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


“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 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.


Discuss this Blog Entry 8

on Feb 11, 2013

Most of the activists I have come in contact with honor and respect agriculture. They are most concerned with saving our soils and water sources so that agriculture can continue not destroying agriculture. They are also fighting to save the ability of the consumer to chose foods grown according to their own personal standards.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 11, 2013

As the owner of a beef cow herd and irrigated row crops of corn and beans I am in agreement that the large confined animal facilities must NOT allow run-off from their land. They must respect their neighbors and the public water ways. It is not only a moral obligation but good PR.

T.Lyle Ferderber (not verified)
on Feb 11, 2013

As an organic farmer, processor and handler, Mr.Baise had best get used to things like opposition to CAFOs, monoculture, and GMOs. As the fastest growing segment in ag, you cannot afford to take us lightly and we will not back down on these issues, ever. That being said, "we" (organic farmers) also have much in common with our conventional counterparts and all of us need to cross the aisle and discuss what we have in common to help all farmers.

STU KINNE (not verified)
on Feb 11, 2013


Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 11, 2013

There's a very dangerous polarity that the author of this article perpetuates. Namely, proponents of organic agriculture get pegged unfairly as only caring about food for the rich, at the expense of poor people, who are apparently only the concern of conventional farmers. Let's not buy into this! I know farmers of all stripes, and all of them care about healthy food for all. Let's agree that we ALL care about the best ways to feed our growing planet, and let's not let old stereotypes keep us from working together!

Melinda Hemmelgarn (not verified)
on Feb 12, 2013

As a registered dietitian focused on public health, I'd like to thank Mr. Baise's efforts to establish the EPA. One in 88 children are now afflicted with autism and that number is expected to increase at next count. Two classes of pesticides and endocrine disruptors have been identified among the major environmental reasons for harm to our children. The President's Cancer Panel Report (written and released under former President Bush in 2009) says in order to reduce our risk for cancer, we should choose foods produced without chemical fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. And we should filter all our tap and well water -- because it has become contaminated with industrial and agricultural chemicals. We are not feeding the world. We are poisoning it. If we poison our environment, we poison ourselves, and that's no basis for a strong economy. Our children, and conventional farmers, are most vulnerable. If caring for children's health makes me an activist, then so be it. I'd prefer to come together and focus on what matters -- healthful food and clean water for future generations.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 2, 2013

i think most of our poisons come from the prosser, look at a can of pork and beans a loaf of bread, i cant even pronounce them words, is all that stuff and also all that salt really needed.

on Apr 21, 2013

Agriculture has faced many changes with the advancement of technology and now people are opting for the various advanced methods of farming. Organic farming is at toll and most of the farmers have shifted towards it. Instead of using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides we must use organic and natural composts that are safe. Sustainable farming is the future that will help us to protect our environment and health.

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