In the footage, she interviews Simon Roche.

    MARCH 2018
    Carlson discusses South African land reform on show
    Fox News host Tucker Carlson raises the issue of a “racist land grab” in South Africa on his nightly show.

     
    MARCH 2018
    Australian cabinet minister offers support for white SA farmers
    Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton calls on his department to explore potentially offering fast-track visas to white South African farmers because they are being "persecuted" and need help from a "civilized" country.
    @kalliekriel/Twitter
     
    MAY 2018
    AfriForum tours the US
    On May 16, Fox News host Tucker Carlson discusses “large-scale killing” of farmers with a guest from South Africa white minority lobbying group AfriForum. AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel and Ernst Roets bumped into National Security Advisor John Bolton while at the Fox News studio and later 
     
    AUGUST 22, 2018
    Land reform on Fox News again
    Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson includes another segment on his show about redistribution of land in South Africa.

     
    AUGUST 22, 2018
    SA land issues appear on Trump’s account
    US President Donald Trump tweets that he has “asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” He then appears to quote Carlson, adding, “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers” before tagging the Fox News host and the network.
    “In our view the impact was massive. And we welcomed the tweet. The core of what he said for us is that there is a recognition that there is a problem in South Africa,” says Roets.

    In a chance meeting at Fox News, the pair even managed to hand Roets’ book on farm murders to Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and grab a photo with him.


     
    Great turn of events: With a bit of luck @ErnstRoets and I met John Robert Bolton, USA National Security Advisor to @realDonaldTrump. We also gave him a copy of Ernst's new #KillTheBoerBook on #FarmMurders & #ExpropriationWithoutCompensation in SA. @afriforum #AfriForumUSA .

     
    543
    5:09 PM - May 9, 2018 · Washington, DC
     
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    “They are finding people who get some resonance with what they are saying, and these people are ill-informed about what is happening here,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told CNN in an exclusive interview. “Just as President Trump was ill-informed about the messages that they were beaming out.”

    “Those people overseas that are taken in by this message of whites in South Africa being under threat, they are looking at South Africa through the lens of black versus white. And South Africa has long moved away from that.”

    AfriForum has been so successful in international lobbying that Australia’s Minister of Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, suggested earlier this year that special visas could be offered for white farmers fleeing South Africa. The group continues to lobby in both the US and Australia.

    Heidi Beirich of the SPLC calls Roets and AfriForum white supremacists “in a suit and tie.”

    “There are two versions here of white supremacy. A more ‘white-collar’ and a less ‘white-collar’ version. Both are penetrating into the psyche. And once Trump put out that tweet, attention was drawn to this theory of white South African farmers being put under attack like never before,” says Beirich.

    “There is no impending apocalypse for white people. This is stoking fears amongst whites as well as impacting voting, elections, views of multiculturalism. Frankly, it is just leading to more racism and hate.”

    Roets and Afriforum flatly deny that they are white supremacists. And Roets says the use of farm murders by these groups bothers him.

    “There are people who try to make a propaganda issue out of farm murders and try to portray it as something that it isn’t,” he says -- something Roets himself is accused of doing frequently.

    “You can compare where South Africa is today to where other countries where ethnic cleansing took place just two or three years before it happened. I am not saying that we are at that point, but to try to deny that it is a possibility is very naive,” he says.

    Hutus with more guns
    The sky has cleared by dawn and the Suidlanders are shaking out their wet camping gear.

    A tall man with thinning hair, a goatee and a Gore-Tex jacket approaches us.

    Hein Human works for an agricultural organization in the Free State, a province south of Johannesburg.

    “I watched a video on YouTube of Simon Roche and didn’t consider it too much. Then, a few months later, YouTube suggested another video from Roche that they thought I would like. I watched that,” he says, “it just clicked for me.”

    Later in the morning, Human and the others listen intently to a security briefing by a young security specialist named Ern.

    Using a Powerpoint display, he gives a detailed explanation of the Rwandan genocide, in which around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by Hutu gangs in a 100-day orgy of death.

    On the top line of his Powerpoint (in Afrikaans): “Our ‘Hutus’ have many more weapons.”
    A security specialist named Ern gives a briefing to gathered Suidlanders. - Brent Swails/CNN
    White supremacist groups are gaining strength globally. Their members are skewing younger, and by cloaking their racism in victimhood, their racism is becoming more broadly palatable -- on the ground and on the internet.

    In South Africa, their ideas are being magnified by the more mainstream activists of AfriForum and given more oxygen by radicals like Julius Malema.

    It is a dangerous mix.

    “With people focusing on race, we are not able to focus on the real problems, which are really to do with the economy, with poverty, and with unemployment and inequality. That is why this is so damaging. It makes it more difficult for our country to solve our problems,” says Gareth Newham of the ISS.

    “Right-wingers in the US are saying ‘All we want is what our grandfathers had.’ That mantra was repeated time and time again in the US,” says Simon Roche.

    I am standing with him at a Suidlanders bonfire in the center of the ring of trees.

