Annapolis—Big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to clean water in the United States, according to a new report by Environment Maryland. The report, Growing Influence: the Political Power of Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways, was released today.
“When Wall Street runs the farm, our environment suffers. Giant agricultural companies are throwing around millions of dollars to fight against protections for our rivers, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Tommy Landers, Policy Advocate with Environment Maryland.
Landers was accompanied by a number of legislators, farmers, and activists who had all experienced firsthand the political clout of the agribusiness lobby.
“Last year I worked to ban arsenic, a known carcinogen, from chicken feed. In my mind, this is a no brainer for public health and the health of our waterways. But, as if on cue, the chicken industry sent a cadre of lobbyists to Annapolis to quash this straightforward piece of legislation,” said Delegate Tom Hucker of Maryland’s 20th district.
“Maryland’s natural resources – our beautiful lakes, rivers, and forests – are the envy of our region,” said Sen. Roger Manno. “But these treasures, and particularly our Bay, are now at risk due to the introduction of pesticides and other chemicals that are used to increase crop yield. It is one reason why Maryland needs a greater commitment to assist our small and family-owned farms in their efforts to transition to sustainable and more profitable organic products. I am very committed to that end.
“Perdue, Tyson, The National Chicken Council, and Farm Bureau have fought every effort to make it mandatory to clean up their act. Fifteen years ago I posed the question—‘who owns the manure?’Fifteen years later we’re faced with the same question. This is the only industry I know of that has convinced politicians to let them pawn their toxic waste off onto another party—farmers and taxpayers,” said Carole Morison, a former chicken grower for Perdue Farms, Inc.
“The Farm Bureau is doing a great job at serving the interests of Monsanto, Dow, Cargill, Archer Daniel Midland—meanwhile they’re making people believe the Farm Bureau serves the family farmer. In fact, they’re serving corporate interests, without regard to the health of rural America. A clear example is atrazine, a herbicide linked to higher rates of cancer. Instead of promoting sustainable or chemical alternatives, the Farm Bureau insists on pursuing atrazine’s use to the detriment of Maryland farm families and rural populations,” said Michael Tabor, a farmer from Montgomery County.
The report includes an analysis of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. For instance, over the past decade ten large agribusiness interests gave $35 million to congressional candidates (led by the American Farm Bureau, which gave $16 million), and agribusiness interests gave more than $120 million to state-level candidates, party committees and ballot measures.
According to the report, the political influence of big agribusiness is bolstered by an army of lobbyists. From 2005 to 2010, the ten leading agribusiness interests spent $127 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, fielding 159 lobbyists in 2010. Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau led the pack, fielding 80 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
Pollution from agriculture contributes to poor water quality here in Maryland and throughout the country, Landers said, adding that too many of our waterways have become unsafe for fishing or swimming, and cannot maintain healthy populations of wildlife.
The number of documented areas of low dissolved oxygen off America’s coasts – often called “dead zones” – has increased from 12 in 1960 to 300 today. This includes the dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, which can pervade up to a third of the bay’s volume in the summer time.
The report examined cases in which the agribusiness lobby used its political power to stand in the way of clean water. For example, agribusiness interests derailed federal legislation to restore the Chesapeake Bay in 2010. The bill would have required all polluters to do their share to restore the ecologically imperiled bay to health, while also providing billions of dollars in funds for bay cleanup.
“Over the past two decades here in Maryland, the Farm Bureau has consistently opposed legislation that involves the regulation of pesticides, even when it has nothing to do with agriculture. For instance, they opposed the Integrated Pest Management in Schools Law, requiring pesticides only be used as a last resort in our schools, for the four years prior to its passage in 1998,” said Ruth Berlin, Executive Director of the Maryland Pesticide Network.
“Right now, the US EPA and states in the Chesapeake Bay area are working hard on a promising new plan to restore the bay and all the waters that feed it. Which group was first out of the gates to sue the EPA over this critical plan? The American Farm Bureau,” said Landers.
“This plan is a tremendous opportunity for Maryland’s leaders to turn the tide on bay cleanup. We can make critical improvements like decreasing the amount of manure farmers can apply to the land. When the agribusiness lobby fights against these reforms, our leaders need to stand firm against the agribusiness lobby and stand up for a clean bay,” added Landers.
Recently the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget amendment to strip the EPA of any funding to implement a Chesapeake Bay’s new cleanup plan, the same plan the Farm Bureau is suing over right now. Environment Maryland was pleased that most of Maryland’s delegation voted against the amendment, but disappointed that Rep. Andy Harris and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett voted for it.
“Our basic environmental protections are on the chopping block in Washington right now. The time has come for public officials to resist the entrenched power of big agribusiness and implement strong measures to protect the Chesapeake Bay and all of our beautiful waterways,” added Landers.