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Factory Farms

About the Tyson Case in Last Week's News

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 22:08:47 PM PST

Last week, the Supreme Court denied to hear a case by a farmer who lost his contract with Tyson for being too vocal about his complaints.

Terry was a poultry farmer who brought together a group of area farmers and told them they had the right to complain about Tyson's practices. He also raised concerns directly with Tyson, among the world's largest meat companies.

Terry's story is one we should pay attention to. In the broiler industry, the farms are owned by farmers who contract with integrators, large companies like Tyson. The integrators provide the chicks, feed, and meds, and they make the rules about how the farmer raises the chickens and often require the farmers to make costly equipment upgrades in order to renew their contracts. The farmers, for their part, own the buildings, the equipment, and the dead birds and manure. They've got all of the debt and liability, while the integrator has the control. The farmers are paid for the amount of weight the chickens gain while in their custody.

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Book Recommendation: Eating Animals

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Jun 21, 2010 at 13:00:49 PM PDT

When I finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I felt sick to my stomach. And that's the way one should feel about any accurate account of the way most meat is produced in this country. That said, I don't want to lead would-be readers of this book to say "I don't want to know" and then avoid reading such a complete and nauseating account of where most meat comes from. If you eat meat - especially if you eat meat you didn't raise and slaughter yourself - it is your responsibility to read this book.

More below.

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Can You Be on the Pork Industry Payroll and Stay Unbiased?

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Jun 09, 2010 at 08:12:03 AM PDT

Apparently not. Shauna Ahern of the famous Gluten-Free Girl blog is paid to write a blog for the National Pork Board. She just wrote a piece about a factory hog farm she visited and how wonderful it was. Here's an excerpt:

The entire place felt warm. Even though there were something like 2500 pigs there, taken from birth to the market (farrow to finish, in pork production terms), the whole place felt calm and well-kept. It felt like a home.

I've been to a factory hog farm too and it was also a "family farm." But that didn't change the fact that there were 4000 pigs crammed into one building eating unhealthy diets and unable to engage in natural hog behaviors (like rooting). If it felt like a home, it was a home sitting on top of half a year's worth of hog manure. Truly, it was no more of a home than a crowded subway car at rush hour would be a home for humans if it were sitting on top of a cesspool of excrement instead of train tracks. That's more than just disgusting - in some cases it's deadly: just last week two men died from suspected methane gas poisoning at a factory hog farm in Nebraska.

If you'd like another perspective on factory hog farms, check out the film Pig Business (and check out how the pork industry tried to keep people from seeing it).

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

A Bad Day for Factory Farms?

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Jun 07, 2010 at 09:56:34 AM PDT

Here's the big news:

More than 30 years ago, Congress identified factory farms as water pollution sources to be regulated under the Clean Water Act's permit program.

But under a Bush administration regulation challenged by the environmental groups in this lawsuit, large facilities were able to escape government regulation by claiming, without government verification, that they do not discharge into waterways protected by the Clean Water Act.

Under the settlement reached May 26, the EPA will initiate a new national effort to track down factory farms operating without permits and determine if they must be regulated.

More here. What happens next will determine if the EPA actually is an agency that protects the environment or if, as The Onion suggests, it should just be renamed The Agency.

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

Big farms, Cuba and the backyard

by: la motocycliste

Thu May 20, 2010 at 13:07:30 PM PDT

While Jill Richardson was touring Cuban organiponicos, I was riding through California's Central Valley.

A lot of the Nation's food is grown here, despite the fact that it is very close to being a desert. Water comes from the North down the California Canal that flows next to I-5 and is piped, per water allotment, to huge farms.

At the moment, most of the farmers are screaming mad because they haven't gotten Their Water, mostly because pumping all that water South killed an incredible number of fish, not to mention killing the ecological health of California's Delta.  

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Strange Bedfellows? What's Going on in Organic Dairy?