    I ask him if he thinks that their ideas are driven by racism.

    “I don’t think it is racism. I don’t get up in the morning hating black people and I think the majority of Suidlanders are like that,” says Roche.
    Simon Roche recaps his trip to the United States to his fellow Suidlanders. - Brent Swails/CNN
    “There is a certain sense amongst certain sectors of historical white societies, that those societies are being diluted. That those societies are being diluted on other people’s terms,” he says.

    “When you use terms like ‘diluted’ I think Nazism,” I interject.

    “I think eugenics. I think of all these horrible things from the past. Why is being ‘diluted’ a problem?” I ask.

    “No, David, that’s neurotic. The societies are, in demographic terms, being diluted.”

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture released reports on quarterly stock levels for major grains as well as wheat production from the 2018 crop. As always, the commodity market was watching closely and generally found the report to be bearish. 

  • he U.S. trade deficit widened in August to the biggest in six months as soybean exports plunged and a measure of the gap with China hit a record, showing how the Trump administration’s trade war is dragging on economic growth.

  • The current world-record holder for milk production calls Selz-Pralle Dairy near Humbird, Wisconsin home after producing 78,170 pounds of milk in 365 days.

  • So much is going on along the path from dirt to dinner that it’s almost impossible to keep up with all the newsworthy and significant developments on the farm. From domestic and foreign markets to changing food trends to exciting innovations food production, to policies and regulations affecting our food system, and more. So let’s take a quick look at the headlines catching our eyes recently.

    Enough Already

    More rains in key agricultural producing regions of the central United States continue to delay spring planting. As fields slowly dry out and recovery efforts continue for areas devastated by floods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the corn crop is behind its normal planting progress, with 23 percent planted, trailing the five-year average of 46 percent. The soybean crop is behind by even more, now at 6 percent complete and behind the average of 14 percent. Spring wheat planting stands at about 22 percent, also below last year. Generally, with low spring plantings, markets might expect higher prices come harvest. But the outlook for U.S. Agricultural trade exports expected to remain the same from 2018, as a result, no one is so far predicting a major run-up in prices that would lead to higher consumer prices.

    New Soybean Reality

    And, to add to the rainy day, China will continue to affect the global soybean market. Not just because of U.S. tariffs but also because of African Swine Fever. The Chinese pig herd has dropped by 20% in the past 20 months. The USDA is predicting a global 42 million ton decline for China’s import demand. The sliver of a silver lining is that this will help U.S. pork exports to Singapore.

    New Hope for Dairy Farmers

    The plight facing U.S. dairy farmers has been well documented. Due to a global oversupply of milk and increasing consumption of almond and soy milk, dairy farmers are in their fifth year of low milk prices. Many are operating on a negative margin. The USDA is planning on helping the farmer by rolling out the Dairy Margin Coverage program which will send out $600 million in payments to milk producers.

    Reproduction Award
    Image by Laurent Renault

    Survey Finds Glum Farm Investments

    The economic uncertainty in the agricultural sector is doing more than reducing farm income. It’s also affecting farmers’ willingness to invest. The Ag Economy Barometer produced regularly by Purdue University and the CME Group this spring found that 78 percent of farmers surveyed felt it’s a “bad time” to make major investments in farm operations. Continuing tensions over trade with China and continuing weather problems in key producing areas are concerns for investing in technologies and equipment to increase productivity and profitability for farmers.

    This also impacts food security for the people who depend upon them. The Barometer measures a monthly economic sentiment with 400 agricultural producers and a quarterly survey of 100 agriculture and agribusiness thought leaders. The latest survey showed the fourth largest one-month drop since data collection began in October 2015.

    EU Acts to Spur Food Waste Reduction

    The fight against food waste continues everywhere. The European Commission has adopted a common methodology for uniform measurement of food waste across all 28 member countries. This unified measurement system will allow improved reporting of efforts to cut food waste across the food chain. It also is expected to promote greater cooperation with food processors by food manufacturers and retailers, notably in promoting greater diversion of waste to bioenergy.

    The total amount of food waste the EU 27 is estimated at 89 Mt. , i.e 179 kg/per capita/year. Households produce the largest fraction of EU food waste at 38 Mt or 76 kg per capita.

    Some African Countries Think Again on GMOs

    Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria have recognized the benefit of GMO crops to help feed their people. Prolonged drought and widespread hunger have the Kenyan government looking more closely at food security and re-thinking its ban on genetically modified corn. With an estimated 1 million Kenyans facing hunger and malnutrition, government officials say they will make a decision in the next two months. Their decision could help open the door to wider use of the GMO seeds important to improving Kenyan food security. Uganda has moved ahead and pulled together a legal framework to approve GMO cassava, potatoes, cotton, and corn all of which are now resistant to insects requiring less insecticide and better yield. Their research has also developed a biofortified banana. Nigeria has commercialized Bt cotton and also approved the GMO pest resistant cowpea.

