Investors challenge Dean Foods' approach to organics
(Friday, March 10, 2006 -- CropChoice news) -- 1. American Corn Growers 2006 Ag and Energy Workshops 1. American Corn Growers 2006 Ag and Energy Workshops MEDIA ADVISORY WHO: American Corn Growers Association (ACGA), in cooperation with
(Friday, March 10, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --
1. American Corn Growers 2006 Ag and Energy Workshops
1. American Corn Growers 2006 Ag and Energy Workshops
WHO: American Corn Growers Association (ACGA), in cooperation with
WHAT: American Corn Growers 2006 Ag and Energy Workshops
WHEN and WHERE:
Farm Aid President Willie Nelson (see. http://www.biodiesel.org/resources/pressreleases/gen /20060208_WillieNelsonSanDiego.pdf ) and Keith Bolin, president of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) have announced their organizations’ sponsorship and facilitation of a series of renewable energy workshops.
In line with its mission of keeping family farmers on their land to strengthen local and sustainable food production, Farm Aid will assist ACGA in the underwriting of the workshops and facilitate presentations on the following topics;
These workshops are open to farmers, rural businesses and residents, the press and electronic news media, and anyone interested in energy and agriculture policy. The workshops will begin at 9:00 a.m. and will conclude by 4:00 p.m. Lunch will be served and door prizes will be provided by Farm Aid.
2. Free borders make good neighbors
By Wylie Harris
Not long ago, half a dozen people calling themselves the "Lone Star Minutemen" descended on a corner in the college town near our farm to protest illegal immigration. Every day at this corner, undocumented Latino men gather in hope of landing a day's work with passing contractors.
These Minutemen appropriated their name from the militia of the American Revolution, who had to be ready to swap plows for muskets in a minute to defend their new country. Those independent small farmers became a cornerstone of the United States' civic mythology. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson believed them to be both source and guardian of democracy itself.
Today's Minutemen want stricter limits on immigration. But that approach would shut out people who come as close as anyone to making reality of Jefferson's vision. That's certainly true of some Mexican neighbors of mine -- hardworking folks who farm other people's land, scraping and saving until they can afford a few acres of their own. Against all odds, some are making that dream come true.
My Mexican neighbors, and others like them all over the United States, are also one of the first rays of hope that farm country has seen in many a moon. Ever since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, many rural counties have been losing people. Between 1990 and 2000, Latino immigrants have kept more than 100 rural counties from suffering that fate, according to the Agriculture Department.
Latinos are also the fastest growing group among farmers, whose numbers have been declining for decades. Nationwide, the number of Hispanic farmers doubled between 1997 and 2002, even as the overall number of farmers continued to dwindle.
The United States has its own trade policies to thank for the rising number of farmers migrating here from Mexico. As heavy U.S. farm subsidies flood Mexican markets with cheap corn, farmers there earn less on the corn they grow. Many of them have no choice but to go looking for another job. In that search, many learn the hard way that "free trade" agreements open borders only to wealth -- freeing it to go wherever it can multiply the quickest -- but not to the people impoverished by that process.
Combining an agricultural policy that ruins Mexico's farmers with immigration laws that keep them from rescuing the United States' own rural economies makes little sense and less justice. That lack is plain in the modern-day Minutemen's un-neighborly attitudes, and in the draconian immigration bill currently before the Senate. The bill would put up a new fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, use police and military troops to patrol it and make illegal immigration a felony.
Such schemes punish not only immigrants, but also the "natives" who still inhabit -- and value -- rural communities. Farming as a way of life is tough, rewarding and vanishing. I welcome people -- any people -- who will keep it going, and I want an immigration policy that doesn't get in their way. The National Immigrant Farming Initiative (immigrantfarming.org) has an approach I like, investing in immigrant farmers' contribution to U.S. agriculture with training, translation and the chance to network with other farmers.
My family has lived on the land that we farm for five generations and counting, but I try not to feel smug about that. For all I know, a like smugness may have inspired the earlier "natives" who scalped my great-great-grandfather. Wind the clock back far enough, and we are all newcomers -- all with something to contribute, all in need of, and eager to return, a helping hand.
