Soil Health and the 2018 Farm Bill

February, 2018

Washington -- On Capitol Hill again this week, I attended a forum on soil health sponsored by another unusual combination of interests: producers and processors.* A farmer from Oklahoma and another from Minnesota shared the dais with a representative from General Mills. The session was moderated by an agronomy professor from a land-grant university. The common concern was the future of soil health.

The Minnesota farmer, Jon Jovaag, told us Minnesota's biggest export, by far, is topsoil, in the form of soil erosion. He is active in the Land Stewardship Project and an advocate of better farming practices.

The Oklahoma farmer, Jimmy Kinder, whose family farms 8,000 acres, called for an effort to "rebuild the nation's topsoil." He participates in USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and would like to see much more research on soils, including their capacity to sequester carbon dioxide.

This discussion took place against the backdrop of the release of President Trump's proposed 2019 budget, which disfavors all such efforts, and imminent House action on the 2108 Farm Bill, in which soil health and conservation are likely to get short shrift.

As usual, a lot of the best take-aways happened in individual conversations before and after the forum.

Meeting with a soil health advocate before the forum, I offered that it was hugely helpful that his organization published Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of options in the upcoming Farm Bill. He said both House and Senate Agriculture committee staffs disapproved in no uncertain terms with his release of the information. I told him that when I worked in the Senate many years ago, staffs were often faced with such quandaries, but many of us felt that if the information was paid for by taxpayer dollars, and it was not classified for national security purposes, the public had a right to see it. In the current case, CBO's scoring of options on the federal crop insurance program are upsetting interest groups that do not want the public to see waste in the program. This is waste that could be cut and the savings re-directed to soil health and conservation efforts.

Meeting with the agronomy professor after the forum, I asked about his remark in open session about how a soil health event in his state will draw a hundred farmers, compared to the usual Extension Service event that might draw twenty. What does this say about the Extension Service? He offered a none-too-charitable account of Extension personnel, estimating that only about half are committed to dealing with soil health issues. Whereupon I went a step further and asked about the commitment of Home Extension agents to better nutrition. Again, he was not sanguine about the effort. The 2018 Farm Bill presents a good opportunity to get the Extension Service back on mission.**

I am part of a small group of citizens and taxpayers, volunteers with no attachments to interest groups, who are trying to advance the public interest in the always-parochial Farm Bill. Good luck with that, you may say, but we are not of the sort that gives up easily. We are advancing ideas that are getting good reviews; maybe some will even get into legislation.

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* Last week it was CAP and the R Street Institute. This time it was the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; General Mills; the Soil Health Institute; and the Land Stewardship Project. We met in the Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing room in the Cannon Building, where the original GI Bill was written, according to the remarks of Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, a member of both the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the House Agriculture Committee.

** In Nebraska, the Extension Service and the state Department of Agriculture are currently devoting much time and many resources to address Dicamba dangers. This should not be a taxpayer responsibility, in this taxpayer's opinion, but fully paid for by the producers of the product. A good amendment to the Farm Bill would prohibit the Extension Service from using taxpayer dollars to relieve responsibility for product liability.

Say No to Deficits; Time for Schuldenbremse

February, 2018

Washington -- Is it time to dust off the proposed Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and put it back into the national debate? Deficits are dangerously high and neither the President nor Congress seems to care.

The December tax cuts were largely paid for by additional federal borrowing, as were the latest spending increases for both military and domestic spending. The President's 2019 budget proposal gives up on achieving a balanced federal budget anytime soon, if ever.

This time the concern about fiscal responsibility must come from Democrats. Republicans have no more credibility on the issue. Republicans have not really cared about deficits since the time of President Gerald Ford, except rhetorically. Even lip service to the concept was conceded when Vice President Dick Cheney told the country that deficits don't matter. The last Republican president to achieve a balanced budget was Dwight Eisenhower.

Democrats have a coherent argument that they are the more fiscally responsible party. It is unfortunate that they have not made more of the issue over the years: liberal Democrats like Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Paul Simon fought years for a Balanced Budget Amendment; President Bill Clinton actually balanced the federal budget and started using surpluses to pay down the federal debt.

In these Democrats' views, deficit spending is to be avoided whenever possible because interest payments on the debt amount to a transfer of wealth from average taxpayers to the better-off lending class. It increases inequality. And it is not only the American lending class that buys U.S. debt and makes money off the interest, but also foreign entities, like China. It is one thing to keep interest payments within our own borders; it is quite another when national security is imperiled because the debt is held by foreign adversaries.

