Category: Agricultural Law

1

Rurality and “Government Retreat”

The New York Times ran a story yesterday, dateline Roseburg, Oregon (population 21,000), headlined “Where Anti-Tax Fervor Means All Government Will Cease.”  This is not exactly breaking “news.”  This story has been around in some form, with varying degrees of urgency, for about five years.  See earlier installments here, here and here.  The gist of it is that many rural counties in the West which rely on federal funding streams (e.g., PILT, Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act monies, covered by stories herehere and here), have seen those monies taper off and in some cases dry up.

I want to be clear before going further that the federal funding streams these counties rely on are not giveaways, at least by my assessment.  They are intended to replace, in some small measure, tax dollars the counties cannot generate because property taxes cannot be levied on federal lands, which comprise vast portions of the West.  (The existence of such extensive public lands is also associated with other controversies, of course; read more here and here).  The existence of public lands may also have an impact on other ways local governments might choose to plump up their public coffers (read more here and here), and the existence of these lands limits the ways in which locals can earn a living, as in the timber industry or in ranching.

As a result of these funding cuts, many nonmetropolitan counties–those least likely to have other funding sources (taxes on robust business enterprises, for example)–are  cutting critical services.  Most news reports to date have focused on cuts to law enforcement, which has cultivated some “informal justice”/citizens “militias” type activity.  But this NYTimes story focuses on cuts to other services.  Highlighted in the story and illustrated by a photo is the fact that Douglas County–at 5,134 square miles, more than 2.5 times the size of Delaware and nearly as large as Connecticut–is about to close the last of the 11 library branches it previously boasted.  The one in Roseburg, the county seat, will be the last to go.  Kirk Johnson, NY Times reporter based out west, reports that Douglas County residents recently voted down a ballot measure that “would have added about $6/month to the tax bill on a median-priced home,” a measure that would have saved the libraries from crisis and closure.

I could digress here into a long discussion about how critically important libraries are for all sorts of reasons, not least these days that–in my suburb and many other California locales–they accommodate many homeless people during the day, providing them a lifeline (the Internet) to identifying and getting services.  I know that my family and I use our neighborhood library on a weekly basis, even though I have ready access to a fabulous academic library.  A 2013 story about the particular benefits of libraries in rural communities is here, and broadband is a big part of the story.   A more recent library story out of rural northern California about the power of books in children’s lives is here.

But Johnson makes the point that libraries are not the only thing on the chopping block in Douglas County.  The failed library initiative is like many others in Douglas and neighboring counties (e.g., Curry and Josephine) that voters have rejected in the last decade.  Another very sobering illustration of the southwest Oregon situation is the fact that Curry County has only one full-time employee in the elections division of its clerk’s office and therefore may have difficulty holding an election this fall.  (I’ve documented here and here similar phenomena in my home county in Arkansas, another place heavily reliant on PILT because of the presence of public lands set aside as Ozark National Forest and Buffalo National River).

There is so much I could say about this particular rural trend to shrink government, sometimes to an extreme degree.  But I just want to make a few points in regard to theoretical legal geography regarding how spatiality and law are co-constitutive.   I have argued as a related matter that rural society and rural spatiality are co-constituting, as reflected in a less robust presence of law, legal actors, and other institutions and agents of the state in rural places.  I framed it as “space tames law tames space” in a frustrating feedback loop:  it is expensive for the state to do its work when the area to be governed is vast and when residents emotionally and intellectually resist vesting power (including via tax dollars)  in the state.  I would characterize this feedback loop as disabling, though I understand some rural residents of a more libertarian bent would see it as enabling–enabling the individual, that is, fostering self-sufficiency.

My argument about the relative “lawlessness” of rural and remote places has not been uncontroversial.  Lots of folks see small towns as the epitome of order and law-abiding-ness and have pushed back against my argument.  Yet it seems that my point is very well illustrated by this detail from Johnson’s article, which he offers as an illustration of “government retreat”:

It looks like the house on Hubbard Creek Road in Curry County, where owners went for more than 10 years without paying any property taxes at all because the county assessor’s office couldn’t field enough workers to go out and inspect. The house, nestled in the woods with a tidy blue roof and skylights, dodged more than $8,500 in property taxes that would have gone to support the schools, fire district and sheriff, because government had gotten too small to even ask. So things fall even further, with cuts to agencies that actually bring in revenue prompting further cuts down the line.