    Danes Turn up the GMO Heat on EU

    Denmark’s Ethics Council has added to the pressure on the European Union to rethink its opposition to GMOs. Much has changed since the 1990s, the Council observed, and policymakers must now think about how genetic technologies can help advance the development of the crops needed to contend with climate change, with greater resistance to pests and disease and more efficient use of water and nutrients. Until now, the Danes have been among the most vocal critics of GMOs, so the Council’s call for a new debate can’t be easily ignored by lawmakers and regulators.

    Presidential Hopefuls Look to Change Ag policies

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) are looking to get attention by making agricultural policy a key element of their campaigns. Warren and Sanders, for example, would attack economic concentration in agriculture, looking to break up large vertically integrated operations. Klobuchar, who helped write the 2018 Farm Bill, would boost all aspects of farming from dairy to animal disease outbreaks, to conservation. She also suggested a fee for mergers that would be used to investigate anti-competitive practices. As more and more attention shifts to the difficult economic environment facing farmers and rural America, expect the list of candidates with other provocative policy ideas for our farm and food system to expand still more.

     

    The Bottom Line: Between new innovations in science, uncertain political environments, and simply the weather, we will continue to keep you abreast of these interesting times in food and agriculture.

  • Last week, ten Utah county commissioners on a lobbying trip walked into the Washington, D.C. office of Democratic New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. They were there to talk about school funding issues, but one of them, Tammy Pearson, had a side agenda: To let Booker’s staff know about the wild horse population, which is out of control.

    Pearson, a Beaver County commissioner, ranches on federal land. Every month, she pays the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) $1.35 for each of the 600 cattle that graze the mountainous terrain beyond the small town of Minersville. In theory, both sides benefit. When her cows feed on the grass, they prevent it from becoming fuel for wildfires. And the comparatively low cost of doing business with the government keeps beef costs down for consumers.

    “We’re feeding the world, and this is the cheapest way of doing it,” Pearson says.

    Last year, more than 80,000 horses were shipped out of the U.S. for slaughter.
    But she pays an unexpected price. Pearson’s cattle share the range with wild horses, protected since 1971 by the BLM, which is supposed to set population limits on her herd based on how many horses the land can sustain.

    There should be no more than 60 wild horses and burros on the 60,000-acre Frisco Herd Management Area, where Pearson ranches. As of March, there were 173, according to BLM spokesman Jason Lutterman. It’s a national problem. Government lands can support a total of 26,690 animals nationwide, according to Lutterman, but the current population is more than triple that, at 88,090.

    Pearson says the horses tromp the mountain riverbeds into mudholes. They follow cows around, gobbling their grass, drinking out of their water troughs, and eating their protein supplements out of tubs.

    Between that and the droughts, she says, she’s only been able to ranch half of her herd, paying $30,000 to keep the rest in a feedlot in town. She’d like to round up the horses, but if she so much as touched one, she says, she could land in jail. She’s heard of people shooting the horses, and can appreciate their frustration.

    “I would have a problem doing that,” she says. “But at some point in time, it might end up coming to that. It wouldn’t be much different than hunting.”

    Booker is sympathetic to ranchers, so Pearson, one of two women in the delegation, mentioned her wild horse problem and invited the Senator’s staff to attend an advisory meeting at the end of October. “It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” she says, about the challenge of educating politicians like Booker, who aren’t from Western states, and may not be familiar with the issue.

    For decades, BLM has rounded up wild horses and burros, aiming to do it every three to five years. Right now, a round-up is underway in Nevada. Last year, the bureau removed 11,472 wild horses and burros nationwide, more than in the three previous years combined. But its taxpayer-funded corrals and pastures, where horses wait to be sold or adopted, are nearing capacity.

    The pressing question is where to put this growing population once existing options are full. Slaughtering horses for food is illegal in the U.S., but a market exists beyond our borders, in Europe, Japan and Russia. This is why brokers called “kill buyers” send trailers full of horses, both wild and domestic, into Mexico and Canada, where slaughter is legal. Last year, 81,573 horses made the trip.

     
    Wild horses are a minority in the disposable horse population, though they have an impact out of proportion to their numbers: They make it more difficult for ranchers to raise the cattle we eat. Once shipped out of the U.S., they are outnumbered at foreign slaughterhouses by privately-owned riding horses or racehorses sold for an array of reasons—too old, too small for a growing rider, too expensive, not fast enough, or excessive in some way that an owner found intolerable.

    Tracking the exact percentage of wild horses in the total slaughterhouse population is impossible , in part because after a year adoptive owners are allowed to sell them without notifying the BLM–and people who buy them outright can sell them immediately.

    BLM tries to control herd populations through operations known as gathers. For weeks or months at a time, agents and contractors lure horses to water traps, and chase them with helicopters into temporary pens—six-foot metal fences covered in burlap. The horses are trailered to one of 20 permanent facilities the agency owns around the country. There, the stallions are gelded, and along with the mares, are branded with a freezemark.