However different our origins, the same economic winds blew my neighbors and me into the little stretch of country that we share. Like it or not, we're neighbors, and that fact carries certain obligations -- of fairness and decency, of neighborliness. We ignore those obligations only at the peril of losing community, democracy and even freedom itself.
Wylie Harris ranches with his family in Cooke County, Texas, north of Fort Worth. A former W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow, he wrote this for the Land Institute's Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.
3. Tom Buis sworn in as NFU president
DENVER (March 5, 2006) Tom Buis was elected and sworn in as National Farmers Union President during the organization's 104th anniversary convention in Denver.
"I look forward to the opportunity to lead this great, historic organization to ensure that it remains the voice of rural America," Buis said.
In his acceptance speech, Buis highlighted issues NFU has championed over the years, pointing out that NFU has always been ahead of the curve. NFU was a strong supporter of fuels from the farm 30 years ago, long before it had the high profile image of today. Buis reiterated NFU's leadership on issues such as country-of-origin labeling (COOL), stopping the race to the bottom of the current trade agenda, and promotion and development of farmer-owned cooperatives.
Buis touched on the current political climate in Washington, D.C., saying that the failure to enact emergency disaster assistance, failure to address rising energy costs and the passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) show that Congress is doing little to benefit rural America.
"We will never give up our pursuit of a better life for all of rural America, and we won't back down from taking our message to the countryside to support those who support us and oppose those who work against our goals-- regardless of political party," Buis said. "Working together, we will make a difference."
Before coming to Washington in 1987, Buis farmed in central Indiana. He still owns an Indiana farm, and has been a top advocate for family farms and rural America on Capitol Hill for nearly two decades. Most recently, Buis served as NFU's Vice President of Government Relations in the organization's Washington, D.C. office. Buis and his wife of 25 years, Peggy, have two college-age sons and reside in Maryland.
4. Investors challenge Dean Foods' approach to organics
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK: Socially concerned investors have filed a shareholder proposal asking Dean Foods to report to shareholders how it is responding to widespread concern that industrial-scale organic dairies, supplying milk for its Horizon brand, violate consumer trust, seriously jeopardizing share value.
The shareholder proposal is a by-product of a five-year debate in the organic industry over the introduction of large-scale factory-style dairy farms, milking as many as 5,000 cows each. It is the contention of a growing number of public interest, environmental, and farming groups that some of these farms are violating current USDA regulations by labeling their products as organic.
Last year, The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy group, filed formal complaints with the USDA against three industrial dairies, including allegations that these mega-farms, in the arid West, were violating the law by confining their cattle to feedlots and sheds rather than grazing as the organic regulations require. The dairy farms in question include one owned by Dean Foods in Idaho and another California farm shipping milk for distribution under the Horizon label. Because of inaction by the USDA the Institute is now preparing to seek court intervention in order to compel the agency to investigate the alleged improprieties.
"When consumers pay a premium for organic milk, they generally have the expectation that cows have access to pasture and gain a sizable percentage of their nutrients from grass," said Steven Heim, director of social research with Boston Common Asset Management, representing institutional shareholders in the resolution process. "Besides complying with the law itself, we question whether Dean's procurement of milk from factory farms violates consumer trust and jeopardizes the value of its organic brands," Heim added. Dean Foods, the nation's largest milk marketer, also became the largest U.S. marketer of organic dairy products when it acquired the Horizon Organic, Alta Dena, and Organic Cow of Vermont brands.
The resolution asks the company to appoint an independent committee of the board to review its policies and procedures for sourcing raw milk for its organic dairy products, and whether its policies and procedures promote the spirit as well as the letter of the official rules defining organic dairy products.
The investor groups also want to know how the company intends to respond to increasing consumer and media criticism, and whether a proposed $10 million investment in an additional large-scale dairy farm will mitigate or exacerbate the criticism.