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Jan 29, 2010 at 12:44:17 PM PST

Organic industry watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, put out a press release entitled "Organic Family Dairies Being Crushed by Rogue Factory Farms." In a time that is already tough for dairies, the last thing organic family farms need is unfair competition by factory farms that break the spirit of the organic law, if not the letter of it. The press release says that the organic family dairies are asking the President and OMB (the Office of Management and Budget) to remove loopholes from the law that allow factory farms to produce "organic" dairy products. This is not a new issue at all. It's one that's gone on for years, and the government is aware of it:

The pending rewrite of the organic livestock standards, with an emphasis on assuring compliance with provisions that require that ruminants, like dairy cows, be grazed, is currently under review at OMB, where the administration is being heavily lobbied by industrial farming interests to water down the rules.

It sounds to me like explosive growth in the organic market attracted these large factory farms (with up to 7200 cows), but now as organic dairy demand is flat, the glut of milk produced by these enormous milk factories is harming family dairies who allow their cows to graze on pasture. And, of course, consumers are not being served well by this either, as milk is healthier when the cows are able to graze on pasture.

Here's the strange part of it: The press release notes that the respected organic brand Strauss Dairy is partnering with Aurora (an "organic" dairy that even the Bush administration went after for violations) to do away with the pasture requirements for organic cattle that the OMB is looking at.

This is not TOO surprising to me, as in the past the government proposed organic dairy standards requiring the cows spend a certain amount of time grazing on pasture, but the standards were so flawed that they would have disqualified many legit organic dairies. Could that still be the case? (I'll add that I buy my milk from Strauss and would be most upset if they were actually lobbying for legalization of factory farms in the organic dairy market.)

In response, Albert Strauss said:

I fully support strict pasture regulations to maintain the integrity of the organic standards and ensure that factory farms are not allowed in the organic industry. My concern is that the proposed rule takes a one-size-fits-all approach which ignores regional diversity, dictating farm management without regard to geographic and climate differences in this vast country.

See more from Strauss plus the full Cornucopia Institute press release below.

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Subsidies vs Price Floors in Farm Bill History

by: Brad Wilson

Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 18:39:51 PM PST

In response to Jill Richardson's "New Years Eve Daryll Ray-a-thon," in discussion in the comments, I tried to explain some of the politics and history of subsidies so people can more easily tell what side someone is really on when they talk about subsidies.  One response got a bit long, so I'm posting it here instead.

Some Brief History of Subsidy Politics

The policies in the gray box (price floors etc.) came out of the New Deal, Roosevelt, evolving through several farm bills and the Steagall Amendment 1941 (banking committee) for farm parity as an economic stimulus (like we need today, instead of losing money on farm exports and driving down world prices, hurting wealth and jobs creation in farm areas including LDCs).

Prior to Roosevelt, for decades farm prices were usually low with many "panics." Coming from Hoover into Roosevelt in the Depression, my family saw 7¢ corn and lost the farm.  During the 1980s farm crisis my mother recalled this time (young teen then):  " My Uncle Clyde wasn't able to get my dad a job in the creamery or anywhere else.  This was the summer of 1932,  and the depression got even worse.  We couldn't pay the rent, so in the fall we had to move up to Aunt Alice's and move into their upstairs!  I felt terrible that we had to move in with relatives.  Now I realize how my folks must have felt!  The most humiliating thing of all was that my mother had to get Stewart to drive her over to Uncle Bill's and ask to borrow some money!  I imagine he said, 'I told you so!'"  

New Deal policies take it through Truman, with no commodity subsidies except a few on cotton in the early 30s.  We had 100% of parity in agriculture overall 1942-52.  Program costs in one estimate were about $13 million in the black, meaning that the government made money on the program through interest on price floor loans.  So with price floors and effective supply management, and with international implementation as advocated by the Africa Group at WTO (and by EU in the 80s) it can work.  So no subsidies were really needed.

Under Eisenhower price floors were lowered, however, lowering market prices, as the NFO rose up to oppose the drops.  Price floors were lowered further decade by decade (Under Republican and Democratic Presidents, but pushed more by Republicans in congress for big business) until they were ended (dropped to zero) in 1996.  One exception was the price spike during the 70s caused by the secret Russian grain deal ("The Great American Grain Robbery").  

