Graham using meetings to fashion farm policy
COLO, Iowa (AP) -- Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., met Friday with agriculture analysts to shape a farm policy he said will be based on breaking down concentration in the industry and boosting trade in farm commodities.
Graham said his policy will be released soon, but he had no specific date. He still is polishing details of the proposal, but said one of its basic tenets is that meatpackers should not be allowed to own livestock.
"I think that is a serious consolidation of economic power that is not going to benefit either the farmer or the consumer very well," Graham said.
He conceded that existing antitrust laws could be used to prevent meatpackers from owning livestock, but said those laws aren't being enforced.
"If we had what we should have, an aggressive antitrust policy, you wouldn't need specific prohibition," Graham said.
In addition, Graham said he opposed the current trend toward mergers among giant agriculture conglomerates, noting his Web site contains petitions where backers can sign their opposition. Those eventually will be forwarded to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Graham headed to a small cafe north of Des Moines to hear from farmers about their views on a new farm policy and to meet with Iowa State University farm economist Neil Harl.
On Saturday, Graham planned another "workday" -- this one as a field hand on a farm south of Des Moines. Graham has done more than 390 of these days where he spends a day working at various jobs.
Graham likes to argue that his family remains active in farming, so he has the best understanding of farm issues of any of the Democratic field. Still, he conceded that he faces a learning curve because Midwestern farming is a lot different from running a dairy farm in southern Florida.
"There are significant differences," he said, pointing at the rural Iowa landscape. "There is probably as much corn in that field as there is in the whole state of Florida."
The Florida Democrat has talked of an overall plan for improving the economy, but said he will spent this fall filling in the details on specific issues, such as farm and rural development.
He criticized current farm policy as lacking an overall theme.
"It is a policy that hasn't made up its mind and what it wants to achieve," he said.
Graham said he favors the North American Free Trade Agreement, but would seek to add fairness by establishing standards for working conditions and environmental protection.
"I basically favor free trade, and agriculture is one of the great beneficiaries of that," Graham said. "It also should be fair trade."
Graham said he backed an effort to break down European resistance to genetically modified crops with legal action before the World Trade Organization.
While he said European subsidies of agriculture are understandable because of the desire to ensure adequate supplies, there is no scientific basis for being leery of genetically modified crops.
Editors: Mike Glover has covered politics since 1982, when he began covering the Iowa Statehouse.