Dean Foods, whose core business has been somewhat stagnant in recent years, has touted its investments in the organic milk labels and the country's leading soy milk brand, Silk, as vehicles to make its stock more attractive on Wall Street.
"We are concerned that Dean Foods' lack of transparency to its shareholders betrays a similar attitude toward its core consumers, particularly consumers of its Horizon brand products. 2000 to 5000 cow industrial dairies are antithetical to the concept of organic farming, which supports family-scale production with sound environmental policies," said Daniel Stranahan of the Needmor Fund, another investor-sponsor of the resolution.
Dean Foods responded to this shareholder proposal by having its lawyers file a formal protest with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), asking for permission to omit it from Dean's 2006 proxy statement on a series of legal technicalities. Their principle objection is that where the company purchases or produces its milk is within the sole purview of its management, and shareholders have no legal right to raise questions of this nature. A SEC decision on the company's protest is expected soon.
The investors contend that in light of the controversy, the company's milk procurement practices have become a legitimate policy concern of shareholders and could have a significant negative effect on consumer trust in the organic label. The negative press has already led to some retailers dropping the Horizon brand. "It is very unfortunate that instead of addressing the core concerns articulated in this shareholder resolution, that the company has instead decided to invest its resources in legal maneuvers to prevent its investors from voting on this resolution," said Margaret Weber, Coordinator of Corporate Responsibility with the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Leslie Lowe, director of the environment program at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility in New York, said, "Dean Foods has an excellent opportunity to return value to its shareholders through its investments in the organic industry. But they must respect the ethical beliefs of their organic customers, a very loyal and sophisticated market segment. Otherwise these investments could end up damaging their brand and costing investors dearly."
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5. CAFTA's corpse revived
by MARK ENGLER
A year ago the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was a corpse. The Bush Administration resurrected it with the darkest of political sorcery. And now the lumbering beast is growing ever more monstrous--and arousing new controversy.
On March 1, two months after the planned January implementation date for the trade deal, CAFTA goes into effect between the United States and El Salvador. Yet for the five other countries that are party to the treaty--Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic--a starting date remains undetermined. In past months, contentious debates about the implementation of the agreement have triggered new protests throughout Central America, calling into question what the trade pact will look like in practice.
After the White House succeeded in narrowly passing CAFTA through Congress last summer, many "free trade" advocates considered the treaty a done deal. The agreement squeaked through the House in a historically close vote of 217 to 215 and appeared to have finally weathered the storm generated by its diverse critics.
A new wave of dissent in Central America, however, is creating fresh difficulties for CAFTA defenders. In Costa Rica, the only country that has yet to ratify the deal, former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20060223-0130-costarica-%20election.html > Arias was expected to win back the presidency by a landslide in early February. In a surprise turn, his opponent Ottón Solís surged in the polls at the last minute, carried by his objection to Arias's strong pro-CAFTA stance. The final contest was so close as to warrant a lengthy recount to identify the winner.
Based on the current tally, it appears almost certain that election officials will declare Arias the winner. Still, Solís's opposition party will likely carry enough seats in the legislative assembly to make it very difficult for Arias to pass CAFTA. Contending that the treaty would "bankrupt Costa Rica's agricultural sector," Solís vowed this week that, regardless of the election's final outcome, he would continue championing the demand for CAFTA's renegotiation.
As the experience of other Central American countries shows, controversy can reignite even after CAFTA is ratified. In Guatemala and El Salvador, the Bush Administration's advocacy on behalf of US special interests has sparked new disputes during the implementation phase of the treaty. There, US http://www.ustr.gov/Document_Library/Opeds/2005/Why_Fear_CAFTA.%20html Trade Representative Rob Portman has tried to squeeze even more concessions out of the Central American partners before agreeing to certify their inclusion in the deal. Governments in Guatemala and El Salvador have cried foul, saying that the White House's current agenda for reforms goes beyond the terms of the agreement.
