American Farm Bureau Federation

From SourceWatch
Jump to: navigation, search

This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Learn more from the Center for Media and Democracy's research on climate change.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is a right-wing lobbying front for big agribusiness and agribusiness-related industries that works to defeat labor and environmental initiatives, including climate change legislation.

History of agribusiness interests

On its web site, AFBF calls itself a "grassroots organization." [1] However, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, in his 1971 book, Dollar Harvest: The Story of the Farm Bureau, noted that the AFBF maintains a top-down pattern of control. "Its leadership is self-perpetuating, and its policy, although nursed through an elaborate procedural labyrinth, is rarely permitted to wander very far afield." He argued that the AFBF was:

"quietly and systematically amassing one of the largest business networks in America, while turning its back on the deepening crisis of the farmers whom it supposedly represents."

The AFBF is controlled from the top, which is how it was designed. It was founded in the early 1900s by the New York Chamber of Commerce and funded by the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts via the Chicago Board of Trade. [2] The Farm Bureau was designed to counter the nonpartisan, populist farm movement that was emerging at the time. It frequently uses social issues to distract attention from farmers’ basic economic interests. A generation ago, it was railing against "socialism", "communism" and farm price-support programs. Now, they deride environmentalists and form alliances with the so-called wise use movement.

The Farm Bureau is sometimes described as "the nation's largest farm organization, with 5 million members." [3] However, there are only about 1.9 million farmers in the U.S. and they are not all Farm Bureau members. The 5 million "members" of AFBF are simply people who buy insurance from it. It is in fact, an insurance conglomerate with annual net profits exceeding $6.5 billion dollars. [4] It controls two major farm co-ops and keeps a stock portfolio that includes agribusiness giants Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Monsanto, Phillip Morris, Dupont, Novartis and Dow. It is also heavily invested in oil, banking and the media. [5]

Anti-environmentalism

The president of the group, Bob Stallman, told the group's 2010 meeting in Seattle:

"A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and the way we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule ... Who would blame us for thinking that the avalanche of misguided, activist-driven regulation on labor and environment being proposed in Washington is anything but unfriendly?" [6]

In April 2010, the AFBF was lobbying against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. [7]

Those involved with the the Farm Bureau have called upon Congress to investigate its activities. In the late 1960s, New York Representative Joseph Resnick, then a member of the House Agriculture Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Rural Development, was rebuffed by fellow committee members under the influence of the Farm Bureau after calling for hearings. In 1968 he described it as:

“a perfect sewer-line for transporting right-wing ideology, particularly to our young people.”

Two developments in 2000 helped to shine a spot light on the AFBF. The “Amber Waves of Gain” study by Defenders of Wildlife and an investigative report by Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes. [8] The 60 Minutes segment interviewed small farmers with direct experience of AFBF and its indifference to their needs.

The Farm Bureau's wealth and power base serves factory farms and an extreme conservative agenda. According to Amber Waves of Gain, it has dedicates large amounts resources to opposing such laws as the Endangered Species Act; the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act as well as wetlands laws and pesticide regulations. It's agenda appears to emanate from leading right-wing think tanks and policy institutes. The AFBF has large holdings in the automobile, oil and pesticide industries. It often supports factory farming over family farms and regularly opposes government anti-pollution, pesticide, wild life protection, rural amenities and food quality regulations. It has participated in conservative political campaigns to debunk global warming, oppose registration and licensing of firearms and even advocate for the elimination of the Department of Education and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[9]

Factory farming & farming communities

Karen Hudson is the factory farm consultant for the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE). See also GRACE Factory Farm Project. According to Ms. Hudson, farmers are being forced out of production and suffering other negative impacts from corporate operations “which resemble factories more than farms.” She speaks to groups around about “livestock factories (that) carry with them consequences that impact the environment, our food supply, the economy, and the basic social structure of rural America.” The social fabric of many farming communities is being torn apart:

“divorce rates are increasing while child abuse and alcoholism are up dramatically, farmer suicides are at an all-time high, real estate prices have declined significantly and rural water supplies and environments are being gutted.”

