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8 Steps the Department of Justice Could Take to Reform Farming

March 12, 2010 •  5 comments.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

On Friday in an unprecedented move with the USDA, the Department of Justice will launch an investigation into the farm business. The investigation begins a 7-state probe into how Monsanto treats its customers, our nation’s farmers.

I recently had the honor of presenting for our nation’s top producing farmers in Chicago at the Top Producer Seminar, sponsored by Cargill and Pioneer. I was scheduled to present with Monsanto’s VP of Sustainable Yield, but a few days before the presentation was told that he had moved to China and that there was no one to take his place. I then had the privilege of spending the afternoon in an incredibly insightful discussion with the farmers, many of whom are Monsanto’s customers, who are remarkable fathers, grandfathers and businessmen.

As I walked into the room for that presentation, I was greeted with “Welcome to the Lions’ Den.” As I found the courage to take the stage, I shared that according to the USDA, farm income was down 35% in 2009. I then shared that Monsanto is reporting, in forward looking statements to Wall Street analysts based on projected sales that they have asked for from the farmers, that they are expecting gross margins in Q2 2010 of 62% and that they are expecting to drive up the price mix of their products, corn and soy, by 8-10%. I also shared that according to these forward looking statements, Monsanto expects to expand their glyphosate revenue to an estimated $1 billion in gross profit by 2012, further enabling Monsanto to drive R&D into seeds and to price those seeds at a premium – further driving price increases on the farm.

And then I listened.

What I learned from these remarkable men and women is simply jaw dropping.

Due to Monsanto’s contracts with seed companies, farmers are now bound by the threat of a lawsuit if they speak out regarding farm practices. As third and fourth generation farmers, inheriting their grandfathers’ lands, their corn crops are no longer regulated by the FDA but by the EPA due to the insecticidal proteins they now contain, and they are subject to rising, unregulated costs never beforeseen in farming – contractual fees, trait fees, licensing fees and royalty fees and germ plasm fees associated with a technology that has been engineered into seeds designed to enhance Monsanto’s bottom line.

As I listened to the farmers and learned about their trade practices, I could not help but think of AT&T and the Bell System which for years functioned as a regulated monopoly until an antitrust investigation resulted in its break-up, as the practices employed by Monsanto on the farm, rival the fee structure that the phone company once had in place.

As our dialogue grew, we learned that together, we could affect remarkable change.

So in collaboration with our nation’s leading farmers to address the patents, licenses and royalties fees now being engineered into our food supply designed to enhance the profitability of the world’s largest agrichemical corporation , here are 8 steps that the USDA and the Department of Justice could take to address the financial impact that these practices are having on the farm:

  1. As was done with AT&T, re-establish Monsanto and its subsidiaries into separate companies; separating the germ plasm and technology divisions into independent entities
  2. Establish precedence that these newly established entities do not collect trait fees, royalty fees, licensing fees or other forms of income from each other, then they should not be allowed to collect these tech fees from the independent companies
  3. Have Monsanto refund the money collected from the independent seed companies as retribution for the fact that the same fees were not charged to their partners and subsidiaries.
  4. Require that all companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta etc.) supply genetically treated and untreated seeds and technology to the public in order to give the farmers a free market from which to choose how much the farmer wants to spend on a bag of corn or beans given that the current practice involves the blending of the best genetics into melting stock corns, so the companies can harvest more profit.
  5. Establish an oversight committee with one term limits made up of independent seed companies and with multi nationals in an effort to prevent monopolistic price increases in the cost of corn and soy production that will impact food price inflation at the retail level.
  6. Structure federal subsidies so that taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize and provide marketing and insurance programs for the growth of commodities (corn and soybean crops) that are grown without the use of synthetically engineered chemical ingredients
  7. Reduce the fees charged to farmers growing crops without synthetic, chemical and genetically engineered ingredients that they must pay in order to certify that their crops are free of these ingredients (fees are paid to certifiers, not to the USDA National Organic Program).
  8. Provide the same level of marketing assistance and crop insurance programs to farmers growing crops free of synthetic and chemical ingredients.

In a world in which food security is as much of an issue as nutrition, the establishment of a level playing field on the farm is vital to the health of our food system. And while the lack of federal oversight and regulation of trade practices on the farm have enhanced Monsanto’s profitability and driven shareholder value, its costs are being externalized not only onto our nation’s farmers but also onto the 300 million American eaters.

We are all stakeholders in our food supply and together, we can affect remarkable change for farmers, families and food.

Dare to be Doug: A Soccer Mom's Parable

March 7, 2010 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Douglas. He was one of those wiry little things, with a fierce spirit and an iron will. And he would sometimes drive his mother crazy with his unbridled energy and insatiable curiosity. He questioned everything, and despite his asthma and allergies, was a relentless competitor, accomplishing heroic things with a mighty little body often covered in eczema.

And Douglas’ mom loved him with all her heart and cared for the little boy who had limitless enthusiasm for the world.

But one day, in the midst of soccer practices and the homework routine, life changed. Douglas’ mom was told that her boy had cancer. And as her world spun, Douglas fought. Because you see, he was a warrior with an enormous will to live bundled in a little boy’s body. And he refused to be conquered by the disease.

And so with his mother’s love, the care of remarkable doctors, and the support of close friends and family, Douglas dug in his heels and set his iron compass on vanquishing the disease that had taken up residence in his body.

And he won. Three times over. He won.

And today, Douglas inspires kids around the country, big kids and little ones, short ones and skinny ones, with a story that dares you to believe in your ability to affect change.

Today, Doug’s heroic work affects the lives of millions – he is the CEO of Livestrong. And while none of us can change the beginning of our stories, we can change the end.

Dare to be Doug. And never underestimate the heart of a soccer mom.

The Inside Scoop on Ice Cream!

March 4, 2010 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

Just got a call and “Something very big is going down with ice cream…”

And it is. More and more people are finding out that an artificial growth hormone called rBGH (also known as rBST) that is used in our dairy products causes harm, leads to increased antibiotic resistance in humans and may increase cancer rates. The use of this growth hormone has been banned by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all 27 nations of the European Union.

According to the FDA, this synthetic growth hormone is “substantially equivalent” to naturally occurring growth hormones. But the problem is that no tests have ever been run. So we don’t know if our children with milk allergies are allergic to the milk that we grew up drinking or to these engineered milk proteins in rBGHwhich was introduced into our milk in 1994.

Thankfully, despite the FDA language, eaters like you are insisting on the same standards seen by eaters in Europe, Australia, Japan and in other developed countries, which has led dozens of retailers and dairy processors and to stop using rBGH completely, including Starbucks, Chipotle Restaurants, Darigold, Tillamook and many more. Walmart, Kroger, Kraft and others have started offering rBGH-free product lines and last year, Yoplait and Dannon yogurts both went completely rBGH-free in response to consumer demand.

But two of our nation’s largest ice cream makers, Breyers and Dreyers, are still using this growth hormone in their products – growth hormones that are engineered in a lab and linked to diseases and antibiotic resistance in humans.

Let Breyers and Dreyers hear from you! Kids matter, food matters and synthetic growth hormones in our ice cream matter!

To e-mail U.S. Ice Cream, which includes Breyers, go to http://www.icecreamusa.com/contact_us/comment.cfm or call (800) 931.2826

To e-mail Dreyer’s, go to http://www.dreyersinc.com/contact.asp or call (877) 437.3937

Together, we can get synthetic growth hormones out of our dairy, one scoop of ice cream at a time!

Ice Cream Matters!