Democrats wary of excessive deficit spending also recall that it was the venerable John Maynard Keynes himself who cautioned against running deficits in times of economic prosperity. Those were the times to run surpluses and pay down debt, Keynes advised. Cyclical deficits as economic stabilizers in hard times, yes; structural deficits year after year (current Republican policy), no.

Add to that the experience of recent years in Europe. Switzerland in 2003 adopted a constitutional amendment called a Schuldenbremse, or "debt brake." Germany followed in 2009, as did Austria, France, and others as part of an EU economic effort against structural deficits. The key concept is the differentiation between necessary cyclical deficits and structural ones. Germany's limitation, for example, is a structural deficit of no more than 0.35% of annual GDP.

It is not by coincidence that European economies are thriving, even more than the U.S. economy. They are using revenues to pay down structural debt. It's time to see how Schuldenbremse might translate into new U.S. balanced budget language.

How does this relate to, say, Nebraska and the 2018 elections? Republicans Deb Fischer and Don Bacon, who both voted in December and February to pay for tax cuts and new spending by ballooning the federal deficit, have given their Democratic opponents a golden opportunity to campaign against them on grounds of utter fiscal irresponsibility.

Although the conventional wisdom would be that this is unlikely, as it would amount to trying to run to the right of Fischer and Bacon, it is anything but. There is a long history (see above) of Democrats holding forth against excessive deficit finance, which is perfectly consistent with Democratic advocacy of federal investment in human capital. The conventional wisdom, as usual, is wrong; there is no more connection between the political right and balanced budgets. That's been clear for years, but now Fischer and Bacon have driven a stake through its long-dead heart.

When one looks at competition in the federal budget, interest on the debt is a great threat not only to social programs, but to everything else as well. Debt interest is clearly a competitor against defense spending, which Fischer and Bacon claim to support but are endangering by relying on China* to pay for it.

This is the time for Democrats to start running political commercials centered around the proverbial family kitchen table, talking about how families have to make responsible choices, and how it is now truly time for action to stop current, incredibly reckless fiscal policy. That would be first by removing incumbents, and second by taking another look at budget reforms, including a responsible constitutional amendment that can be informed by the positive experiences of European democracies.

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*Still very Red, still totalitarian, still freedom's formidable adversary.













An Answer to WOTUS

February, 2018

Washington -- Last week I attended a forum on Farm Bill conservation programs, hosted by an unlikely pair of think tanks: the progressive Center for American Progress and the libertarian, free-market oriented R Street Institute. Together, they have published "Fertile Ground," a useful guide to matters of conservation and environmental quality that Congress will address in the 2018 legislation.

The session took place in the Capitol's South Congressional Meeting Room, attended mostly by congressional staff and conservation interest groups. In other words, this was a get-together of the players.

"Fertile Ground" analyzes the potential for voluntary, market-driven conservation measures through USDA programs. It finds many promising approaches and promotes pay-for-success models involving private capital, as well as flexibility for NGO and state and local government participation. It advocates for mitigation banking efforts and creation of more environmental markets. If you want to know more about these concepts, read the report. It points out that more than $1 billion of private capital has been invested in environmental markets since 2015 and another $3 billion of private capital is earmarked for conservation if the right projects are put together.

Much enabling legislation is already authorized in existing USDA law: the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCCP); Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG); Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); as well as the more well-known Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

What the 2018 Farm Bill needs, the think tanks say, are more resources to meet demand for these programs, which are over-subscribed. Although the report does not identify a specific source of funding, many people are hoping for crop insurance reforms that would free up funds within the Farm Bill for these programs at no additonal cost. Suffice it to say that the current crop insurance program actually impedes conservation efforts as it incentivizes the largest corporate farming businesses to exploit and pollute marginal lands with little risk, as well as to drive up the price of farmland. CBO has scored a $3.4 billion savings over ten years simply by putting a meaningful cap on crop insurance eligibility.

Enough of acronyms and scoring. What would an actual effort look like in, say, Nebraska?