So there you have it:  a community envisages itself as not needing law, regulation and the state, so it underfunds government to such an extent that the state can no longer support itself and perform (m)any government functions.  This, in turn, further fuels the imaginary–and reality–of an anemic and unhelpful state.  The state is thus discredited, thereby further undermining the state’s ability to justify the raising of revenue or to do, well, much of anything.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  the state’s inability to be effective?  or the perception that it would necessarily be ineffective and a consequent decision not to fund it, thereby rendering it (more?) ineffective, unhelpful, and inefficient?

As for when a community goes too far in its retreat from public institutions…well, the defeat of the library tax crossed that line for some.  Johnson quotes a Douglas County resident, 54-year-old Terry Bean, a construction manager who supported the library tax, though he had opposed other local taxes.  In explaining his position he invoked another concept associated with rural livelihoods:  community.

There is conservative, said Bean, flicking a cigarette butt into the bed of his pickup truck, and then there is community. And people got them confused.

The library, he said, was something a person could use — for computers, if not for books — even if that person didn’t have a dime, and he still respects that.

And that, in turn, brings me back to my earlier point:  doesn’t everyone reap communitarian benefits from the public library?  even the richest of folks who may never darken its doors.

3

Local journalism as antidote to echo chambers and fake news

Have you noticed all the journalistic tourism to “Trump country” in the aftermath of election 2016?  A very recent example is here, and I have collected numerous stories in posts over at my own blog, Legal Ruralism, here and here.  Of course, some of these intrepid journalists were in places like southern Ohio before the day of doom (as here), and many of those have since returned to what I shall call the scene of the crime.  See more examples here and here.

My personal favorite for shoe leather effort and extraordinary insights is this piece by Alec MacGillis of ProPublica, “Revenge of the Forgotten Class,” published just a few days after the election.  It’s based on the author’s various 2016 visits to Ohio and Pennsylvania, right up to Election Day.  For what it’s worth, I see the best recent journalistic offerings about the working class–with the most compassionate reporting–coming from MacGillis, author of The Cynic, a biography of Mitch McConnell and  brilliant commentaries (including here and here), and from former bond trader Chris Arnade, who brought us this last summer.  Follow them for the real deal–if you have the stomach for it.

But what I want to focus on today is not so much this national reporting about poor and working class whites (who, incidentally, often overlap considerably with the rural folks I’ve been writing about for more than a decade).  While this reporting can be excellent, it often features a voyeuristic slant, an outsider-looking-in style that is framed in a “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” tone.  I want to focus on local journalism, especially in small town America, to consider the role of local and regional media in an era when we have become alarmed (justifiably) about the rise of fake news–as well as about the fiscal sustainability of smaller media outlets.

Having set the stage, let me remind you of some good news.  Eric Eyre of the West Virginia Gazette Mail just won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.  The Pulitzer jury recognized Eyre for a three-part series revealing how pharmaceutical companies flooded rural West Virginia with opioids; one eye-popping fact:  “780 million pills, 1,728 deaths.”  Here’s an annotated excerpt:

“Follow the pills and you’ll find the overdose deaths,” it begins. It details what happens in places like Kermit, W.Va., where the population is only 392.

“There, out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 9 million highly addictive — and potentially lethal — hydrocodone pills over two years to a single pharmacy in the Mingo County town. Rural and poor, Mingo County has the fourth-highest prescription opioid death rate of any county in the United States.”

The series was a fabulous illustration of the paper’s motto, “sustained outrage.”  It was exciting to see a reporter in a “flyover state” gain such high-profile recognition.  It would be easy for the Pulitzer jury to overlook or dismiss such reporting, simply because of its provenance and its subjects.  That is, Eyre is not only writing about West Virginia–the butt of innumerable jokes as a state–he is revealing abuse of the downtrodden Trump voter, folks we coastal elites have little sympathy for or ability to empathize with (see my recent posts about Hillbilly Elegy for substantiation of the latter point).  Maybe when these Appalachians are presented as the victims of Big Pharma, we can muster some sympathy for them?