Introducing Subsidies

But in the mean time, subsidies were added to quiet down angry farmers. Subsidies compensated for farmer losses (which is rarely mentioned in most recent subsidy discussions).  

Subsidy compensations were part of Nixon/Butz policy.  With the 70s price spike costs raced upward.  Farmers won a rise in price supports (Carter) to address skyrocketing costs, but not back up to parity and not enough to prevent the 80s farm crisis.  The rise of the devastating crisis, in hindsight, occurred under the better farm bill than we've seen since.

Reagan greatly increased subsidies, but lowered price floors even more.  Farmers got more from the government for a lowering of farm income.  Bush senior continued this.

Clinton slightly raised the price floor, and vetoed Freedom to Farm once before signing it in the Gingrich era.  FtoF called for new "decoupled" (Direct Payment) subsidies for a few years, declining and ending for a free market (Hooverism/think 7¢ corn).  This was quickly seen as a way to destroy farming, and bankers joined farmers to win 4 emergency farm bills which added a second kind of (counter cyclical) subsidy.  I think LDP (3rd kind) was an administrative option that Clinton implemented to address the crisis.  So farmers ended with another big increase in subsidies and a total reduction in farm income, since market prices with no price floors, fell even more.  This was massive dumping on LDC farmers, not caused by subsidies, but by zero price floors/supply management.  So CAFOs and processors got the hidden benefits.

Another trend here is that many farm state Democrats continued to advocate for New Deal style programs over the decades of decline.  During the 1980s when farmers were again activated in a large number of groups such a farm bill was formulated and won quite a few votes in congress.  It was known variously as the Farm Policy Reform Act, The Save the Family Farm Act, and the Harkin-Gephardt Farm Bill (Harkin in Senate, Gephardt in House, both Democrats).  Today it continues as the National Family Farm Coalition's "Food from Family Farms Act."  The main groups supporting this bill or similar concepts include the National Family Farm Coalition and its members, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Food and Water Watch, the American Corn Growers Association (not the National Corn Growers Association), the American Agriculture Movement, and the National Farmers Organization.  

In 2002 when Tom Harkin became chairman of the Senate Ag Committee he switched sides.  He stopped advocating for price floors and supported a greened up version of the worst Republican Farm Bill since Hoover, a green Freedom to Farm.  That goes for 2002 and 2008 farm bills.  In 1996, however, Harkin and the other Democrats (ie. Gephardt, Daschle, Wellstone) totally rejected this kind of a farm bill.  But all of them followed Harkin in a Green Freedom to Farm.

During the 1980s mainline churches also supported this kind of farm bill.  Today they support some version of a Greened up version of the Republican Freedom to Farm, as do most other progressive groups including the food movement, environmental movement and sustainable agriculture movement.

Sustainable and Organic farmers are a special case.  During the 1990s in trying to stop Freedom to Farm, the family farm movement worked hard to bring in sustainable and organic farm coalitions (SAWGs, NCSA, SAC) but failed and they have consistently supported some version of Green Freedom to Farm (big subsidies, no price floors or supply management).  Their policies provide or would continue multibillion dollar below cost gains for CAFOs and even bigger gains for Cargill (beyond billion in CAFO gains) and ADM.  Sustainable/organic folks have won greener subsidies like organic EQIP and CSP, but at those costs.  Likewise, when Michael Pollan, in Food Inc. and Fresh, speaks of cheap junk foods, Green Freedom to Farm Policies, with no price floors, do not raise the prices on corn, etc.  So when Pollan speaks of "subsidized corn" it's misleading.  The low/no price floors caused the low prices and the cheaper high fructose cory syrup and corn/soy transfats, as can be seen historically.  The subsidies prevent the destruction of farmers.  The bigger the farm, the bigger the losses to be compensated by subsidies.  Again, this is rarely mentioned when bashing farm subsidies.  Of course there are some economies of scale with larger farms, which changes their need somewhat.

