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Articles by Aimee Witteman

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  • Now’s the time to speak up

    Can an Armani-clad gal from the big city be the champion of the good farmer?

    After giving two thumbs up to the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill last Thursday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi's rise to rural populist hero-status seems as likely as old Bessie having twins. Said Pelosi:

    ... the bill represents a critical first step toward reform by eliminating payments to millionaires, closing loopholes that permit evasion of payment limits, and promoting our nation's family farmers.

    But Pelosi still has a chance to emerge as the defender of real farm bill reform. And why shouldn't she? After all, the farm bill is about food and taking care of the land. It impacts all of us whether you live in Schuyler, Nebraska or San Francisco.

  • How the 2007 Farm Bill can help restore market competition

    Are federal authorities finally taking the idea that a few companies shouldn't be allowed to dominate the food system seriously?

    Well, the Federal Trade Commission recently blocked Whole Foods from gobbling up rival natural foods marketer Wild Oats. Congratulations to the FTC for busting up the natural-foods trust!

    But even combined, Whole Foods and Wild Oats would account for only 15 percent of natural-foods sales. Meanwhile, Smithfield Foods alone now controls 30 percent of the pork market after acquiring Premium Standard Farms a month ago -- a deal that the Department of Justice waved on. In fact, our food production system is full of examples of market concentration that make the Whole Foods/Wild Oats tie-up look like small (organic, heirloom) potatoes.

    Given such brazen inconsistencies, Congress needs to step in and give the executive branch some direction when applying antitrust theory to food companies. Adding a Competition Title to the Farm Bill would do just that.

  • Stop House ag czar Peterson before he kills the conservation title

    Any lingering illusions that Democratic control of the House would automatically lead to more enlightened agriculture policy crumbled last Thursday, when Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, released the conservation section of his 2007 Farm Bill proposal.

    Peterson kicked off the 2007 Farm Bill reauthorization process -- and in the process, kicked the legs out from under one of the country's best agri-environmental programs.

    By cutting funding for the Conservation Security Program in his proposal and freezing any new sign-ups until 2012, Chairman Peterson would essentially kill an innovative, green, and forward-looking program that has been lauded by many environmental, family farm, and sustainable food advocates.

    And there's limited time to stop him.