The global trading of food has emerged as one of the most serious threats facing family farmers in the U.S. and around the world, and one of the most difficult to overcome. Agricultural "free trade" agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), promote the trade of agricultural products with little regard to the negative impacts on local communities and family farmers. Countries, including the U.S., have been flooded with cheap food imports. The low-cost appeal of these imports to consumers has caused farmers to lose their local markets. Consequently, family farmers worldwide have been forced off their land, weakening local food production, and consumers are becoming more dependent on food imports. Free trade agreements pose a threat to domestic food security - a problem that affects people worldwide.
Free Trade: Forcing Farmers Off the Land, Spreading Rural Poverty and Hunger
Since the 1994 signing of NAFTA which linked the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico, family farmers in all three countries have felt the negative impacts of a free trade agreement designed to benefit agribusiness corporations.
- In the U.S., 100,000 family farmers were forced out of farming between 1996 and 2001. During that same time period, Canada lost 11 percent of its family farms. (i)
- NAFTA has dramatically increased rural poverty and hunger in Mexico.
- Between 1992 and 2002, the percentage of rural Mexicans living in extreme poverty grew from 36 percent to 52.4 percent. (ii)
Free Trade: Unfair Profits for Multinational Agribusiness Corporations
Free trade agreements have fueled the expansion of corporate concentration and control of food production from the national to the international level,unfairly boosting the profits of many US-based corporations.
- Under NAFTA, Archer Daniels Midland's profits went from $383 million in 2001 to $451 million in 2003, while Cargill's net earnings from the same time period jumped from $333 million to $1,290 million (iii) while thousands of family farmers have been forced off their lands due to low prices.
Free Trade: Taking Away Consumer Access to Family Farm Food Systems
- Decisions about how our food is grown and by whom are made behind closed doors. Trade and agricultural ministers have allowed multinational corporations to gain unprecedented power and control over our food system. As a result, Americas reliance on imported foods is increasing.
- After consumers and farmers fought successfully to have mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) included in the 2002 Farm Bill, the current administration delayed the mandatory labeling until 2006 because of heavy lobbying by agribusiness. This is a blatant example of corporations working against the interests of family farmers and consumers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture dragging its feet on implementation of policies that would benefit family farmers and consumers alike.
Fair Trade, Not Free Trade!
Each country must retain the right to determine how to meet its domestic food needs while protecting its family farmers. Consumers, largely left in the dark about the negative impacts of cheap imports within the domestic food system, should have the right to choose who grows their food, how it is grown and where it comes from. Free trade policy is typically unfair trade policy.
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