So ending, greening, and/or capping subsidies are not policies that address the biggest CAFO benefits, processor benefits, ethanol benefits, exporter benefits against LDC farmers.  By the way, "family farm" advocates and their friends (ie. La Via Campesina with 200 million members) lost over and over on the price floor issue (without much food/consumer/environmentalist/organic help, and still today without help).  So some of them invested in ethanol to try to raise prices (and end processor below cost gains, dumping on LDC farmers).  So they lose money on corn, but then make it on ethanol, or in 2008, made money on corn but lost in on ethanol.  No where have I seen this understood in the progressive community outside of NFFC related groups.

(Least Developed Countries are 70% rural.  The US  has long had huge export market shares of some commodities, bigger than the middle East in Oil, but our leaders tried to get low world prices, not high world prices with it's clout, (clout of well above 50% export market share for corn and soybeans, for example, or up to +80%, but less each decade).

Subsidies vs Price Floors for the 2008 Farm Bill

Today these issues appear to be almost totally unknown outside of NFFC and its friends.  EWG listed 477 mainstream media articles supporting their position in support of a Green version of the Republican Freedom to Farm Act.  The Kind Flake Amendment and probably all others amount to the same.

Sometimes Republicans support Hooverism instead of what we have had  since 1996, which is Hooverism (free markets and free trade) with subsidy protection for farmers in rich countries.  Low subsidy caps are a way to force large farms out of business or to force them to break up.  It would probably be a kind of land reform, like forcibly running them out of business or making them illegal.  Note that in the 90s we had a $50,000 cap and called for $25,000, while well meaning progressives have recently called $200,000 cap a good step.  But these measures have nothing to do with price floors, and do not solve any of the big problems.  

Cargill and DAM (and to a lesser degree, Tyson and Smithfield) are the huge beneficiaries of all the diversionary talk about subsidies, with no mention of price floors.  What they've bought in Congress is policy that blames farmers and leads to no mention that the policies are designed primarily to benefit them, even at the expense of America losing money on farm exports of the major commodities virtually every year for a quarter century.  If you look at the EWG 477 editorials, you'll probably find hundreds of criticisms of farmers (who are merely partially compensated for losses caused by the lack of price floors) for every criticism of these real beneficiaries.  Not also that Cargill, DAM, (processors and exporters) Tyson and Smithfield (poultry hog CAFOs) and the others (ie. Kelloggs).

You can find footnotes for much of this in my Zspace blog articles, as well as many links to online sources.  I am also one place that explores this movement crisis online.  I've seen NO other place online that writes much on these issues, especially in reference to mainline churches, hunger groups (Bread for the World and Oxfam are among the worst on the Commodity Title issues I raise), sustainable agriculture, and the food movement.  (I link a few things from IATP on myths and APAC's Daryll Ray on some media/etc. misunderstandings, however.)  

Further Reading and Links

From my blog see especially my "foodie" and food movement pieces, such as my comparison of the National Corn Growers Association with so called progressives that supposedly hold radically different views:  http://www.zmag.org/blog/view/...

My "Farm Bill FACTs: Commodity Title: A Family Farm View" briefly goes right down a list of the main things I hear in the food movement and among the other groups I see as similarly missing the real issue, and then proves them wrong with online links:  http://www.zmag.org/blog/view/...

If you look around at (http://www.zmag.org/zspace/bradwilson) you'll see where I have footnoted pieces.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Rosendale, Wisconsin CAFO Update

by: chicago jack

Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 09:28:38 AM PST

( - promoted by Jill Richardson)

Well, doesn't this sound awesome:

"The DNR has granted preliminary approval to Rosendale Dairy to utilize a never-before-tried method of determining whether it can spread manure on fields with shallow groundwater."

This quote is from an article in the Ripon Commonwealth Press (RCP), and is the latest development in the life of a Wisconsin dairy CAFO, previously discussed on LVL here and here. This CAFO is currently housing 4,000 dairy cows, and a permit is pending for an expansion to 8,500 total animals. Once fully expanded, Rosendale Dairy will be the largest in Wisconsin.