    If a horse is built right—short-backed, with big hindquarters—he might have a future as a riding horse. A couple might see him on the BLM’s website, adopt him, and pick him up at the corral, or hire someone to trailer him to his new home. Adopters used to pay a $125 fee, but in March the BLM began paying them $1,000 as an incentive. They get half up front, and receive the rest after BLM checks in, at the end of one year, and finds them to be doing a responsible job.

    After a year and a day, the adopters can buy the horse, and become his legal owner. They sign a document agreeing to provide humane care, and not to process the horse “into commercial products” or sell it to someone who will. There’s a disclaimer, too, stating that wild horses are ungentle, and due to their age and temperament may never get accustomed to humans, or be useful as a farm animal.

    Care is expensive; if a horse can’t be broken an owner might decide to get rid of him. There are few options. Owners can pay to have a horse euthanized, or they can sell the horse to someone who wants to give him a new home. Once they transfer the title at a local barn, the contract the owners had with BLM is no longer in effect; it holds only for the initial owner. That’s where a pipeline to slaughter can start, whether that adoptive owner knows it or not.

     
    It’s hard to kill a horse, because they are prey animals—come at them and their instinct is to bolt. They thrash around in squeeze-chutes used for slaughter, twisting their long necks to elude shots from bolt guns aimed between their eyes and ears to render them unconscious. Advocates cite instances in which repeated, failed blows result in gory injuries, and horses that are awake for their own slaughter.

    “Think about putting a cantaloupe on a stick, and swinging it around, and having someone try to position something onto that cantaloupe steadily,” says Katie Kraska, who manages federal legislation about horses for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Other animals are completely immobilized when they go to squeeze-chute. But horses’ instinctual flight response makes them ill-suited for stunning.”

    Activists focused on the plight of wild horses beginning in the 1950s, largely due to the crusading efforts of Velma Johnston, better known as Wild Horse Annie. Johnston convinced Americans that mustangs, which had been set loose on range land as they were replaced by cars and tractors, were national treasures, and that roundups were ruthless and excessive. Congress agreed, and in 1971 passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which declared the animals to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”

    The act also protected them from slaughter, and choked off a crucial supply for processors, effectively shutting down the American horse meat market. Even pet food companies stopped using horse meat, turning to beef as a cheaper alternative.

    And while wild horses on the range were safe, the act didn’t protect domestic horses. Except in a few individual states, slaughtering those horses wasn’t outlawed for decades, until an appropriations bill blocked the use of federal funds for horse meat inspection in 2006. After that de facto ban, the country’s few remaining abattoirs closed—and despite a short-lived move to restore funding, have stayed that way since a second ban in 2014.

    “We’re feeding the world, and this is the cheapest way of doing it.”
    Some kill buyers say they would prefer to see animals find homes, but others say that slaughter is a humane end for old, unwanted horses.

    “There are horses that do need to go to slaughter, because they do not serve a purpose. If you get a horse that’s eight, nine, or ten years old that’s never been handled, you’re never going to get them gentle, and you’re never going to get them to do anything,” says Jason Fabrizius, an Eaton, Colorado, buyer. “They might as well get something out of them. They might as well feed somebody.”

    Fabrizius says he posts every horse he buys online, with a sell-by deadline of one week. He used to sell horses on his Facebook page until it was shut down earlier this year, after rescue buyers reported it; he now sells horses on his website, and on MeWe, a social network that promotes itself as a Facebook alternative. If the horses go unsold, they’ll end up across the Mexican border.

    He says he “rehomes” about 75 horses a month, and sends about 200 to the border, where another trader transfers them to a trailer bound for a slaughterhouse. Right now, he’s trying to sell a nine-year-old mare, which once belonged to BLM, for $800. He also sells geldings, some as young as three years old, for similar prices, earning “a little bit of profit.”

    When Fabrizius sells an old racehorse, he says, he doesn’t have to screen the horse for drugs or hormones, despite the prevalence of their use. “They don’t worry about it,” he says, of Mexican slaughterhouses.

    He also ships freeze-marked wild horses legally, because as the second owner—or third, or fourth—he didn’t sign a contract with BLM, and isn’t obligated to obey its rules.

    Brokers called “kill buyers” send trailers full of horses into Mexico and Canada, where slaughter is legal.
    Fabrizius buys 90 percent of his horses at auctions. Sometimes, he says, he buys from individuals, including dude ranchers who need to get rid of an elderly horse. He always tells people where the horses will end up.

    “They know what I do. I’ve been in the same place my whole entire life, and I’ve done the same business my whole entire life,” he says. “They know I’m going to send them to slaughter. That’s why they bring them to me.”

    Not everyone is as transparent, and animal rights groups complain that the BLM does not do enough to protect its wild horse population. In 2015, the Department of the Interior’s internal watchdog found that one of the BLM’s largest buyers, Tom Davis, bought horses from the agency at rock-bottom prices and sold nearly 1,700 into slaughter for $100 each, although he had signed a contract agreeing not to sell horses for that purpose. It was not an isolated incident. In 1997, after the Associated Press found that BLM’s own employees were selling horses to slaughter, the director of the Wild Horse and Burro Program admitted that 90 percent of the wild horses met that fate.