Plus, as Margaret Sullivan pointed out in her mid-April piece in the Washington Post, “Great local reporting stands between you and wrongdoing.  And it needs saving.”  Sullivan quotes Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute, regarding Eyre:

I so admire his dedication to the people of Appalachia, which he has approached not only as an excellent reporter but as a member of the community.

Speaking of journalists and publishers being members of a community, even more exciting to me than Eyre’s win was the recognition given Art Cullen of Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer for Editorial Writing.  The paper, published twice weekly, is based in Storm Lake, population 10,076, the county seat of Buena Vista County, in the northwest part of Iowa.  NPR’s “On the Media” did this podcast on the Pulitzer win.  I delighted in reading this “take no prisoners” series of editorials, most of which boldly took on BigAg and Governor Terry Branstad in one way or another.  Among the issues raised were diversion of tax dollars that had been earmarked for school infrastructure improvements, used instead to clean up pollution attributable to the agri-industrial complex, as well as the fact that the Farm Bureau had stepped in to cover the county’s legal fees in relation to that pollution, thus creating a conflict of interest.  Cullen also took up the problem of school funding schemes giving rural schools short shrift.  The Storm Lake Times is a family affair (Art is the editor, his brother the publisher, his wife the photographer and his son a reporter), and one clearly adept at the use of FOIA requests.  This is the sort of advocacy every community–rural or urban–needs.  It is advocacy that asks hard questions of politicians, corporations, and other moneyed interests, journalism that looks out for the underdog.

I can’t even say that of the statewide newspaper in my home state, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  If its Twitter feed is any indication, the paper covers little more than automobile accidents and shootings.  In tandem with its publication last year of my op-ed about the risk of an industrial hog farm polluting the Buffalo National River (which runs through my home county) and sickening local residents, the Democrat-Gazette published an obnoxious editorial that suggested it was tired of the “he said, she said” nature of the “boring” debate over the industrial hog farm (which, I might add, was the first of its kind in the state, permitted without notice even to the National Park Service).  The editorial suggested–apparently tongue in cheek–that the concentrated animal feeding operation might “enhance” the river.  Geez.  Contrast that irresponsible stance with the Storm Lake Times concerns about agricultural ground water and river pollution and who will pay for its clean up.  No comparison.  The media really can make a difference, not least in our understandings of right and wrong–and, for that matter, science.

All of this reminds me of a change I’ve seen in my own hometown newspaper in the era of Trump.  I only noticed a few months ago that the Newton County Times was carrying the syndicated editorials of Dick Polman, a frequent critic of Trump, but apparently it was picking these up for its online edition as early as late 2015.  Previously, editorials were always written by the local editor, and they were virtually always about (very!) local issues, typically skirting controversies (like the industrial hog farm).  Letters to the editor were the forum where the county’s old-timers (typically conservative) duked it out with the newcomers (often more liberal/progressive), including the back-to-the land crowd that began showing up in that corner of the Ozarks in the 1960s and 1970s.

More recently, though, by publishing syndicated op-eds like “Moscow on the Potomac,” (by Polman) the Newton County Times is sharing (promoting?) views that are highly critical of Trump, even though a vast majority of the county’s voters chose Trump in November.  On the other hand, I’m also seeing the paper pick up op-ed columns like this one by Michael Reagan, President Reagan’s son.  Maybe the paper is playing both ends against the middle, but balance is better than blind loyalty to conservativism, especially when Trump is (apparently) the new standard bearer for it.

I’ll be interested to see if this newfound editorial balance in my hometown weekly (owned by Phillips Media Group, a regional chain) alienates long-time subscribers.  I’m reminded of this story last December about the high price a small-town Oklahoma newspaper is paying for endorsing Hillary Clinton for President.

In this era of liberal and conservative media echo chambers, I can’t help wonder what role local and regional papers might play in bridging the divide.  If they can help small-town folks appreciate the need for checks and balances on government–like the Storm Lake Times–that could be a good thing.  Ditto if they can be a voice for the needs and concerns of the common person, reflecting balance, telling both sides of the story, engaging empathically on tough issues.  Trump has given populism  a bad name of late, but a little populism from local media outlets could be a good thing, especially if they can leverage their trusted stance within a community to help explain complicated issues such as corporate greed that’s fueling the opioid epidemic (like Eric Eyre demonstrated), or the economics of free trade, the mid-to-long-term pros and cons of which are rarely self-evident.