If I were still in Nebraska state government doing budgeting and planning, I would see how USDA's programs might stimulate partnerships with the state's Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality. Farmers want property tax relief; they also do not want to pollute but do not want a WOTUS-style regulatory approach from the federal EPA. Perhaps the pay-for-success model is an answer. Farmers would voluntarily adopt anti-pollution practices and in exchange their property taxes would be reduced by their county.* Counties would be reimbursed by the state thorugh a fund at the DNR or DEQ. What might be the revenue source for this fund? I'd phase out the ill-advised diversion of a quarter-cent of the state sales tax that now goes for roads and move it to property tax relief, earned voluntarily. Roads have their own source of funding – user taxes – where there is more fiscal capacity for revenue. (Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has advocated an increase in fuel taxes.)

Many years ago, Nebraska adopted the Duis Amendment to get the state out of levying property taxes; it then put into place a sales-income tax base to fund state government and to shift more of the local property tax burden onto the broader base. Except it hasn't worked out quite that way, and nothing exemplifies this more than the robbing of the sales tax to pay for roads rather than property tax relief.

That's just an example of how a conservation program might work, with state and local government involvement. Maybe with ingenuity, Nebraska could get some of that $3 billion in private capital for conservation.

Another example is mitigation banking, although that has its downsides. As more factory livestock farms appear, bringing along their inevitable envirnonmental impacts, corporate owners will be eager to pay for mitigation programs elsewhere, where there is a market. That could be a water quality market.

Back to the forum on Capitol Hill. I was disappointed to look at the sign-in sheet and see no Republican staffers. None, at an event sponsored by R Street Institute! Lots of Democratic staffers, however.

The way the 2018 Farm Bill is shaping up, Republican interest is centered on trying to put more work requirements into SNAP eligibility (food stamps), not on efforts to help rural America (where they think they have a lock on the voter base), even through market-oriented and private capital innovations. A question is whether Democrats will take the bait, think the Farm Bill is all about food stamps, and not press forward with ideas to help rural America, where the party is so weak in places as to be almost nonexistent.

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*Many farmers are already adopting anti-pollution practices, such as better targeting of fertilizer and pesticide treatments and limiting irrigation run-off. These are being done to cut costs, as farmers are incredibly squeezed by low crop prices, high input prices, and high property taxes. Additional incentives would result in even more conservation measures such as expanding the use of cover crops, crop rotation, and greater diversification.













Broken Promises to Student Loan Borrowers

February, 2018

Washington -- In 2007, Congress established the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for student loan borrowers who took public service jobs in government – teachers, nurses, first responders, for example – or in recognized charities. The deal was this: pay for ten years on your loan at a rate commensurate with your income, which is often low in such jobs; any loan balance remaining will be cancelled if you complied with your work and payment obligations.

In 2017, about 7,500 borrowers began to file for their part of the bargain. What they found, however, is botched paperwork by the contractor handling the PSLF program and a Department of Education unable to straighten things out, apparently neither capable nor willing to stand behind the program.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The take-up rate of participation in the program was slow. As word gradually spread, many more thousands of borrowers signed up.

The great majority of them may be in for a rude awakening, as they find out the contractor put them in the wrong program, gave them erroneous advice on qualifying charities, or forced them out of the program by interrupting their payments while trying to handle its own sign-up backlogs.

How did this happen?

Student loan servicers often have conflicts of interest between doing what is right for the borrower and what is best for their own bottom lines.

For example, if a borrower is in default on a bank-based (FFEL) federally guaranteed loan and wants to get out of default, he or she can either rehabilitate the existing loan or consolidate it into a new government-issued Direct Loan (DL). The servicer may steer the borrower into rehabilitation, because the servicer might also be the actual loan holder on which the government is paying a subsidy and, as lender, it does not want to lose the loan to consolidation elsewhere. However, if the borrower wants not only to get out of default but also into the PSLF program to take advantage of eventual loan cancellation, that can be done only through DL consolidation.

Initial reports from borrowers suggest it was not made clear that only DL and not FFEL loans are eligible for PSLF. This is just one problem borrowers are reporting. If and when an investigation is done, I suspect many other such conflicts between borrowers' interests and servicers' bottom lines will come to light.

Now is a good time to recall a similar loan cancellation promise gone awry about the same time PSLF was initiated. The Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation established a loan forgiveness program for teachers, but when its funding source dried up, the teachers were left with nothing but an empty promise.

The KHESLC program was operated under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Education, but the Department made no effort to help borrowers. Nor did any Kentucky members of Congress or senators, despite pleas from their wronged constituents.*

That is a bad omen for the PSLF program. Both the Department of Education and the Congress have a record of walking away from borrowers in loan forgiveness programs. Lenders and servicers have powerful lobbys; borrowers don't. Even when borrowers have the law on their side, they have had trouble getting their claims before the courts.

