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Farm Bureau Gets a Closer Look in New Report

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The latest report by the Food & Environment Reporting Network takes a look at how the American Farm Bureau Federation leads the charge against efforts to limit industrial-scale food production and has become the single most powerful farm lobby in the nation, accounting for 45 percent of all agriculture-related lobbying dollars over the last decade.

"[The Farm Bureau] opposes the labeling of genetically engineered food, animal welfare reform and environmental regulation. In Washington, its well-funded team of lobbyists and lawyers seeks to dismantle the federal Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, opposing pesticide restrictions and increased scrutiny of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from CAFOs," or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, writes Shearn. He notes that over the past decade, the nation's 10 largest agribusiness interests gave $35 million to congressional candidates -- led by the Farm Bureau, which gave $16 million.

Beyond its status as a non-profit farmers organization, the Farm Bureau is a $14 billion network of for-profit insurance companies and the third-largest insurance group in the United States which also has a financial interest in agribusiness corporations. Shearn explains how Farm Bureau insurance affiliates have bought stock in major food industry players like Cargill, ConAgra, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Tyson and Archer Daniels Midland.

In rural areas, the Farm Bureau grooms compliant political candidates, Shearn reports, mostly Republicans; it wields the power to dictate outcomes of legislative elections and appointments to powerful state agriculture committees. Then it influences which farm-related bills become law.

Shearn follows Rolf Christen, a farmer in Missouri who was once an enthusiastic member of his Farm bureau board, but ended up as the leader of local resistance to CAFOs and his local Farm Bureau. Christen and 60 of his neighbors formed the Citizens Legal Environmental Action Network, or CLEAN, in order to seek meaningful legal redress against the pollution from CAFO operations.

Shearn reports on the ongoing legal battle to hold a Missouri CAFO accountable for a litany of infractions including breaches of manure lagoons, runoff from spreading manure on the land, burst pipes that sent hog waste flowing into streams, lakes and onto neighboring properties, causing miles of polluted streams and killing fish. In 2010, a record $11 million was awarded to 15 plaintiffs. Shearn notes how the Missouri Farm Bureau insurance affiliates paid the legal bills for the polluting CAFOs.

In response to these types of lawsuits, Shearn writes that the Farm Bureau moved the battlefield to the Statehouse floor with a bill which was passed into law limiting citizens' ability to sue large agribusinesses. In addition, Shearn details how the Farm Bureau is leading the way in a high-priced public relations campaign to paint agriculture in a more favorable light.

The story was produced in collaboration between the Food & Environment Reporting Network and The Nation, and appears online at www.thenation.com. You can read the full report here.

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