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Defending agriculture: five major trends that pose a threat to American farming

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“The social contract that agriculture has had with the American people to produce a good, abundant, healthy food supply has been turned against us since the publication of 'Silent Spring,'” says Washington attorney Gary Baise. “A lot of people don’t like what farmers do — the urbanites and suburbanites think big corporations own our agriculture, and the environmental activists have one goal: putting us out of business.”

Washington lawyer Gary Baise, who devotes much of his time to defending U.S. agriculture in venues all the way to the Supreme Court, has an unusual item on his résumé: He was one of the team that helped found what has become a major thorn in the side of farmers, the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I was young and naïve,” he confessed at the annual commodity conference of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. “I worked with William Ruckelshaus to start the agency in 1970, a couple of years after Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. We thought then that the EPA would be done for as an agency within 20 years — that it would have accomplished its mission.”

Today, more than 40 years later, the agency has more than 17,000 employees with a proposed 2013 budget of $8.344 billion and its tentacles reach into almost every aspect of American agriculture and business.

Most farmers, and indeed those in virtually every sector of agriculture, can recite ad infinitum the frustrations of dealing with the agency’s complex and arcane regulations — and horror stories abound of jail terms and fines for those ruled in violation.

Baise, a principal in the Olson Frank Weeda Terman Matz Law Firm, with 30 years of government and private practice, spends a lot of time defending agriculture in cases involving the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

“The social contract that agriculture has had with the American people to produce a good, abundant, healthy food supply has been turned against us since the publication of Silent Spring,” he says. “A lot of people don’t like what we do — the urbanites and suburbanites think big corporations own our agriculture, and the environmental activists have one goal: putting us out of business.”

In the coming four years of the current administration, he says, U.S. agriculture will face five major trends:

• Opposition to monoculture cropping. “Environmental and public interest groups in the U.S. and worldwide don’t like the idea that we are the world’s best producers of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Their opposition to this monoculture is, in part, where the organic movement is coming from — feed the rich, not the poor. “

• Opposition to CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). “I spend much of my trial time these days defending CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). We win most, but opposition to CAFOs is a given for environmental public interest groups.

“If you don’t believe it, check the website activistcash.com for a rundown on all the foundations in the country. It shows that for many of these groups a high priority is opposition to CAFOs.

• Opposition to international trade.

• Opposition to genetically modified organisms, “the technology that will allow us to continue to feed the world.”

• Criminalization of runoff from concentrated livestock and poultry feeding operations.

“We must continue to work to defend agriculture against those who want to put us out of business,” Baise says.

 

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