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NAFTA Is Bad News For American Farmers


By James Donahue

October 2005


I was raised on a farm and have done a lot of agricultural reporting over the years. I know the struggles that have gone on among the farmers over the years.


One of the reasons a lot of us young men growing up in our neighborhood didn’t follow family tradition and stay on the farm is because we saw the writing on the wall even then. Instead of people at one with the Earth, loving our work, farming was turning into a big business, high pressure competition.


Only the best guys with the most cows, the largest farms and the sharpest pencils made it. Either they lived in luxury with a million dollars worth of tractors, combines, trucks and high-tech farm equipment in the yard, or they went bust and sold their farms to neighbors who were running in the fast lane.


A man and his wife could no longer make a living on a 40-acre spread, or 80-acres, or even 160-acres, which happened to be the size of the farm we had. Even then these small farms were getting grabbed up by neighbors who saw the future and knew they had to expand or go out of business.


Since then I have watched farms get larger and larger, and now they are turning into corporate-owned farms. Some farms in the state now have thousand-head cow barns or thousands of chickens or hogs. They have acreage that spreads for miles and operate trucks that are so big they need paved highways to run on. Everything is computerized.


And yet the race for that tiny edge of profit gets harder and harder.


I remember the big concerns among farmers during the big debates over the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The politicians in Washington told U.S. growers that NAFTA would open new doors for the sale of U.S. farm products.


But it didn’t turn out exactly the way the politicians promised, as usual. Instead of giving American farmers new outlets for the sale of grain, beans and corn, the door was suddenly open for foreign growers to dump cheap produce on American markets. What we didn’t count on was outsourcing.


It seems that big American farms employ people to do all this work. Consequently, in spite of big machinery, computers and sharp pencils, the thing that is killing American farmers is the cost of labor.


Foreign workers will work for much less than American workers. And that is the bottom line all over the nation.


But buying foreign foods, especially fresh produce from over the border, has had its price. Anything that is hand picked is now subject to suspicion when it comes to putting it in our mouths. Farm workers in Mexico and other South American countries are not required to wash their hands after using the toilet, for example. And foods are not necessarily subject to the strict inspections that foods produced on U.S. farms are. (Or were before Bush).


It is common now for people to suffer from food poisoning, not only after eating in restaurants but simply eating fresh produce in their own homes. Failure to wash a leaf of hand-picked lettuce, for example, might subject us to a few hours of severe stomach cramps and diarrhea; or worse. 


The U.S. has always imported foods that can’t be produced at home. We all love our coffee, cocoa, and bananas, and we buy spices that come from the Far East. But now we are buying tomatoes, potatoes, apples, and a wide variety of other products that are grown overseas and shipped here at lower cost that we can produce and market them at home.


Worse is that food processing and packaging companies once located in the United States are closing their doors and moving overseas in that unending search for cheap labor. Thousands of workers in these plants have lost their U.S. jobs and growers have lost their buyers for products they once produced on U.S. soil.


All of this is not good for this nation. We have forgotten how to grow and produce our own food. Most women today don’t know how to bake a loaf of bread unless they have an electronic bread making machine and can buy the processed flour in a box with directions. The production of flour from grain and then turning it into bread on an open fire pit is going to be a forgotten talent.


When the day comes that all of this world commerce comes to a screaming stop, we will be hard-pressed to survive. Producing food from scratch will be something nobody remembers how, or has the resources to do. Even our seed, which is mostly hybrid and designed to grow one crop and no more, cannot be saved for a second season.


Americans have been building an unstable framework in this international trade system that is heading for a terrible crash.

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