If you don’t already do so, I recommend following some smallish, local or regional news outlets on Twitter or Facebook.  I have been following the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald for several months (see resulting blog posts here and here), along with the WV Gazette Mail, and it’s interesting to see not only the local news they report, but also what national headlines they pick up, including the political ones.  I also recommend the Daily Yonder, associated with the Center for Rural Strategies.  It’s been around a bit longer than my Legal Ruralism blog (we’re talking the decade plus mark) and has far more writers, readers, and a broader subject matter reach than I do.  If you don’t believe my admonition to take this forum folks seriously, see this recent feature on Nieman Lab.

In this highly polarized era, we need to look for common ground, and one way to do that is to educate ourselves about what concerns folks in rural America.  And if your instinct is to laugh at those things, try to keep the mocking and ridiculing to yourself.  I used to think that rural and working class folks weren’t paying attention to what coastal elites said about them.  Now, it’s clear they are… with the help of uber conservative outlets (and perhaps some Russian bots).  One thing should be abundantly clear to us at this point:  making rural and conservative folks the butt of our jokes isn’t going to get us out of our current political crisis.

Addictive by Design

I was honored to see Prof. John Banzhaf weigh in on a recent post on wellness programs. That post suggested parallels between the addictiveness of tobacco, and that of many food products. Little did I know the NYT was about to publish a blockbuster article on exactly that issue:

[In a 1999 meeting of food industry leaders,] [t]he first speaker was a vice president of Kraft named Michael Mudd. . . . As he spoke, Mudd clicked through a deck of slides — 114 in all — projected on a large screen behind him. The figures were staggering. More than half of American adults were now considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the adult population — 40 million people — clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980.

Mudd then did the unthinkable. He drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.’s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes. First came a quote from a Yale University professor of psychology and public health, Kelly Brownell, who was an especially vocal proponent of the view that the processed-food industry should be seen as a public health menace: “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”

Fast food lawsuits are looking more prescient by the day.

Illustration: Via Engadget article on interactive ad patents.

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Food, Hunger, Science, and Data

Recent readings and the time of year lead me to two lessons. First, for those of us who can, let’s give to those in need. Second, let’s use science, data, and reason to guide policy. Extreme views for or against modes of farming and issues of the environment lead to mistrust, failures, and, in this case, starvation. Starvation should not be an issue on the table for the 21st century. Questions of efficacy and safety can be addressed. The information is here. The time to use it is now.

Maybe it is the time of year when food feasts like Thanksgiving and the season of holiday giving make me think about simple, direct need and especially hunger. Whatever the reason, today that fundamental issue is upon us more than ever. The Times reports “Millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time as their parents, many once solidly middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.” The numbers are stark: “The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, had four-year increases of 25 percent or more, huge shifts in a vast program long characterized by incremental growth.” More than 3 years ago I wrote about the problems of a stigmatized school lunch program. I don’t know whether that system has evolved, but “apparently many of these formerly middle-income parents have pleaded with school officials to keep their enrollment a secret.” Society’s tendency to look down on the less fortunate is absurd. I am not sure what can be done about that. But perhaps we can reconnect with efforts to provide food across the world. The hard part could be the tensions between industrial farming and the organic movement. Yet, good science and data could show us a way out.

A Long Now Foundation seminar by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak Organically Grown and Genetically Engineered: The Food of the Future shows that rather than combat, we can sue data and reflection to marry these efforts. Sustainable food should: Provide abundant safe and nutritious food…. Reduce environmentally harmful inputs…. Reduce energy use and greenhouse gases…. Foster soil fertility…. Enhance crop genetic diversity…. Maintain the economic viability of farming communities…. Protect biodiversity…. and improve the lives of the poor and malnourished. (He pointed out that 24,000 a day die of malnutrition worldwide, and about 1 billion are undernourished.)

That is a tall order. As the speakers noted organic farming works well and mitigates the problems of pesticides, (Data point: “Every year in the world 300,000 deaths are caused by the pesticides of conventional agriculture, along with 3 million cases of harm.”). But organic techniques can’t address all the diseases and pests out there and “Its yield ranges from 45% to 97% of conventional ag yield. It is often too expensive for low-income customers. At present it is a niche player in US agriculture, representing only 3.5%, with a slow growth rate suggesting it will always be a niche player.” Genetic engineered plants (often not allowed under current regulation) can fill the gap.