One ray of hope: several state attorneys general have now taken an interest in student loan borrowers. Suggestion to borrowers: take your case to the consumer protection division of your state attorney general's office.

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* Kentucky update: Borrowers left in the lurch under the KHESLC "Best in Class" loan forgiveness program were told to participate in federal Department of Education's loan forgiveness programs. But according to actual Kentucky teachers, because of problems in the federal programs, "many were duped by both promises."



Enough with the False Patriotism

February, 2018

Lincoln -- Take it from a veteran: Nebraskans are free to stand or not for the national anthem today at the Super Bowl, despite the proclamation of Governor Ricketts. It is still a free country, which many of us have been proud to serve. It does veterans no honor whatsoever to claim such proclamations are made to respect us. To the contrary, diminishing our freedoms diminishes us and our service.*

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," Samuel Johnson said in 1775. Still true today.

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* Personally, I stand to honor a country that permits a person the freedom not to stand.



Iron Triangles, Part IV

February, 2018

Washington -- Not surprisingly, there is more news about the Iron Triangle that now connects congressional committee staffs, the lobby group CECU, and the U.S. Department of Education. See earlier posts about Iron Triangles here, here, and here.

• Secretary Betsy DeVos has announced yet further weakening of student and taxpayer protections from predatory for-profit colleges. Two of her top advisors, Robert Eitel and Julian Schmoke, have deep roots in that sector.

• The Department of Education has awarded a student loan collection contract to Performant, a corporation with a checkered history but one in which Secretary DeVos has had a financial interest.

• The Department of Education brought back a figure from an earlier Iron Triangle, Kent Talbert, to be acting General Counsel. He formerly worked for Senator Strom Thurmond, then for House and Senate higher education authorizing committees, then as General Counsel for the Department of Education during the years it paid illegal claims to student loan lenders, 2002-2006. Thereafter, he was in legal practice with Robert Eitel in the Talbert & Eitel law firm.

• Sensing an imperfection in the Iron Triangle, Secretary DeVos has removed A. Wayne Johnson from COO at Federal Student Aid after only a few months on the job. He is being replaced by James Manning, known for being a good soldier, and Kathleen Smith, a proven veteran of Iron Triangles from her days in the interest groups, on the Hill, and twice in the Department.

Likely there is recusal paperwork on file in the Department to show that Eitel and Schmoke did not make or participate in the decision to aid for-profit colleges; Secretary DeVos surely has divested from Performant; and others with conflicts of interest likely do not have to report them as arguably they are former, not current.

Two observations: First, there is a history at the Department of Education of abuse of recusals and conflicts of interest. See the earlier post on Eugene Hickok and Matteo Fontana. Second, is Talbert not supposed to know what Eitel wants, even if Eitel is recused? Does FSA not know Performant was financed by DeVos? Of course they know, and perhaps have acted accordingly. I recall asking FSA why it was paying illegal claims to lenders in 2003. The answer was "That's what Bill Hansen wants." Bill Hansen, former lobbyist* for the lenders but then Deputy Secretary, was recused from the decision, but FSA knew his mind. The mess has never been cleaned up, although lenders got their comeuppance when Congress, fed up with corruption, false claims, bribery of college financial aid officers, and gifts of stock to Department officials, simply killed the bank-based lender program, FFEL, in 2010.

That may be the only way to deal with the current Iron Triangle: disestablish FSA. Those who follow comparative government know how other countries handle student aid more efficiently and without hurting the lives and prospects of students and their families.

There is another route that keeps coming up in lawsuits by borrowers: RICO – federal and state laws against racketeering. Iron Triangles are colloquially rackets, no doubt, but the question is are they illegal? Do acts at the Department of Education, and actions the Department permits through its contractors, constitute violations of federal or state RICO laws? Perhaps we shall soon know more, if any of these lawsuits survive.

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*Hansen was head of the Education Finance Council and was succeeded there by Kathleen Smith not long thereafter. He is now on the board of Performant, which not only got a huge loan collection contract last month from the Department of Education but also benefited by advance trading in its stock before the announcement of the award, thanks to the way FSA handled the release of the information.









So Repugnant, So Effective

January, 2018

Washington -- Pundits and commentators in this morning's newspapers didn't see the same Trump State of the Union speech I did last evening; or maybe they were afraid to say what they saw.

I saw manipulation of patriotic symbols worthy of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl; a strong-man, high-chin pose not seen since Benito Mussolini; and self-congratulatory clapping modeled after Josef Stalin.

Speaking of Stalin, the speech also announced an upcoming purge of government workers in all departments who "fail the American people." Those who noticed the line minimized it by suggesting it was just part of a spat with the Justice Department. Better read it again: all departments.

The speech went over well, according to pollsters. So what it if had factual errors and offered policy choices repugnant to traditional American values? It was great theater.

It went over especially well in America's heartland, no doubt, where Trump won the election in 2016 and is now poised to win again in 2020 with a strategy of conceding the seaboard states to Democrats.

Anne Applebaum writes of the recent Czech election as a prelude to our next presidential election. The Trump-like president, an ally of Vladimir Putin, was challenged by a scientist who campaigned for Western values and decency. In the last few days of the toss-up campaign, the challenger was smeared in a vicious social media barrage. He lost, of course.

The Czech experience is a plausible scenario for America in 2020. Anne Applebaum writes:

Of course, it may be no coincidence that this particular brand of politics captured presidencies and prime ministerships in central Europe: The independent media is extremely weak in small countries where advertising markets can’t support it, and public debate is dominated by conspiratorial websites and cheap tabloids. In Germany and France, strong public and private media mean that, in general, the level of the national conversation is higher.

All of this is true. Yet consider rural America, where the independent media is extremely weak, where advertising markets can’t support it, and public debate is dominated by conspiratorial websites and cheap tabloids. So maybe there’s no need to say anything except that some of the world’s oldest democracies and some of the world’s newest democracies have more in common than you think.


If you listened closely to the SOTU speech, Trump did not once mention rural America. He takes it for granted, for the reasons Applebaum states so well. The Democratic response of Congressman Joe Kennedy worked in the word "rural" about five minutes before its end, somehow escaping Democratic editors who are bent on a seaboard strategy and sufficient revulsion of the indecent Trump in the heartland to pull Democrats through. That's not going to happen. A Goebbels-style propaganda effort and a Putin-inspired social media disinformation campaign looks stronger every day.

Is there a Democratic opposition to all this, based on the realities of our electoral college politics? Not that I see. Brave talk of a Democratic "blue wave" suffered a huge setback last evening.



Required Reading for Federal Civil Servants

January, 2018

Washington -- Federal civil servants would do well to read Ambassador Nancy McEldowney's words of advice about how to conduct themselves in the Trump Administration. She writes about "how civil servants should navigate the ethical and professional minefields that lie before them."

The advice may not be welcomed by all, as it points out obligations that some in the civil service are not prepared to fulfill. She writes that "civil servants...should never allow themselves to further enable the corrosion of ethical norms and accountability standards;" and "[i]f a government worker sees wrongdoing and chooses to look the other way, he or she becomes complicit."

These are strong words, but Ambassador McEldowney reminds us that "every federal employee takes an oath of office and swears to protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic." Civil servants: read these lines again. Click here if you haven't already. This is what you signed up for.

It therefore is a little surprising, and disappointing, that the ambassador also advises, in cases when ethical lines are crossed, that public servants should "[r]efuse to comply and if necessary resign." She has already made a compelling case that resigning is the wrong thing to do. Resignation, in my view, should not be presented so casually as a way out of a dilemma. I wish she had qualified resignation with "as an absolute last resort, after exploring all other options."

I suggest that resigning can often be tantamount to admitting the oath we all took is too much to bear, and represents the very complicity she so eloquently argues against. Resignation should not be an easy way out, somehow to soothe the conscience.

From my own experience in these matters, I'd like to point out to civil servants a few routes they can take to make their choices less difficult, all the while fully honoring their oath.

• Make use of the Lloyd-Lafollette Act, which permits civil servants to take their cases to Congress as long as they do it as private citizens. I did this in 2003, when I discovered illegal lender claims in the federal student loan program and revealed them to the Government Accountability Office. GAO soon investigated and wrote a report on which Congress acted.

• Share your situation with colleagues, explaining how wrongdoing is occurring and why you will not be complicit. When I found illegal claims, I explained to several colleagues why they were illegal and what could be done about it. This was ultimately helpful when the Inspector General cracked down and declared the claims illegal, in spite of continuing Department of Education indulgence of them.

