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USDA Inc.: How Agribusiness has hijacked regulatory policy at the US Department of Agriculture

This report and the farming magazine article below describe what is happening in the US today, where small family farms are under threat.
Is this relevant to what is happening in the UK and the rest of Europe?
Here is a comment I received from a leading livestock representative: "One criticism of EU farm policy has often been that it is too concerned with small farmers. Certainly there are often exemptions for smaller producers in some EU legislation. DEFRA might not be as concerned with smaller producers, but they are often bound by the concerns of other member states where agriculture has more political clout."  
Mary Marshall


Abstract:Through five case studies, this report reveals how political appointees with backgrounds in the agri-food industry have used their positions at the USDA to advance industry interests at the expense of farmers, consumers, workers and the environment. The report proposes 4 broad directions for regulatory reform to close the "revolving door" between the food industry and the USDA.

Date published: July 23, 2004


 ".... the problems of USDA appearing to be captured by its regulated industries aren't new, but ...
in the last two years hostility to the interests of small producers in USDA has grown....."

Groups say USDA taken over by big business

By Dan Looker
Business Editor
Successful Farming magazine
July 24, 2004

A coalition of advocacy groups alleges that the USDA has been taken over by
the food industries it regulates, to the detriment of consumers and smaller
farmers and ranchers.

At the annual meeting of the Organization for Competitive Markets in Omaha,
Nebraska, Friday, that organization and six others released a 40-page
report, "USDA, Inc: How Agribusiness has hijacked regulatory policy at the
US Department of Agriculture."

Based largely on a compilation of newspaper stories and government reports,
"USDA, Inc." charges USDA with lax enforcement of laws and rules in three
areas: testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), enforcing rules
against packer concentration, and meat inspections, and with promoting
biotech foods and subsidizing the largest livestock operations with
conservation funds.

It suggests rethinking ethics rules on government officials who oversee
policies that affect former employers. It also backs enhanced congressional
oversight of regulatory appointees, evaluating whether USDA should continue
to regulate food safety, and calls for more research on "revolving door
conflicts of interest at USDA."

The idea for the report came up at last year's OCM meeting, said the
group's president, Fred Stokes. "Our concern is that producers are coming
up short rather consistently in the marketplace and that's having an effect
on our farms and rural communities."

The report points to strong ties between USDA administrators and the
industries they left to join the department. Under Secretary J.B. Penn was
an executive at Sparks Companies, for example. Deputy Under Secretary Floyd
Gaibler was executive director of the National Cheese Institute and
American Butter Institute. Deputy Under Secretary Kate Coler lobbied for
the Food Marketing Institute. And Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman once
served on the board of the biotech company, Calgene, which is now owned by

Michael Stumo, an attorney with OCM, said that the problems of USDA
appearing to be captured by its regulated industries aren't new, but that
in the last two years hostility to the interests of small producers in USDA
has grown. And at GIPSA (USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards
Administration) enforcement of investigations of meat packers "has
effectively been halted," Stumo said.

USDA's head of communications, Alisa Harrison, was also listed in the
report as an example of industry capture of USDA, since Harrison's previous
job was as executive director of public relations for the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association. The report says that the National Pork
Producers Council and NCBA "have close ties with big agri-food

Harrison makes no apologies for her background or her department's record
for farmers and ranchers.

"I worked for an organization that represents grassroots producers and I
think I have a feel for what's on the minds of producers," she said Friday,
adding that she hasn't read "USDA, Inc."

USDA's administrators serve to carry out President George W. Bush's
agricultural policies, which she said are working. In 2003 net cash income
for farmers and ranchers was up 11.5% from 2000 and ag exports this year
are projected to hit a record $61.5 billion.

The USDA is increasing its audits of meat packing company plans for meat
safety inspections. "Where we're seeing things wrong, we're making the
industry fix them," Harrison says.
Six other groups besides the Organization for Competitive Markets
contributed to "USDA, Inc." They are: Defenders of Wildlife, the Institute
for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Public Citizen, American Corn Growers
Association, Center of Concern, and Farm Aid. The report was supported by a
grant from the Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation.