Britain has spurned the American model of intensive livestock farming for many years. More recently the so-called science-based CAFO models have traveled the globe, leaving trails of toxic poison behind them. Who would have thought that Britain, with a rich tradition of being one of the first countries to embrace organic, humane farming systems, would be contemplating intensive dairy farming as the way of the future? Thankfully, a much-lauded report issued by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production is being used to support the groups opposed to the feedlot dairies. The local residents in the U.K. town of Lincolnshire are vehemently opposing plans just submitted for a 3,000 cow intensive dairy farm, only weeks after scuttling the first attempts for an 8,000 cow intensive dairy farm in the same area. The Pew Commission’s 2008 report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, has been one of our most potent weapons in up-ending a loathsome business where profits depend on the inhumane treatment of animals, and where unsustainable, unsafe health and environmental practices are the norm.
The manipulation of the Shirley Sherrod video for partisan gain was not just an egregious injustice to Shirley Sherrod, it was an egregious injustice to all of America’s black farmers, to elderly black farmers in particular, to Dr. John Boyd, Jr. and the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), and to the employees of the USDA and other governmental organizations who have worked to make amends for one of the most shameful periods in the history of American agriculture.
Injustice is injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. Righting an injustice can be a long and thorny process, as Dr. Boyd, President of the NBFA, can attest. He has fought for years to get justice for black farmers who were victims of widespread, decades-long discrimination by the USDA. Finally triumphant, in 1999 and again in 2008, he won settlements from the government that will provide legions of now mostly elderly black farmers, victims of the blatant racism formerly displayed by the USDA, with the money they are rightfully owed.
The Senate still won’t fund the 2008 settlement. The injustice continues. Animal Welfare Approved has long supported Dr. Boyd in his quest to see his fight brought to an end, especially since, as he often points out, the farmers for whom the settlement is intended are beginning to die. “I’m frustrated,” Boyd said Thursday in an NPR interview. “I’m frustrated that I’m still begging for votes in the Senate for something that should have been done years ago.”
Dr. Boyd didn’t win settlements based on a few minutes of edited video and some carefully crafted, specious and inflammatory rhetoric. He won his case for black farmers because he had the evidence, the testimonies and the facts to back up his claim. He took his fight to the halls of Congress and to the courts, where his evidence and testimonies and facts were weighed and considered by those we entrust to make decisions that are honorable and unbiased, and to decide what is owed those who have been wronged. He is still fighting to get the money owed to the farmers he represents. But how many of you have heard of him?
Animal Welfare Approved is a welcoming home to all farmers who are finding that sustainable, pasture-based farming is providing them with opportunities to improve on-farm income and maintain the integrity of their land and heritage. We’re proud of our farmers and I can tell you from personal experience that they are a community, helping each other out, forming marketing cooperatives, sharing resources and passing on knowledge. Our program hasn’t grown tenfold in a few years because we engage in provocative, groundless rhetoric and shameless publicity stunts. We’ve grown because we’ve proven our worth to farmers and consumers, with humane standards based on published, practical science. But how many people have heard of us?
And yet…a short video and some commentary posted on a website well known for its bias gets not just attention but action at the highest levels within hours.
By all accounts, Shirley Sherrod has been a tireless champion for farmers from all walks of life, without bias. The attack on her was a straw man attack with a motive of petty revenge. The amazingly short-sighted rush to judgment not only up-ended the life of Ms. Sherrod, it has diverted hard-fought-for attention away from issues that truly are of vital importance—the fact that the money from the 2008 settlement for black farmers still has not been paid out by Congress, issues with the nation’s food supply and safety, and the fact that family farmers who choose to farm humanely, sustainably and safely are struggling against industrialized agriculture and the agricultural policy designed to support it.
If I were fond of conspiracy theories, I would begin to wonder…