Growing grassroots efforts against factory farms have run head long into the AFBF. According to Ms. Hudson, she and other activists have received visits and threats from the Farm Bureau. However, in spite of intimidation, they are committed to curbing the trend of industrial farming and advocating for sustainable methods. Over 200 organizations have called upon Congress to hold hearings on the Farm Bureau. [10]

Civil Rights

At AFBF’s 1999 convention, a voice vote “approved a resolution calling for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the cornerstone of the nation’s civil rights protection”, without debate. AFBF president Dean Kleckner, (currently chair of the pro-trade, anti-environmentalist Truth about Trade), based in Iowa, denied knowing anything about the vote. However, in a later interview he acknowledged that the anti-civil rights resolution had been approved by the membership. [11]

Portrayal in media

The AFBF portrays itself as the "voice of agriculture", and is often successful at getting the media to portray it as a representing the interests of family farms and farmers.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has written about the longstanding "myth" that the AFBF represents the interests of farmers. Berger also wrote in his 1971 book, that the AFBF was "quietly and systematically amassing one of the largest business networks in America, while turning its back on the deepening crisis of the farmers whom it supposedly represents." In the fall of 2000, the president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, John Hansen, told FAIR:

"I’ve been working on farming concerns for 30 years, and I can’t think of a major issue where the Farm Bureau didn’t have the same position as the grain and meat processors. It’s impossible to represent the interests of food producers [farmers] as well as food processors.... The two groups' economic interests are almost always at odds."[12]

Organization's own description

The Farm Bureau's web site says it is an:

"independent, non-governmental, voluntary organization governed by and representing farm and ranch families united for the purpose of analyzing their problems and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement and, thereby, to promote the national well-being. Farm Bureau is local, county, state, national and international in its scope and influence and is non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-secret in character. Farm Bureau is the voice of agricultural producers at all levels." [13]

Personnel & board

Key executives

Selected board members

  • Bob Stallman - President
  • Barry Bushue - Vice President, Oregon
  • Ronnie Anderson - Executive Committee, Southern Region
  • Charles E. Kruse - Executive Committee, Midwest Region
  • Carl Shaffer - Executive Committee, Northeast Region
  • Kevin Rogers - Executive Committee, Western Region[14]

Former personnel

Contact

600 Maryland Ave. SW
Suite 1000W
Washington DC 20024

Phone: (202) 406-3600

Fax: (202) 406-3602

Web address: http://www.fb.org/

Articles and resources

SourceWatch articles

References

  1. American Farm Bureau Federation About Us, Web site, accessed April 5, 2010
  2. A.V. Krebbs, Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness, February 1992
  3. e.g., Houston Chronicle, January 8, 2000
  4. Annual Report, American Farm Bureau, 1996
  5. Scotty Johnson, Sam Husseini, Right-Wing Business in Farmer's Overalls, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, September/October 2000
  6. Tyler Falk, Seeking sustainability, finding skeptics at the American Farm Bureau meeting, Grist.org, January 11, 2010
  7. American Farm Bureau Federation AFBF Calls on Congress to Nullify EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Scheme, Web site, accessed April 5, 2010
  8. New Investigative Report Amber Waves of Gain Released, Defenders of Wildlife, April 10, 2000
  9. Bill Berkowitz, Farm Bureau Is a Front, ZMagazine, 1 November 2000
  10. Bill Berkowitz, Farm Bureau Is a Front, ZMagazine, 1 November 2000
  11. Bill Berkowitz, Farm Bureau Is a Front, ZMagazine, 1 November 2000
  12. Scotty Johnson, Sam Husseini Right-Wing Business in Farmer's Overalls: The American Farm Bureau Federation, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, September/October 2000
  13. American Farm Bureau Federation About Us Web site, accessed April 5, 2010
  14. Staff Directory, AFBF, accessed April 2010

External articles

External resources

Books