According to the report of Dr. Ronald’s part of the talk, “One billion acres have been planted so far with GE crops, with no adverse health effects, and numerous studies have showed that GE crops pose no greater risk of environmental damage than conventional crops.” Examples include, cotton, papayas, and rice. “About 25% of all pesticide use in the world is used to defeat the cotton bollworm. Bt cotton is engineered to express in the plant the same caterpillar-killing toxin as the common soil bacteria used by organic farmers, Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt cotton growers use half the pesticides of conventional growers. With Bt cotton in China, cases of pesticide poisoning went down by 75%. India’s cotton yield increased by 80%. Other pest management techniques are needed but genetics can do much work. Hawaiian papaya was going extinct from ringspot virus, but a GE solution inoculated the fruit and the saved the industry. As I have written, basic food supply is a huge problem and rice is a key example of that. Dr. Ronald’s work on rice is impressive. The data: “Half the world depends on rice. In flood-prone areas like Bangladesh, 4 million tons of rice a year are lost to flooding—enough to feed 30 million people.” Her work developed “a flood-tolerant rice (it can be totally submerged for two weeks) called Sub1. At field trials in Asia farmers are getting three to five times higher yield over conventional rice.”

Seems compelling to me.

The Jungle Comes to Minnesota

I highly recommend Ted Genoways’s shocking investigative report on the impact of a leading factory meat processor.  The piece focuses on Quality Pork Processors Inc. (QPP), in Austin, Minnesota.  One worker alleged that the workers in the plant felt nearly as disposable as the animals:

“I feel thrown away,” Miriam Angeles says. “Before, I worked hard and willingly for QPP, but after I got sick and needed restrictions, they threw me away like trash.”

Rest assured, many other employers may be planning to emulate that example.  Sickness and exhaustion are apparently a common problem at the plant. As the article notes, “The line speed at QPP had increased from 750 heads per hour in 1989 to 1,350 per hour in 2006, while the workforce barely grew.”  It’s the “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” model of management.  Few parts of the production process, from cutting and slicing legs and other parts to vaporizing swine brains, are easy.  Health effects are dramatic:

Read More

Ag-Gag: A Black-Boxed Food Supply

I recently discussed the OIRA’s contribution to some terrible incidents in egg safety. Denis Sterns has written a challenging article on the bigger picture, explaining “Why Food in the United States May Never be Safe:”

This article . . . interrogates the idea of food safety by opening the question of whether a rational economic actor in a free market for food can reasonably be expected to invest in improving the safety of the food products he makes and sells. It is precisely the lack of (cr)edibility in the market – i.e., the absence of reliable quality signals, the lack of traceability, the high degree of anonymity, and the destruction of trust – that creates the structural impediments and powerful disincentive for improving the quality and safety of food. . . . Recall the huge public uproar, and swift policy changes, that followed the release of video of “downer” cattle being abused at a California meat plant. To obtain the video, the Humane Society had to sneak someone inside the plant to secretly record the offending conduct.

The secrecy of some food suppliers is very troubling. Stearns proposes constant surveillance of their actions: “With video cameras always in place . . . one can only expect that most of the shocking conditions that are found after the fact of an outbreak would be less likely to occur in the first place.” Stearns also criticizes FDA’s “wholly voluntary and largely ineffective” traceback regulations, which would make it easier to find the source of contaminated food. (Maybe the FDA is too busy chasing down raw milk co-ops.)

Unfortunately, Big Meat appears all too eager to hide their actions from both concerned citizens and animal rights activists. Consider the rash of legislation designed to deter actions like the Humane Society’s:

The animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals sent an undercover investigator to E6 Cattle Company in Texas, where he filmed calf abuse over a two-week period. To prevent such whistleblowing, several states have passed so-called “Ag-gag” laws that would make it illegal to clandestinely film inside slaughterhouses, sparking what animal rights activists fear will be a nationwide trend. . . . “They’re trying to criminalize someone being an eyewitness to a crime,” Jeff Kerr, [PETA]’s general counsel, said.