Follow me over the fold as I explore some of the water implications of this development.  

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When Books About Food Collide: "Eating Animals" vs "The Vegetarian Myth"

by: chicago jack

Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 18:56:43 PM PST

( - promoted by JayinPortland)

I don't read books about complex problems expecting to find comprehensive solutions. Few books deliver those. I read them to get ideas, understand what other people are thinking about these problems, and learn what additional sources of information are available. In this first installment of When Books About Food Collide, I review two books from my recent recommended reading post:  "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer and "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith. Both are very worth reading. Especially one right after the other (your choice of order).  

Both books depart from previous writing by the authors, with each having two novels under their belts.  While these two books ultimately assert directly conflicting positions, they agree on one thing: industrial livestock farming is morally reprehensible.

cross-posted at Great Lakes Real Food

Follow me over the fold where I dig into both.  

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Industrially Raised Meat: Illegal or Awesome?

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 11:40:32 AM PST

Here's the latest from Mark Bittman's blog:

Could Industrially Raised Meat Be Illegal?

If greenhouse gases are a hazard to human health, as the EPA has declared, and the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act authorizes strict regulatory action on substances if there's a reasonable basis to conclude that there's "an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," and industrially raised livestock causes an estimated 18 percent of greenhouse gas (some estimates are much higher), could there be a legal case for tougher regulation of animal production?

The way I see it, he's got a great point... and I bet you there is absolutely nobody in our government with the cajones to make such a statement because industry would have their head on a platter in minutes. As it stands now, few government officials are willing to even embrace Meatless Monday (I've heard Vilsack take the question and weasel out of it).

On the extreme opposite end of the spectrum is a recent Meatingplace op-ed called Why do you think we have "factory farms?" The author claims that pre-factory farmed meat was expensive and if we ditch factory farms now, meat will go back to being a luxury that most Americans won't be able to afford every day. She says:

How about the classic chicken?  Herbert Hoover's 1928 campaign "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage;"will once again be a dream for many.  Theses classic breeds take longer to mature and use significantly more feed to reach market age.  They will be rarer and more expensive.  You can buy a domestic goose at your local discount grocery for $50 today and they have little meat compared to the amount of bone.  Have you shopped for a domestic duck lately?  It's a luxury item.  That is the future of chickens if these proponents of small family farms have their way.  Pork will likely precede the chicken down the same path.

I have to call bullshit on her claim about pork, as much of America's pork was still raised on family farms until the 1990's. But about the larger point, that without factory farming, prices on meat would go up, making daily meat consumption out of reach for many Americans, I say GREAT. During the time we've made meat cheap via factory farming, we've also seen diet-related illnesses skyrocket. This is no coincidence. A recent study found that eating 4 oz of red meat (including pork) daily dramatically increases one's chances of dying within the next 10 years. Meat is supposed to be a luxury. I am not calling on our nation to go vegetarian, but I think the facts are in that we need to eat less meat and we need to quit factory farming.  

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Here's a novel idea

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 03, 2009 at 11:16:15 AM PST

"Stop USDA loans to factory farms":

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is using our tax dollars to make loans to hog and poultry factory farms at a time when we have too many factory farms, too much pork and poultry on the market, and record-low pork and poultry prices.

To make matters worse, USDA is also using our tax dollars (about $150 million so far) to buy overproduced pork and poultry off the market in an effort to stabilize prices. [...]

Based on its own data, USDA has provided over $264 million in loans to build new factory farms in the past two years. [...]

In the past, USDA has said it doesn't want to suspend these loans because it doesn't want to eliminate credit going to beginning farmers. We have to remember, though, that these loans - which are averaging about $500,000 each - are going solely for the construction of new and expanding hog and poultry factory farms. Why encourage beginning farmers to put up capital-intensive factory farms when there is already severe overproduction and record-low prices? USDA could provide much smaller loans to many more beginning family farmers if it stopped making factory farm loans, and directed the money elsewhere.