• Do not get your hopes up about the Office of Special Counsel, or any other official government body, helping you. OSC has a poor record.* Do not expect fairness or justice from any quarter at any time. There is no clause in your oath that guarantees you fairness or justice when you act to uphold your oath. Be satisfied that you did the right thing and that by so doing, others' backbones were stiffened.

• Do not be forced out. Many upper level and senior civil service executives can choose to retire on their own terms and on their own timelines.**

• Prepare yourself to carry on after leaving the government, not as a matter of oath but as matter of a citizen's duty. One of my most important achievements came twelve years after I retired, when the Supreme Court ruled against a lender's claim of immunity from lawsuits, a potentially far-reaching decision that may rescue thousands of borrowers from the clutches of predatory lenders.

My advice to civil servants is to hang tough. Don't be pushed around. Be guided by your oath. Your country needs you now more than ever.

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*I contacted OSC on the advice of my Ethics Office. OSC took months to reply, then said it would not deal with "de minimus" cases. Shortly thereafter, the GAO report came out suggesting billions of dollars were at stake. So much for "de minimus" and OSC.
**My own experience did not involve any attempt to force me out, so I cannot write with any authority on that. I was asked repeatedly to stay, but retired when I felt the time was right.



Grateful American

January, 2018

Berlin -- I am an American grateful for the vote of the membership of the SPD last weekend to allow coalition talks with the CDU to proceed. No doubt there is peril in the decision, because a lesson of the recent past suggests that the more the SPD works with the CDU, the more votes it loses in subsequent elections.

The SPD also had good reason to stay out of a new coalition so as to become the main party in opposition. If the SPD governs with the CDU, then the AfD takes on that role, enhancing the power of this far-right party. Not only that, some SPD members have even been defecting to the AfD just to be in opposition to the CDU.

But somebody needs to govern, and soon, not just for the sake of Germany, but Europe and the world. Courageous SPD voters chose to put country ahead of party. The FDP had the chance late last year and chose to put party ahead of country.

The CDU should now give the SPD due reward in the naming of cabinet ministers and adopting or compromising with SPD policy positions. That would send a signal to SPD members that they should stay with their party, not defect right or left. That is surely in the CDU's interest.

Huge Protest in Berlin over Agriculture Policy

January, 2018

Berlin -- Around 33,000 demonstrators marched through the heart of Berlin yesterday to demand a change in agriculture and nutrition policies. The occasion was a summit of government agriculture ministers from several countries.

The demonstration is significant in its own right but doubly important because of differences in agriculture policies between the two German political parties, CDU and SPD, that are trying to put together a coalition to form a German ruling government. Late last year, a CDU environmental minister broke an understanding over Glyphosate policy that almost blew up the talks before they started.

The following article is from today's Der Tagesspiegel. To read it in English, use the Translate option at the lower right of this page. First select German, then English. The translation will not be exact, but close and at times amusing.


Zehntausende fordern Wende in Agrarpolitik und bei Ernährung

Unter dem Motto "Wir haben es satt" sind am Samstag mehr als 30.000 Bürger und Bauern für eine umwelt- und tierfreundliche Landwirtschaft auf die Straße gegangen.

ANNA PIA MÖLLER

Zehntausende Demonstranten, darunter auffällig viele junge Leute. Mehr als hundert Traktoren sowie bunte Luftballons und Transparente, soweit das Auge reicht: Anlässlich der Grünen Woche haben am am Sonnabend nach Angaben der Veranstalter rund 33.000 Menschen in Mitte eine Wende in der Agrarpolitik und Ernährung gefordert. Die Polizei sprach von "mehreren zehntausend" Teilnehmern. Sie verlangten unter anderem ein Verbot umstrittenen Unkrautvernichtungsmittels Glyphosat und riefen die kommende Bundesregierung zu einer neuen Agrarpolitik auf. Ein Bündnis von mehr als hundert Umwelt-, Verbraucher-, Landwirtschafts- und Entwicklungsinitiativen hatte zu dem Protestmarsch bundesweit aufgerufen. Auf den Transparenten stand: "Kein Schwein braucht Tierfabriken!", "Wir haben's glyphosatt" oder "Ohne Bienen ist kein Staat zu machen!".