     Horses can’t be slaughtered in the U.S. But that doesn’t meant they can’t be corralled at facilities like this one in Hines, Oregon, and shipped abroad to be processed into meat
     
    Since the last American horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007, the wild horse and burro population has tripled in size. The search for a management strategy has led to some unlikely alliances. Those endorsing slaughter include the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which says that many unwanted horses have “nowhere to go and no one to care for them,” and that stunning is humane when administered by two people using “well-maintained equipment.” Ranchers and their elected officials, who don’t want horses interfering with cattle, agree for different reasons, citing a report by the Government Accountability Office that says the ban may have increased animal suffering, due to the greater distances traveled by trailer and the inhumane conditions in Mexican slaughterhouses. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) agreed at one point, saying that slaughter in America would be preferable. The animal rights group later walked that back.

    Other animal rights groups, including ASPCA, the Humane Society, and Return to Freedom, back the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would add a ban on live-animal exports to the slaughterhouse ban. The bill has languished in Congress for years, though, lacking support from politicians.

    Those three advocacy groups, among others, have recently joined up with ranchers represented by the Farm Bureau and National Cattleman’s Beef Association to launch a new proposal with a radically different approach. In April, they asked the government to invest more heavily in contracting private pastures, and to make a more concerted effort to place only the most adoptable horses in corrals.

    “The most important thing that needs to happen is a shift away from the current paradigm of rounding horses up, removing them from public lands, and warehousing them off-range,” says ASPCA’s Kraska. “We’ve been going down that one, not-so-great path for a long time. At some point, there has to be a humane path forward.”

    The groups behind the new plan want BLM agents to focus on birth control. They envision a large-scale application of contraceptive vaccines, including a hormone marketed as Gonacon, and another formulation called PZP-22, so named for the number of months it renders a mare infertile. Treating the horses and releasing them back to the range could alter a daunting population curve. Herds expand by 15 to 20 percent per year, Kraska says, but the goal is something approaching a flatline.

    But Barry Ball, who studies reproduction at the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, points out that vaccines aren’t permanent. The agency spends around $1,800 to hold an animal in a corral for a year, and even less to hold them in pasture. By comparison, it costs around $3,000 to gather, treat and release a mare, which would have to be done every two years to be successful. Even with an unlimited budget, he says, it could be many years before vaccines are a cost-effective way to control populations.

    Ball was funded by BLM to study surgical spaying, in a trial involving five mares, but inflammations and post-operative complications kept it from being adopted.

    Lutterman, the BLM spokesman, doesn’t think such a program can succeed. Last year, the agency proposed a similar procedure on 100 wild mares at a herd management area in southeast Oregon. The surgeries were blocked in court by the Animal Welfare Institute, a backer of the SAFE Act, and other groups that said they were inhumane.

    “At some point, there has to be a humane path forward.”
    Darting wild horses with vaccines—the least invasive approach—wouldn’t work, he says, because agents can’t get near most of them.

    “Every year the mare is alive on the range, they learn how to avoid the helicopter,” Lutterman says. “The horses get wise to the gather.”

    Nevertheless, Pearson is optimistic about the “path forward,” as the ranchers and animal rights groups call their proposal. She says Congressman Chris Stewart, a Republican, who helped convene the groups two years earlier to find common ground, is drafting legislation. For the first time, she says, “we’ve got people talking about it instead of shaking their heads and throwing their hands in the air.”

    Five years from now, she hopes to see more horses held in larger, private pastures. It’s not ideal, but it’s good enough, given the alternatives.

    “For the majority of Congress, those guys don’t really care what they spend,” she says. “If we have to put horses in long-term pasture and feed them forever, that’s better than having natural resource damage that’s irreparable. That’s not the best-case scenario. It’s just the closest thing to it. The political attitude towards any actual use of the horses, other than adoption, is just not palatable.”

    In other words, it’s better to spend money than to turn horses into food—as they were during the world wars, and briefly, during a beef shortage in the 1970s.

    Then again, says Pearson, anything is better than the status quo.

    “Just to feed thousands and thousands of horses forever until they die, and still have to dispose of them or euthanize them, just seems like not a fiscally responsible thing to do,” she says. “There should be a purpose and a reason to those horses. I don’t see a problem with anybody eating them.”

     

  • Giant wind turbines that generate fossil fuel–free power add a little heat of their own to the planet.

  • There has been a massive drop in Chilean apple exports to its leading market, the U.S., over the last couple of years, while shipments to destinations including Europe and India have shot up. 

  • With US President Donald Trump threatening to raise import duties on an additional $267 billion worth of Chinese products on top of the tariffs already in place, it is worth pausing to reflect on what the trade wars of the past can teach us about the likely outcomes of the current dispute, especially as South Africa seems likely to get caught up in the cross-fire. 