One of Chinese dissident Ai WeiWei’s biggest “offenses” against the Chinese government was trying to publicize the names of the children killed when shoddy schools collapsed after an earthquake. Criminalization of exposes of contamination and animal abuse in America’s heartland could be one more step toward the convergence of Chinese and US politico-economic structures. Read More

1

Church-owned Cows and Inflation

I recently taught Sherwood v. Walker, the famous case involving a Michigan cow named Rose 2nd of Aberlone, as well as a number of other mistake cases in contracts dealing with cows. I’ve got bovine jurisprudence on the mind. It seems that the same is true for Eugene Volokh, who recently noted a case involving a “church owned cow.” The cow in question was owned by the Mormon Church and seems to have negligently collided with a motorcycle. In the interests of extending our jurisprudential understanding of cows, I can’t resist adding another twist to the church-owned cow story.

The Mormon Church’s involvement in agriculture is a legacy of the nineteenth century practice of Mormons paying tithing in kind to the church. As a result of this practice, in the nineteenth century, the church acquired large herds of cattle as well as other food stuffs. It then issued so-called “tithing scrip,” which was in effect private currency. The holder of scrip could redeem it for foodstuffs, including beef, at church storehouses. The scrip then circulated as money, in effect providing liquidity to the perpetually cash starved economies of the Intermountain West in the nineteenth century. Because the currency was in effect backed by cows, however, it was subject to some odd monetary pressures. For example, when a particularly harsh winter killed off a large proportion of the church’s cattle herds, it was forced to reduce the purchasing power of tithing scrip at church storehouses because there simply wasn’t as much beef available as previously. The result was price inflation as the value of the scrip declined.

As part of its efforts to raise revenue during the Civil War, the U.S. government passed a series of banking acts designed to decrease government borrowing costs. All nationally chartered banks were required to hold their reserves in the form of treasury bonds, and non-federally chartered institutions were hit with a heavy tax on the notes that they issued. The effect was to slap a punitive tax on any bank depositor who did not loan his or her savings to the U.S. government. During the 1880s federal prosecutors in Utah decided that the various scrip-issuing bodies of the Mormon church were subject to this tax, and demanded decades of back taxes, eventually killing off the scrip and replacing it with currency issued by federally chartered banks.

Taxes. Regulation. Inflation. Cows. Some things never change.

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Death on a Factory Farm

I caught a few minutes of HBO’s new documentary Death on a Factory Farm the other night. It focuses on an undercover investigation of a hog farm in Ohio, the graphic footage of abuse it revealed, and the legal case that followed. It was so disturbing that I actually had to turn it off, but then again I’m a vegetarian – it’s those who are not that need to watch.

Is Anyone for the Farm Bill?

I just got the following action alert from OxFam:

The Senate bill being considered, like the House version that passed, favors a relatively small number of producers at the expense of most farmers and rural communities, and it falls short of meeting its obligations to families that depend on food stamps and to conservation programs that protect rivers and streams. To make things worse, the Farm Bill would actually hurt poor farmers in developing countries. . . . [Meanwhile,] millionaire farmers . . . receive unfair subsidies.

My question is: is it mainly interest group politics and campaign finance transactions that permit bills like this to pass over and over? Or do they naturally flow from a Senate that may overrepresent big agribusiness? Tom Geoghegan notes that “the 50 Senators from the 25 [least populated] states represent 16 percent of the population.”

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Agriculture and the Pharmaceutical Industry

In this policy brief, the Oakland Institute argues that “The enormous public resources invested in agriculture have benefited [pharmaceutical] companies by promoting the sale of [genetically engineered] seeds over and above their actual value and by allowing them to multiply their research efforts at minimal cost through collaborations with public institutions.” It’s an argument that I’ve seen before, although this is perhaps the most reader-friendly version that I’ve seen.

What I find interesting is the framing of subsidies as occuring through the (semi-)public works of “public-private partnerships and the patenting of university generated knowledge,” because it seems analogous to earlier public-works agricultural subsidies: that is, big water projects. What I also find interesting (and maybe it’s because of my relative newness to this field, and my focus more on the agricultural/environmental side of things) is its emphasis on the companies as part of the pharmaceutical industry, rather than on companies as part of Big Agriculture (which is more of what I see in the agricultural literature). I think this further highlights the importance of promoting dialogue between agricultural reform advocates (who often focus more on direct subsidies) and biotech patent reform advocates, as well as a reassessment of earlier public works projects and their unintended detrimental effects.