Here it is just two and a half weeks before the end of the year, and I can’t resist the opportunity to reflect on where we are with some of the issues we’ve been working on
Let’s start with Health Care. It started out promising, then took up an inordinate amount of air time and legislative deal-making to get something enacted. In the final analysis, it seems that many were either dissatisfied or fearful of unintended consequences. Now, with political party power changes in Congress, there are rumblings of repeal. Only time, of course, will tell. To us it’s unfortunate the discussion has gone in this direction……we all need health insurance coverage, and it’s a very real problem throughout Montana and especially in rural communities. We’ll work for some clarification and tweeking to improve the bill, but hope that in the coming months that it’s not totally trashed.
Concentration in American Agriculture continues to be discussed. We find it encouraging that this long-term reality is finally acknowledged and being addressed. We have lobbied for someone as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be the kind of person who cares about the health of American agriculture and the health of American consumers – not someone who just left a corporate job and still has a vested interest in seeing a particular company’s goals promoted.
Secretary Vilsack receives positive reviews for the steps he has taken to investigate consolidation in American agriculture. USDA this past year joined with the U.S. Department of Justice to hold competition and antitrust workshops. These were a big deal in ag country.
The concentration in agriculture continues to grow and it affects the economy of rural and urban communities alike. There are just a few meatpackers and poultry companies who dominate the livestock industry. There are fewer independent seed companies available to provide seed to farmers who grow the crops we eat. This lack of competition makes it hard for independent farmers and ranchers to grow their crops and then get a fair price for their labor.
Having USDA and Justice show interest in these problems – AND together to hold hearings across the country – helps us think they may move to a regulatory climate that takes into consideration the ranchers, farmers and consumers in this country.
Local and regional food systems continue to be a priority. Good health begins with good, nutritious food. We support “Eat Fresh and Buy Local” initiatives across the state, and have helped to fund construction of several hoop houses that are part of school and community group collaborations. On a national scale, we are encouraged by Secretary Vilsack’s departmental support for local food system development, and also happy that First Lady Michele Obama has raised the level of the conversation about the need for good, nutritious food. A great example was set – and many teaching moments created – when the White House planted and harvested a vegetable garden.
We think that eating closer to home can benefit all of us. For starters, it supports local community economic development, it is good for local consumers, and it reduces our energy consumption. In addition, America’s farmers and ranchers are planning and planting to help reduce our dependence on foreign fuel. Energy security – just like food security – can bring us closer to peace and reduce the temptation of aggression throughout the world.
As we look toward the coming year, we acknowledge that some priorities are perennial. In the coming year we will continue to work cooperatively, engage in educational efforts and participate in the legislative process at both the state and federal levels.
So 2010 is almost a wrap, and we’d like to offer a hope for everyone that once was shared by Adlai Stevenson in his 1964 Christmas card.
“Grant us a common faith that man shall know bread and peace – that he shall know justice and righteousness, freedom and security, an equal opportunity and an equal chance to do his best not only in our own lands, but throughout the world. And in that faith let us march toward the clean world our hands can make.”
On behalf of the Montana Farmers Union, I’d like to offer our best wishes for a healthy New Year.