According to the journal Inside US Trade, Portman has pushed for changes to Guatemalan intellectual property law that would extend the life of patents on many name-brand pharmaceuticals. Already, the United States has compelled Guatemala to repeal a law designed to expand access to generic drugs. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have denounced CAFTA's impact on the Guatemalan AIDS epidemic, arguing that limits on generic antiretrovirals amount to a death sentence for many patients. The White House's demands only worsen the restrictions.
In response, Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein has blasted the Bush Administration's hardball tactics: "It's an affront to Latin America when a government says it wants to be a 'partner' but then is only interested in our money and commodities," he told the Associated Press in December.
On behalf of the American beef, pork and poultry lobby, Portman has also demanded that CAFTA countries waive their own food safety inspection requirements for meat imported from the United States. This condition contributed to the delays in the implementation in El Salvador and drew further denunciations from the Guatemalan government. In late February Enrique Lacs, Guatemala's vice minister of foreign trade, publicly complained, "The US negotiation practices have been wretched."
Coming from Central American elites, such statements reveal an unusual level of resentment. "These governments are typically in line with the United States," says Burke Stansbury, executive director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), "so the fact that they are making noise about provisions they say they didn't agree to is remarkable."
Resentment extends far beyond government quarters. The United States pressed for changes to intellectual property laws that penalize poor vendors of pirated music and movies in the informal economy. The reforms represent a sharp reversal, as the Salvadoran government's attitude toward regulation had been lax. Joining more conventional opponents of CAFTA, thousands of street vendors have since staged raucous demonstrations against the constitutional changes, which threaten their already precarious livelihoods.
In January Todd Tucker, research director at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, cited polls showing plummeting public support for the trade agreement throughout the region: 76 percent of Salvadorans believed that CAFTA would not help their country; 65 percent of Guatemalans said it would worsen conditions; 61 percent of people in the Dominican Republic opposed the deal; and 77 percent in Honduras regarded their pro-CAFTA government as corrupt.
Ongoing protests represent more than the untidy aftermath of a completed treaty negotiation. The current controversies around CAFTA implementation signal an escalating debate about the shape of corporate globalization in the Americas. CAFTA's provisions mandating the reduction of specific tariffs are clear. But some of the most dramatic implications of the agreement, like privatization, are not as well defined. In coming years they will be contested in national parliaments, in trade courts and on the streets.
"Neoliberal governments in the region are going to try to use CAFTA to privatize things like water and healthcare," says Stansbury. "That's something that people can stop. It's the new battlefield."
Conflict also continues in the United States, where a final CAFTA controversy is brewing. Up until the very eve of the House vote last July, the White House did not have the support it needed to pass CAFTA. In the end, the Bush Administration reversed key votes with a series of pork barrel buyoffs that was blatant even by Beltway standards.
In mid-February, Public Citizen released a report exploring corporate ties to the elected officials who cast the decisive votes. From January to September 2005, a handful of key representatives received $2.8 million in campaign contributions from political action committees representing industries that stand to benefit from CAFTA.
Of particular note are the Democratic Representatives who broke ranks to side with the Bush Administration, a group known as the CAFTA http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2005/07/29/spanking_the_cafta_15%20.php 15. The Public Citizen report includes a copy of an invitation to a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser held on September 7 in honor of these Democrats. The event was sponsored by the PACs of corporations including Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and Motorola.
Unions and fair-trade groups have been less appreciative than corporate PACs of the CAFTA 15's betrayal. In Illinois the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which backed freshman Democrat Melissa Bean in 2004, has vowed to withhold support this year because of her reversed vote. The state's AFL-CIO has similarly refused to endorse her re-election campaign. Other Representatives who voted for the treaty, including Henry Cuellar in Texas and Edolphus Towns in New York, face energetic primary challenges--supported by spurned labor and environmental constituencies.
Be it in hard-fought electoral contests in Costa Rica and the United States, in official protests in Guatemala or in street demonstrations in El Salvador, the controversy that dogs CAFTA has already dispelled notions that the agreement will be quietly accepted. Judging by the treaty's impact on working people throughout the Americas, and by its rocky reception thus far, CAFTA's proponents can expect more backlash to come.