  • About a year before Sen. Cory Booker officially ran for president, he took a trip through the Midwest, meeting voters in the states he knew he’d need to win. One visit, in particular, sticks in his mind. It was in the home of a Republican farmer, a man who told Booker’s team he wasn’t sure he wanted to host the senator because “this is a Christian household.” Booker is Christian, but he knew what that meant: He’s vegan, liberal, an African American Democrat from Newark, New Jersey. Booker wasn’t the kind of politician this farmer saw as his own.

    Booker tried to loosen the guy up with dad jokes. “I told him his cows were udderly amazing,” Booker recalls. Nothing.

    The breakthrough came when the farmer began telling Booker about “the hell” he and his neighbors found themselves in. They used to sell their cows to five different companies, which meant if a buyer didn’t give them a good price or demanded practices that compromised their cows or land, they could go to another. But the industry had consolidated. Now there was one buyer, and that buyer controlled everything. The farmers had been reduced from entrepreneurs to serfs. Here, finally, was common ground. The farmer hated what his business had become, and so did Booker.

    This was a story Booker heard again and again. And it carried the seed of an idea. Booker is vegan, and so he knows, better than most, how unpopular veganism is — in one survey, only people with drug addiction were viewed more negatively. Asked during a September CNN town hall whether he thought others should become vegan, Booker said “no,” before pivoting to discuss the problems of factory farming. In an MSNBC interview, he laughed off the idea of a “radical vegan agenda,” reassuring voters he doesn’t think “government should be telling Americans what to eat.”

    But Booker realized there was a place that vegans and farmers could come together: Both of them hate the ways agribusiness had consolidated and mechanized the meat market, forcing farmers into using massive, cruel, and environmentally devastating confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

    The agricultural industry has an unusual structure: Virtually every node in the industry is highly concentrated around a few megaproducers. That’s true for seeds, for pesticides, for machines, for production. And concentration has been increasing, and fast. In 1980, 34 percent of pigs were slaughtered by the four largest meatpacking companies. By 2015, that had nearly doubled, to 66 percent.

    But the food is still grown, and the animals still raised, on family farms. These farms are, in theory, independent, but in practice, they bear the risks of independence without the expected freedoms. The megaproducers they buy from and sell to have all the leverage; farmers are left with little choice save to accept the onerous, binding contracts they’re offered. As the Center for American Progress puts it, “growing corporate power has left relatively small farms and ranches vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of the oligopolies with which they do business.”

    Center for American Progress
    The results, for farmers, have been disastrous. In 2018, median farm income was negative $1,840 — meaning most farms lost money. Farmers saw a 50 percent drop in income since 2013. Adjusted for inflation, farm incomes have been stagnant for the past 30 years. As a result, farmers are buried in debt: The sector’s debt-to-income ratio is the highest it’s been since the farm crisis of the mid-’80s. (The National Pork Producers Council declined to comment for this story, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association did not reply to a request for comment.)

    As farmers have lost control of their livelihoods, they’ve also lost control of their animals, their crops, and their land. They have no choice but to contract with companies that dictate the way they raise their animals, setting farmers in competition with one another for production speeds and efficiency. The way you win that competition is to pack more animals into your sheds, pump them fuller of antibiotics so they don’t die from infections that flourish amid overcrowding, raise breeds that live lives of pain but grow with astonishing speed, create massive manure lagoons that poison streams and turn air acrid. The result is a brutal incentive to mechanize the process of livestock production in ways cruel to the animals, the farmers, and their communities.

    “Independent family farmers and ranchers are being driven off their land, driven into bankruptcy, being forced into a system of industrialized agriculture that our values don’t support,” says Joe Maxwell, a Missouri farmer, former lieutenant governor, and co-founder of the Family Farm Action Alliance. “It’s either join up with these transnational monopolies or we’re going to bankrupt you. That’s the reality of family agriculture today.”

    Booker realized that, as unlikely as it sounds, there was a space in the Venn diagram between the people who believe raising and killing animals for food is wrong and the people whose chose, as their livelihoods, to raise and kill animals for food. Both could agree that the way we are doing it now is cruel, both to animals and to people.

    “This is not how we raised livestock 70 years ago,” Booker says. “We’ve gone from raising animals in a far more humane, pasture-based model to one where we’re producing food in hyper-confined, concentrated, enclosed buildings that produce these massive lagoons of waste that are poisoning our streams and our rivers.”

    In December of 2019, while campaigning in Iowa, Booker unveiled the Farm System Reform Act. It’s sweeping legislation, but at its core it does four things:

    Imposes the liabilities and costs of pollutions, accidents, and disasters on the agricultural conglomerates that control the market rather than on the independent farmers who contract with them
    Creates a $100 billion fund to help farmers who are currently running CAFOs transition to other agricultural operations
    Strengthens the existing Packers and Stockyards Act to prohibit a range of contract terms and structures that let huge meat buyers put farmers in a race for the bottom while denying them political and legal recourse
    Booker dropped out of the presidential race in January. But his legislation kept picking up cosponsors. In May of 2020, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) signed on to the bill. That same month, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who co-chaired Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, sponsored a companion bill in the House with six co-sponsors, including Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus.

