Update 4/10: We're hearing from our confidential intel sources on the Hill (OK, an action alert I just received) that the deadline for asking your reps to sign the letter mentioned below has been extended until mid-day tomorrow, 4/11. I just called my rep. The feeling of fulfillment is immense... try it! -E
Any economist worth her salt will tell you that a key element of that much-celebrated concept of consumer choice is access to information. Without information, we can't be expected to make the "logical" choices that happy free-marketers are supposed to make. How can I know if I prefer butter to guns if I can't weigh all the pros and cons? (Oh no... flashback to Econ 101...) Likewise, it's much harder for farmers to make responsible choices about the way they produce food if they don't have enough information to weigh the options.
For corporations, however, information sometimes gets in the way of making money, particularly if it highlights the fact that their product is, say, destroying consumers' and workers' health or contaminating the environment. Agribusinesses like Monsanto, along with their buddies in the energy business, have thus poured millions of dollars into making sure that we have a lot more information about the benefits of their products than we do about the drawbacks, or about alternative options. A few case studies: Monsanto's attack on no-rBGH labels on milk; massive funding to land-grant schools for research on GMOs, pesticides, and corn-based ethanol; and lobbying against funding for organic research and education programs in the Farm Bill and other bills.
I wrote about the newest example of info squelch, the Goodlatte amendment, back in January "Pesticides, like the Huddled Masses, Yearn to be Free." Today, we have the chance to do something about it. Yes, folks, it's time to call your congressperson and ask them to sign on to a Dear Colleague letter (a letter from one member of Congress to others) that is being circulated by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ). You can do this by calling the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking for your member's office, or by looking up your rep and their contact info here. Ask for the agriculture staffer and tell that person (or, more likely, their voice mail) that you want the representative to sign on to Rep. Holt's Dear Colleague on the pesticide discrimination provision in the Farm Bill.
The letter asks leaders of the Farm Bill conference committee to ax Goodlatte's provision, which was inserted at the behest of pesticide manufacturers and is titled "No Discrimination Against Use of Registered Pesticide Products or Classes of Pesticide Products." The provision reads:
In establishing priorities and evaluation criteria for the approval of plans, contracts, and agreements under title II, the Secretary of Agriculture shall not discriminate against the use of specific registered pesticide products or classes of pesticide products.
Under this provision, USDA conservation program managers would be prevented from doing anything that could 'discriminate' against specific pesticides — including telling farmers about alternatives, or helping them switch from using highly toxic pesticides like atrazine or methyl bromide to using other, less environmentally fatal and farmworker-harmful pesticides. The agency could be prevented from financially supporting farms' transition to organic agriculture (since that would "discriminate" against synthetic pesticides). I don't think I have to spell this out for you, but it's kind of like saying that your kids' school district can't publicize non-toxic ant-control methods, since that would discriminate against the toxic fumigants that are often used in schools.
More than 50 public interest groups have signed a letter to the House Committee on Agriculture asking them to follow the Senate's lead and remove this odious language, which drives pesticide policy "in precisely the opposite direction from where it should be going."
The language is being debated right now. You can help by calling your member of Congress (see numbers above) today and asking them to sign Rep. Holt's Dear Colleague letter to remove the pesticide discrimination provision from the Farm Bill. (Again: (202) 224-3121 for the Congressional switchboard or look up your rep and their contact info here.)
Let's remind our representatives that farmers — like consumers — deserve access to information so they can make responsible, healthy choices.
Talking points and more information