6. Ethanol ownership shifting from farmers
By PHILIP BRASHER
The world has changed since farmers pitched in hard-earned money, bit by bit, to build ethanol plants.
The investment boom in ethanol plants has attracted unprecedented levels of private equity to an industry once characterized by farmer-owned co-ops.
Of 42 ethanol plants under construction nationwide, six are farmer-owned, according to the Renewable Fuels Association trade group. That's a stark contrast to the ethanol boom of the 1990s, when farmer-owned co-ops built more than half of all plants, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
About half of the corn ethanol plants in operation or under construction in Iowa are owned by farmers. But all of the new plants will include money from nonfarm investors.
Some plants are a hybrid of farmer and outside investors. One plant under construction, Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Ia., attracted $38 million from 900 Iowa investors. About 60 percent of the investors are from Polk and Story counties, general manager Rick Brehm said.
Other new plants are owned by ethanol companies like South Dakota-based US BioEnergy Corp., which is building a 100-million-gallon plant that will open later this year at Albert City.
Nonfarm investors are expected to be interested in the ethanol industry, said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
Farmers benefit from having a new place to sell corn, and the plants also add jobs to the communities where they are located, he said.
"After two or three years of 20 to 30 percent returns to think that Wall Street or international capital or even domestic entrepreneurs are not going to get in on that I think is unreasonable," Shaw said. "Any ethanol plant is good for rural Iowa."
The shift could have a far-reaching effect on who owns ethanol production, an issue of particular interest to farmers. The network of plants and refineries is seen as a beacon of economic hope in rural America, where the traditional pillars of agriculture and manufacturing have lagged.
"I think it's kind of a double-edged sword," said Geoff Cooper of the National Corn Growers Association. "We obviously want to see the industry succeed, and it is going to take lots of effort and lots of different groups and different resources. At the same time, we'd like the money that's invested in these plants to stay in these rural communities."
Broin Cos. of South Dakota builds plants around the nation, including in Iowa. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin said farmers made ideal investors during the late 1990s, when the industry was getting off the ground. As corn producers, they had a vested interest in facilities that raised the price of grain.
Institutional investors stayed out of the business because they had seen ethanol production grow and collapse in the 1980s, Broin said.
That changed in the late 1990s when ethanol demand increased, driven in part by federal laws requiring gasoline to contain cleansing additives.
The true investor sea change came in August, with the passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, experts said. The bill set a standard requiring the United States to use 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2012, including ethanol and other fuels like biodiesel.
This article includes information from the Associated Press.
7. National Farmers Union convention "green" through wind power
For Immediate Release
DENVER (Feb. 28, 2006) - Keeping with the convention theme, "Fuel From the Farm, our Nation's Future," National Farmers Union (NFU) is pleased to announce that its 104th anniversary convention in Denver, March 3-6, will be 100 percent "green" through wind power credits.
Through a donation by Renewable Choice Energy, of Boulder, Colo., the convention's electricity use is being offset with 32,000 kWh of wind energy credits from wind farms.
"Having our convention's energy consumption offset with wind energy is very gratifying," said NFU President Dave Frederickson. "The contribution by Renewable Choice Energy ties nicely with this year's convention theme and a roundtable discussion on renewable fuels scheduled for March 5."
"Using this form of alternative energy not only supports development of wind energy in our communities, but also directly avoids 44,000 pounds of CO2 pollution," said Quayle Hodek, chief executive officer of Renewable Choice Energy. "Because of the way power is distributed, it's actually impossible to pipe wind power directly to the convention location. The difference is that by using renewable energy credits, we ensure that the electricity we use from the grid gets replaced with wind power which makes the energy mix cleaner for everyone."
Wind energy is produced on wind farms in rural areas where turbines are turned by the wind. The rotation of the blades turns a shaft that is connected to a generator that converts the rotational movement into electricity. In many cases, the electricity is sent to nearby farms, residences and towns where it is used. Otherwise, the electricity distribution-voltage power is sent to a substation where the voltage is increased dramatically to transmission-voltage power (a few hundred thousand volts) and sent through transmission lines many miles to distant cities and factories.