    Factory farms abuse workers, animals, and the environment. Cory Booker has a plan to stop them.
    “For years and years, giant multinational corporations have been crushing competition in the agricultural sector and seizing key markets while regulators have looked the other way,” Warren says. “The Covid-19 crisis is making it even easier for Big Ag to get even bigger and gobble up small farms — leaving farmers out in the cold and consumers facing higher costs and fewer choices.”

    “My interest in it came because I was spending time with Bernie Sanders in Iowa,” Khanna says. “I saw these factory farms, and I saw miles and miles of land where you couldn’t see farmers. All you could see was machinery and runoff. And when I spoke to actual farmers, they talked about how the people who owned these farms weren’t in Iowa. They had no control over the environmental impact. They felt they didn’t have control over their own economic destiny.”


    There is a coalition emerging here, one that could lead to overdue reforms in our food system, but one that also has profound things to say about our politics.

    The politics of animal — and human — suffering
    David Coman-Hidy is the president of the Humane League, an animal welfare organization. In May, I had a conversation with him I’ve had trouble getting out of my head. My question was innocuous. I wanted to know what he was working on. “Switching from live shackling to the atmospheric killing of chickens,” he replied.

    I wasn’t familiar with these terms, and maybe you aren’t, either. And I’m sorry for what I’m going to force you to imagine as I explain them. “The process of how we slaughter broiler chickens is the cruelest thing imaginable,” says Coman-Hidy. These are, functionally, malnourished, young birds. Workers flip them upside down to shackle them by their legs. In many cases, the process dislocates their hips.

    Chickens aren’t meant to be upside-down. They have no diaphragm. Shackled and inverted, their organs crush into their lungs, making it hard for the birds to breathe. The point of the shackling is to put them on a conveyor that drags them through electrified water, stunning them before the kill. But the birds panic, thrashing in wild terror. Some of them miss the water, or the stun setting is too low. Those birds have their throats cut while they’re still conscious, and then they’re pulled through boiling water to defeather them. If the blade misses the bird, the bird boils alive.

    Coman-Hidy is vegan; he’s devoted his life to reducing animal suffering. Didn’t it feel strange, I asked him, to become part of this machine whose very existence he loathes? Even if atmospheric killing was more humane, wouldn’t it unnerve him to become one of the people shaping the architecture of animal slaughter?


    “The thought experiment that helped me is if I could die, or have a member of my family die, by being euthanized by gas, or have what I just described happen to them, what would I give to get the gas?” He replied. “And the answer is everything.”

    The meat we eat is a pandemic risk, too
    There are few movements as alienated from the consensus position as the animal suffering movement. They look at the world and see tens of billions of animals being tortured and slaughtered in ways that poison the earth, warm the planet, and — as we are seeing with particular clarity now, as scores die daily from a pandemic virus that likely began in a meat market — harm human health. The practices of industrial animal agriculture are so cruel that you can’t describe them in polite company, so traumatizing that suicide and abuse are too-common worker hazards, so disturbing that agriculture companies pass laws criminalizing efforts to show the world where their meals are made. It is a structure of suffering with no bottom, no end, and what is most astonishing about it is that almost everyone simply treats it as normal.

    And so the animal suffering movement has to practice, in the truest and most challenging sense of the word, politics. They have to find common purpose with those they disagree with profoundly. To have any chance of changing a system they loathe, they must become part of it, even complicit in it. They don’t get to realistically hope for success anytime soon, for a world they could be comfortable in, for an end to the horror they see all around them. They get to hope chickens will die from gas rather than shackled upside down with their throats cut. And they are finding that the best way to get to that world is to focus on human suffering, too.

    The coronavirus has created coalitions that didn’t exist before it by laying bare the close connection between animal and human suffering. Meatpacking plants have been epicenters of outbreaks, with the suffering concentrated among immigrant laborers who then transmit the virus to their communities. The League of United Latin American Citizens called for “meatless May Mondays” to protest conditions in the slaughterhouses.

    “Until the meat industry, federal and state governments protect the lives of essential workers at all meat processing facilities in a federally mandated and verifiable manner, LULAC will call for boycotts of meat products,” the organization’s president, Domingo Garcia, said in a statement.

    It’s in the intersection of human and animal suffering that the animal rights community sees opportunity. Farmers and vegan activists may not agree on the world they want to see, but they can agree that the way both farmer and animals were treated in the past is preferable to the way they are treated today. LULAC and the Humane League aren’t pursuing the same long-term goals, but better conditions for workers would also mean better conditions for animals.

    How much change would the Farm System Reform Act bring?
    In reporting for this piece, I’ve asked everyone the same question: If the Farm System Reform Act passed, how much would really change?


