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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/30/19

I'll fight for farmers against powerful agribusiness

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From Des Moines Register

Bernie Sanders
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This past month, hardworking farmers in Iowa saw historic floods kill livestock and topple grain silos in an instant, losing their livelihoods and their way of life. It was just the latest blow to rural communities that have seen farmers' incomes cut in half, hospitals shut down, school districts consolidated, drinking wells tainted and downtowns decimated by layoffs.

But, despite what the pundits might say, this was not inevitable and it's completely unacceptable.

Whether it's in Iowa, my home state of Vermont or anywhere else, the crisis in America's small towns and rural communities is the result of deliberate policy choices by a political class that neglects rural America, rather than investing in it.

In the end, the desperation felt by families in rural communities is about basic economic rights and freedom. Farmers have been systematically stripped of their ability to control their own futures and no longer know whether their hard work will earn them future success and stability. Storefronts are empty and farmers have been forced to sell their land that has been kept in families for generations to massive corporations.

For the massive agribusinesses that control much of rural America, it's a different story. These corporations have seen profits skyrocket and compensation packages for CEOs increase to record levels.

Last year alone, the CEO of Smithfield's parent company was given a $291 million pay package. The average farmer on the other hand actually lost an average of $1,548 last year.

It's not just the CEOs who are getting paid, either. Agribusiness giants like Tyson and Hormel have spent tens of millions of dollars to employ powerful lobbyists in the past few years. And it has worked out pretty well for these corporations.

Hormel had its tax bill cut by more than half last year. And Tyson the nation's largest meat packer, which rakes in tens of billions of dollars a year effectively paid nothing in federal taxes last year.

While massive corporations get richer, the farmers who grow our food are getting only 15 cents of every dollar that a consumer spends on their product less than half of what they were getting in 1980.

But nothing sums up our rigged agricultural industry quite like the Bayer-Monsanto megamerger.

The prices for corn seed have doubled and prices for chemicals used in farming have roughly tripled in the last 30 years. Yet, the Trump administration was happy to give these two conglomerates 78 percent of the corn seed market. While that deal could end up further jacking up seed prices for Iowa corn farmers, the CEO of Monsanto was rewarded with a golden parachute worth up to $32 million.

This massive transfer of wealth from working people in America's heartland to corporate CEOs is having more than just a financial toll on rural America. It has led to personal pain as entire rural communities are devastated by opioid addiction and a too-often-ignored mental health crisis has led to a spike in farmer suicides.

This is not happening by accident. It is the result of Washington putting the interests of the top 1 percent first. That is why, now more than ever, we need policies that represent the needs of working people and family farmers, not big agribusiness and multinational corporations.

When we are in the White House, we are going to strengthen antitrust laws that defend farmers from the corporate middlemen that stand between the food grower and the consumer, and have now become so big and powerful that they can squeeze farmers for everything they're worth. We must end the absurd situation where the top four packing companies now control more than 80 percent of the beef market, 63 percent of the pork market, and 53 percent of the chicken market. We must help communities where there is a single buyer, meaning farmers are at the mercy of a corporation that's effectively forcing them to use only the company's feed and livestock.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)

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