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Dear Friends,

Turn America's traditional farm policy around from subsidizing global cartels to rebuilding free markets. Please call Michigan senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow today and ask them to sign a letter, now circulating in Congress to Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa),  in support of a "competition title" in the 2002 Farm Bill.

For more than 50 years, U.S. farm policy has subsidized factory farming and ignored the anticompetitive behavior of larger and larger firms, allowing them to abuse their market power and grow to dominate the food chain from genetic stock to grocery shelf. The results -- livestock factory pollution, antibiotic-resistant salmonella, farm bankruptcies, suburban sprawl across idled land -- are eating away at this country's economy, environment, and communities.

The notice and letter below explain the competition title and the national campaign behind this effort to re-establish free-market discipline in agriculture. See also "Message to Congress: Stop Sprawl. Create New Farm Markets" at http://www.mlui.org/projects/growthmanagement/elmstreet/cantrellfarm.asp

Contact information for MI senators:
Sen. Carl Levin - 202-224-6221, senator@levin.senate.gov
Sen. Debbie Stabenow - 202-224-4822, senator@stabenow.senate.gov
The deadline for signatures is Friday, Aug. 31.

P.S. Please remember that policy makers truly judge the public's will by the amount of calls and other "buzz" they get on an issue. Your calls and emails COUNT more than you might guess.

Patty Cantrell
Michigan Land Use Institute



Ask them to sign the Dear Colleague letter sponsored by Senator Tim Johnson, which calls for a competition title in the next Farm Bill.

Action needed by Friday, August 31st!

What YOU can do to make a difference.

Make two phone calls. The Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121.  You will want to talk to both of your state s Senators.  Ask for your Senator by name and they will connect you. Ask to speak with the legislative aide who handles agriculture. If you get voice mail, leave a short message and/or ask to be called back.

The message is simple.  Tell your Senators that competition and concentration issues in agriculture are important to farmers and consumers alike and they should sign the Dear Colleague letter sponsored by Senator Tim Johnson calling for a competition title in the next Farm Bill.

Help us know what action is being taken in the grassroots. Please take the time to send an e-mail to action901@sustainableagriculture.net to let us know what action you were able to take.

Ask your friends to become a part of the National Campaign's Action Alert Network.  The sustainable agriculture movement makes its voice heard through grassroots action.  Please have your friends contact the National Campaign at campaign@sustainableagriculture.net or at (845) 744-8448 to be added to our action alert list.  They can also sign up through our website.  The Farm Bill debate over the next 4-6 months will determine our nation's food and farm policy for the next 5 to 10 years!

Everyone has a stake in the economic structure of our food and agriculture system.

Concentration and loss of competition in our agriculture and food system have a profound impact on: what farmers and ranchers produce and how; consumer choice; the well-being of farm and ranch communities; the treatment of agricultural workers; and virtually all aspects of environmental quality. 

This issue is of fundamental importance to sustainable agriculture.

Text of the Dear Colleague letter sponsored by Senator Tim Johnson

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
United States Senate
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin:

As you prepare for the farm bill reauthorization process, we are writing to express our strong support for the inclusion of a new, comprehensive, competition title in the next farm bill. We appreciate your recognition that market access and fair competition are central to a healthy agricultural economy. We stand ready to work with you to include provisions in the new farm bill that can be incorporated into a competition title.

As you know, the trend toward concentration and vertical integration in agricultural markets has forced competition policy to the top of the list of concerns for many farmers and ranchers. As agribusiness firms consolidate, producers find themselves with fewer options for marketing their products. For example, the top four processing firms for beef, pork and chicken control from 55 to 87 percent of the U.S. market for their commodity. At the local level, this means a single processing firm is often the only marketing option for a farmer or rancher. This lack of competition and excessive corporate control of the marketplace is of great concern to producers and consumers alike.

In an effort to insulate themselves from the risks associated with price volatility and shrinking markets, a growing number of producers are forced to give up their independent operations, and move toward contract arrangements with vertically integrated agribusinesses. By 1998, over one third of the total value of U.S. agricultural production was under contract agreements, and this percentage continues to increase. For some commodities, such as poultry, the contract production model is nearly universal. In recent years, processors of many other commodities have moved toward the poultry model. This year an estimated 80 to 85 percent of flue-cured tobacco is being produced under contract as compared with less than 10 percent last year. Additionally, the percentage of hogs and cattle produced under contract has increased significantly over the past five years. Many contract producers find themselves with little or no power to negotiate the terms of these contracts, which are often offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with mandatory confidentiality clauses that limit the price transparency in these markets.

Increased consolidation and lack of competition have negative implications for consumers, as well. Noncompetitive markets can lead to increased costs and reduced choices for consumers. When too few companies dominate a market, the long-term result for consumers is negative.

A new, comprehensive competition title has been advocated by 63 rural-based organizations in a letter sent earlier this year to members of the Agriculture Committees. The farmers, ranchers, and rural citizens belonging to these groups know too well that spiraling consolidation of both the agricultural processing and input sectors is likely to increase anticompetitive market conduct, such as little price transparency and unfair bargaining power.

Therefore, in addition to other priority farm bill concerns, it is vitally important that the competition issues affecting our nation s farmers and ranchers be addressed in the new farm bill, as well. Specifically, we urge you to consider provisions to address anti-trust enforcement, price discrimination and transparency, reforms related to contract production, and agricultural marketing innovations and alternatives.

We look forward to working with you on this and other important matters related to the farm bill reauthorization process.


Tim Johnson
United States Senate

(The Senators you encourage to sign on to this letter will have their names and signatures listed here.)

Patty Cantrell, Editor
P.O. Box 228, 845 Michigan Ave.
Benzonia, MI 49616

tel: 231-882-4723 ext. 14
fax: 231-882-7350
e-mail: patty@mlui.org
internet: www.mlui.org