"Es geht um Artensterben, Grundwasserverschmutzung und vieles mehr"

"Die industrielle Land- und Ernährungswirtschaft verursacht lokale und globale Probleme für Bauern, Klima, Tiere und Umwelt", erklärte der Sprecher des "Wir haben es satt"-Bündnisses, Jochen Fritz. Der Umbau hin zu einer umwelt- und tierfreundlichen Landwirtschaft, in der Bauern gut von ihrer Arbeit leben könnten, dürfe von der Politik nicht weiter aufgeschoben werden.

Konkret angesprochen wurden Probleme wie Artensterben, Grundwasserverschmutzung oder Billigexporte nach Afrika. Zahlreiche Teilnehmer forderten auf Plakaten eine generelle Kennzeichnungspflicht für tierische Lebensmittel. Die Verbraucher müssten eindeutig erkennen können, ob ein Produkt aus artgerechter Tierhaltung kommt. Auch ein Verbot von Antibiotika in der Tierhaltung sowie mehr Unterstützung für kleinere bäuerliche Betriebe gehörten zum Forderungskatalog.

"Wer nachhaltig produziert und isst, muss belohnt werden"

Mit rund 33.000 Demonstranten habe sich die Teilnehmerzahl im Vergleich zum Protestumzug anlässlich der Grünen Woche im Vorjahr verdoppelt, erklärte das Bündnis. Dies zeige, dass das Interesse an Landwirtschaft und Ernährung immer größer werde. Auch deshalb müssten die verantwortlichen Politiker den Ruf nach einem ressourcenschonenden Umbau der Landwirtschaft endlich ernst nehmen.

"Essen ist politisch, immer mehr Menschen erkennen das", erklärte Organisator Jochen Fritz. "Damit wir alle nicht langfristig die Zeche dafür zahlen", müsse die künftige Bundesregierung "den Spieß jetzt umdrehen."

Diejenigen, die nachhaltig produzieren und essen, müssten belohnt werden.

Falls es zu einer Großen Koalition von CDU und SPD komme, müsse als ein erster Schritt Glyphosat verboten werden.. Außerdem müsse der überfällige Umbau der Tierhaltung finanzieren werden, "damit Schweine wieder Tageslicht sehen und Kühe auf Weiden grasen können".

Auch Gipfel der Agrarminister spricht sich für bessere Tierhaltung aus

Anlass für die Großdemonstration, die vom Berliner Hauptbahnhof durch das Regierungsviertel bis zum Brandenburger Tor zog, war neben der Grünen Woche auf dem Messegelände auch der sogenannte Agrarministergipfel im Bundeswirtschaftsministerium. Dort trafen sich am Samstag die Agrarminister zahlreicher Länder sowie Spitzenvertreter der Welternährungsorganisation (FAO) und der Weltorganisation für Tiergesundheit zu einer Konferenz.

Bundeslandwirtschaftsminister Christian Schmidt (CSU) erklärte zum Abschluss, dass sich die Vertreter von rund 70 Staaten sowie Vertreter der EU-Kommission und internationaler Organisationen zu einer verantwortlichen Tierhaltung verpflichtet hätten. "Der nachhaltige Umgang mit den Tieren bei der Produktion tierischer Nahrungsmittel ist eine der zentralen Herausforderungen unserer Zeit", sagte der Minister. Man wolle sich "weltweit verstärkt gegen den unnötigen Einsatz von Antibiotika zur Wachstumsförderung in der Tierhaltung" einzusetzen, zudem sollten für eine "ressourcenschonende" Tierhaltung "standortgerechte, regional angepasste Lösungen" gefunden werden.

Vor dem Landwirtschaftsministerium gab's ein Kochtopf-Konzert

Schon am Vormittag hatten rund 160 Landwirte, die an der Spitze der Demo mit ihren Traktoren fuhren, den versammelten Ministern aus aller Welt eine Protestnote übergeben. "Wir wollen raus aus der fatalen Exportorientierung und Landkonzentration, die Bauern hier und weltweit das Genick bricht", erklärten sie. Allein in den vergangenen zwölf Jahren habe in Deutschland ein Drittel der Höfe aufgeben müssen.

Als der "Wir haben es satt"-Umzug am Bundeslandwirtschaftsministerium vorbeikam, schlugen die Demonstranten lautstark auf Kochtöpfe und forderten die Achtung der Menschenrechte, faire Handelsbedingungen und mehr Hilfen für die ländliche Bevölkerung weltweit (mit dpa und AFP).