When a wind farm produces electricity, renewable energy credits are issued to track the exact amount of power created. Energy credits allow companies and consumers to offset their electricity use with clean and renewable energy. Buying wind energy credits helps clean the air and reduce dependence on foreign fuel sources.
Using wind instead of fossil fuels for the NFU convention is equivalent to saving 19,000 gallons of water or planting six acres of trees to absorb that much CO2.
8. Bush team squeezes farmers, stifles dissent
by Jim Goodman
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts a drop of 23 percent in income for the farming sector this year, on the heels of last year's 12 percent drop.
Proposed cuts in farm subsidy payments will account for a significant portion of the decrease in income, a fact farmers will have to get used to in a globalized free trade economy. Much like the rest of the nation's working class, we will be expected to live without a financial safety net.
While subsidy programs are at best a very poor solution to a very big problem (low farm income), the real beneficiary of the subsidy program has always been the corporate grain buyers and the dairy and livestock processors. Farmers only want a fair price for what they produce, not government programs that encourage overproduction of low-priced commodities.
The U.S. agricultural economy has and always will be designed to ensure corporate agribusiness a profit at the expense of farmers and consumers. We will, of course, be expected to remain silent, work harder, and avoid dissent, in a nation ruled by an administration that will not tolerate dissent.
Organic farmers were as surprised as other members of the organic community when the USDA appointed five new members to the National Organic Standards Board without any public comment. This break with traditional consensus and public input undermines federal law, which indicates that the organic standards board should be balanced and represent the organic community as a whole, not agribusiness.
I'm sure that the USDA realizes that it is much easier to eliminate dissent at the outset and fill the board with friendly faces -- no sense inviting opposition to your intended goals of making organic farming another source of profit for corporate agriculture.
While the USDA has done its best to weaken long existing standards prohibiting synthetics in organic food processing, requiring pasture for cattle and outdoor access for poultry, the department, like the rest of the administration, does not tolerate public dissent well.
A recent legislative proposal in Virginia would make it illegal for poultry to be raised outdoors, a practice generally followed by small-scale poultry producers.
If this legislation becomes law, a precedent will be set, and while small farmers will suffer, industrial farms like Tyson will carry on with their idea of organic farming, and again, dissent will be avoided.
Using the World Trade Organization as a weapon, the administration has sued the European Union to force it to accept U.S. imports of genetically engineered crops. European consumers have from the beginning of the genetically engineered "revolution" refused to accept such food. Citing this refusal as a restraint on free trade, the Bush administration, acting on behalf of the multinational gene giants, will again attempt to force unwanted commodities on the Europeans.
Perhaps the sudden "ineligibility" of French farm activist Jose Bove to enter the United States last week was an attempt to send a message to all who protest against globalization and corporate control of the economy and those who engage in symbolic political protest.
The dismantling of the McDonald's in Millau, France, which made Bove and his fellow farmers heroes, was never a statement about McDonald's itself, but rather a statement against economic imperialism. Much as the Boston Tea Party was an act against economic and political imperialism, so too the French farmers' acts were a form of protest against what they saw as an assault on their right of self-determination to produce food locally and protect their culture.
The Boston Tea Party was a protest against an imperial government that allowed no dissent and it was part of the inspiration for the concept of "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness." Now dissent and protest are "moral crimes," or so says the U.S. government. Allowing Bove into the United States might stimulate further dissent and a nation of dissenting farmers would be far more than President Bush and his circle could tolerate. *
Farmers, like everyone else, need an economic safety net, not subsidies and not encouragement to produce more cheap commodities. We need fair prices and profitable farms. Workers need a living wage, health care and a dignified retirement; so do farmers.
Why does it seem when we try to make that clear to the "representatives of the people," our voices are not heard? I think it all goes back to intolerance to dissent in any form. We have allowed the president to put on a pair of rose-colored glasses, and he cannot see us through them.
Jim Goodman is an organic dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.