On the Des Moines Register's site you can read the whole op-ed by Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Unfortunately, it sounds as if Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has not been receptive to the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, which has been pushing for the UDSA to change its loan policies. There is precedent for such action. Espey writes that the Clinton administration "ordered a halt to these loans in 1999 when similar oversupply conditions existed."  

Discuss :: (6 Comments)

More on the Proposed Huge Wisconsin CAFO

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 10:30:43 AM PST

I wrote a friend in Wisconsin, asking for more information on the proposed enormous dairy in Rosendale. Here's what he had to say (below). If you live in Wisconsin and you want to do something about this, please write a letter to the Governor and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.
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The Iowa "Three Sisters:" Corn, Soybeans, and Hogs

by: Jill Richardson

Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 09:14:21 AM PDT

When you visit Iowa, you're nearly guaranteed to see three things: corn, soy beans, and hog confinements. Those were the focus of the field trip I attended yesterday at the Community Food Security Coalition Conference To be totally blunt about it, maybe you've wondered: why are farmers so stupid that they keep growing corn and soybeans year after year? Or corn and corn year after year? And why on earth would anybody stink up their own farm with a hog confinement? And, as you may have guessed, it turns out that the farmers aren't stupid at all. Not one bit. I will explain below. There's also another great question I was asked on a recent visit to Lawrence University. In classic liberal arts professor fashion, one of the professors asked me, "Assuming the farmers are all rational, if they all plant GMOs, then wouldn't that mean that the GMOs are the best choice?" Gooood question. I'll address that below as well.


Welcome to Iowa

If you'd rather watch instead of read, you can view this video of George Naylor describing why GMOs and corporate giants win (thanks to Andrew Kang Bartlett for shooting and sharing the video).

There's More... :: (20 Comments, 2697 words in story)

Ban On Arsenicals Is Common Sense

by: KeeveNachman

Thu Sep 24, 2009 at 10:45:12 AM PDT

( - promoted by Jill Richardson)

Cross-posted from the Livable Future Blog

Today's announcement by U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introducing legislation to ban the use of the arsenical compound roxarsone once again shines the spotlight on the all-too common practice of the unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs in industrial animal production.

"American consumers simply shouldn't have to ingest this arsenic compound when they sit at the kitchen table," said Rep. Israel.  "There's a reason some major poultry producers have stopped using it - it can only cause environmental and health problems. With cancer levels on the rise we need to be vigilant about the sources of health problems, and that means banning roxarsone."

The bill (H.R. 3624), known as the "Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009," would prohibit all uses of roxarsone as a food additive in animals.

There's More... :: (5 Comments, 434 words in story)

Vilsack declines pork industry request (for now)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 12, 2009 at 08:29:09 AM PDT

Following up on the request by nine governors and pork industry giants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to spend $50 million on excess pork products, Radio Iowa reported on Tuesday that the USDA can't help right now:

"We are down to our last $7 or 8 million because there's been such a demand for so many kinds of commodities, including pork. I think in the last fiscal year $62 million worth of pork purchases have been made," [Secretary of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack says. "...So we are trying to meet the demands of everyone."

Vilsack says there may be more money in the pipeline this fall. "When October 1 comes, when the new fiscal year starts, we have a little greater flexibility and at that time we are taking a look at all these requests," Vilsack says, "and we will make determinations at that point in time in terms of what is being requested of us and what we think makes sense." [...]

"We are very sensitive to the concerns of the pork industry. We have tried to respond by asking our institutional purchasers like the Department of Defense and others to purchase more pork products. We'll continue to do that," Vilsack says. "But I think we are stuck by virtue of the amount of money left in the account that we use to do this, but in October 1 it gets replenished and we'll be in a different position."

Meanwhile, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement makes it easy for Iowans to e-mail Governor Chet Culver to tell him they oppose taxpayer-funded bailouts of factory farms. Consider contacting your governor with a similar message if you live in Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois or Oklahoma.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)
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