At the intersection of marine conservation and social, economic, environmental and food justice

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In the Middle – RevolOceanary Road Diaries 8/4/14

This post comes to us from Niaz Dorry, NAMA's coordinating director, who is on the road - actually the train - for the next couple of weeks. These are her RevolOceanary Road Diaries.

Writing blogs as I go along has proved harder than I expected. Way too much packed in every day that by the end of the day all I could do is rest my weary brain. So I’ve got much to catch you all up on, which I’ll do even after the trip.

For now, the train is entering the middle of the country. The Amber Waves of Grain country - where much of the corn and soy that's grown for animal feed on industrial-scale farms, or processed into cheap, unhealthy foods - is grown. It's also where a lot of bad fish with unknown origins is sent to market - whether as generic fish sticks in the grocery store or piled on an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. 

Midwest cornfields captured from train window
What I want to share here is another bad thing being discussed in the middle of the country, specifically in Missouri: The Right toFarm Bill. Today’s primary election is supposed to bring farmers and others out to vote on this constitutional amendment. As our friends at Missouri RuralCrisis Center and National Family Farm Coalition and others say, it’s really the Right to Harm Bill.

I first met the folks at Missouri Rural Crisis Center when I was at Greenpeace. In 1998, we organized a national bus tour to take the issue of factory fishing to the country. The stop in Columbia, Missouri still brings tears to my eyes. Members of Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association flew out and joined us. They brought seafood with them, and with the pork from MRCC’s hog farmers, we had a press conference cook out! The banners “Stop Factory Farms” and “Factory Trawling is Overkill” were hanging above us. For the first time we connected the fight on land to the fight at sea.

Unfortunately, it's a fight we continue to tackle. Pieces of legislation such as the Right to Farm in Missouri are not new and we've had to deal with them on the ocean side. The parallel in the fisheries world is Catch Shares. On the surface the Right to Farm bill seems rather benign (Just like Catch Shares.). It asks a simple question: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?"
From Patchwork Family Farms, Missouri
But it doesn't seem to be that simple at all. As laid out by journalist and author of The Meat Racket, Christopher Leonard, this amendment is really about ensuring the right of agribusiness to go about doing what they have done for a few decades: promote factory farming, consolidate the farming sector, and control the production, processing and distribution.

The truth is I want to be open minded about this. But the concept of Catch Shares was introduced in similar benign terms to the fishermen and the public. Let the industry own the rights to fish forever, as the industrial fleet has wanted all along, and that will automatically translate to taking care of the fish.

Catch Shares are just as much about catch accumulation as the Right to Farm is about the Right to Further Consolidate and Harm… Harm our family farmers. Harm the land. Harm the animals. Harm our food. Harm our rural communities. Harm our environment.

As Christopher Leonard suggests, part of the problem is that no one has taken the time to define what we mean by a farmer. Or in our case a fisherman. This omission leaves a loophole big enough to drive an industrial scale combine or a factory trawler through. The time has come.

The RevolOceanary move is to define what we mean and stand up to protect it. That’s is everyone’s right.

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