    “It doesn’t ban animal agriculture,” says Leah Garcés, the president of Mercy for Animals. “If you look for the part of the bill banning cages and crates, it’s not in there. But it would end animal agriculture as we know it. It wouldn’t let the system go forward as it does.”

    To Garcés, the key element of the bill is the reversal of liability. She’s spent years working with chicken farmers who’ve been driven by contract terms and debt loads to accept practices that repulse them, and who find themselves paying the bill when disease cuts through their flock, or pollution gushes into the waterways that feed the community.

    “Currently, integrators” — that’s your Tysons and Smithfields — “have created a system where all the bad parts of animal farming are on the back of the farmer or taxpayer,” Garcés says. “The bill flips that: ‘Integrator, you need to pay for all the pollution.’ I think that would bankrupt the current system if they had to pay for it.”

    In her work with farmers, Garcés has found many of them want to escape the industrial animal agriculture business, because they appalled by how they have to treat their animals, their land, or both. But the integrators load them up with so much debt that they have no way out but through. So the debt forgiveness and transition assistance thrills her. “The biggest hurdle to getting farmers to transition is the debt,” she says. “I think hundreds of farmers would sign up for this. They just need a bridge.”

    Maxwell, of the Family Farm Action Alliance, agrees. “Most of these farmers are just cogs in a big machine,” he says. “Once they borrow money from one of these big companies, they get stuck on a treadmill of poverty and debt that they can’t get off of. That’s why 70 percent of us live at or below the federal poverty level. So many farmers are looking for ways off that treadmill, and that’s what this bill offers.”


    There are two wild cards here. One is the rapid rise of plant- and lab-based meats. By 2040, when the Farm System Reform Act is fully implemented, how rapidly have those technologies advanced? How cheap is an Impossible Burger? How tasty is lab-grown pork, or 3D-printed steak? Animal meat is so cheap in part because the true costs are hidden — they are absorbed by the suffering of the animals, the unpriced pollution flowing into communities, the quiet traumas and injuries carried by workers. If a bill like this made animal-based meat more expensive, it might accelerate the transition to other forms of meat. That’s certainly a quiet hope in the animal rights crowd.


    The danger, though, is that the bill could drive production overseas or to Latin America, where standards are lower and even crueler, more dangerous practices prevail. The bill establishes country-of-origin labeling, but there’s little reason to believe that would be much of a hurdle — Americans already buy strawberries from Mexico and steak from Brazil.

    The question is what Americans really want, and how easy it will be for them to get it. There is a deep ambivalence in our relationship to the food that ends up on our plates: We want food from small farms, where workers and animals are treated well, where the land is respected, and we want it all to be incredibly cheap and absurdly plentiful.

    The average American consumed 222 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018, according to the USDA. Right now, big agribusiness producers try to ease consumer consciences through misdirection: Their packaging and advertising emphasize small farms, their ag-gag laws and contract provisions choke off the flow of actual information, the massive scale and mechanization of their processes hold down prices, and their political contributions repel real oversight.

    “The tilt in America in the last 30 years of policy has been toward consumerism,” Khanna says. “We will do everything possible to lower prices. We won’t care about jobs, real wages, or the environment. My argument is that we ought to care enough about farmers [having] a decent livelihood, about environmental consequences, about consequences to communities, so even if this means there’s a slight increase in the price of meat, that’s worth it.”

    The Farm System Reform Act won’t end all the abuses of factory farming, all the environmental degradation it causes, all the economic exploitation faced by farmers. But it’s a start. And if the odd-bedfellows coalition Booker is trying to build materializes, and finds real political footing, profound change is possible.

    “We can’t vilify each other,” Booker says. “If we can’t have compassion for people in these broken systems, then we’re not going to have the compassion or coalitions to end these systems themselves.”

  • A report released by the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that if the world continues to warm at its current rate, global temperatures will rise by 1,5°C between 2030 and 2052.

  • US crop progress data has shown stable quality conditions for both staple crops corn and soybean, but both harvests' progress remains behind expectations on bad weather, data from the USDA has shown late Monday.

  • Prices for organic food-grade grain and soybeans in the August-September period declined from June-July, with wheat prices also down from a year ago but corn and soybeans above year-ago levels, according to Mercaris, the organic and non-GMO trading platform and market information company.

  • On Friday, as a caravan of nearly 7,000 Central American migrants continued to move north from its origin in Honduras, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary James Mattis had approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for enhanced capabilities along the southwest border.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday offered its first thorough postmortem of the recent E. coli outbreaklinked to romaine lettuce.

  • The United States Department of Homeland Security issued a report that states that precision agriculture is vulnerable to digital threats.

  • The last time the Farm Aid hotline rang like this, Ronald Reagan was president and Willie Nelson was playing a huge concert to raise money for hundreds of thousands of farmers across the country who were facing financial ruin. By the autumn of 1985, America’s “farm crisis” was suddenly a thing.

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