America’s farmers just want the government to give them a fighting chance

America’s farmers just want the government to give them a fighting chance
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“We’ll make it up to them. The farmers will be better off than they ever were. … It could be very quick, actually.”

That’s how President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE responded, on Monday, to media questions about how he will protect farmers and ranchers from backlash against his aggressive trade policies — and in particular the in-kind tariffs from countries China. In the past few days, numerous outlets, as well as grassroots organizations, have warned that these polices threaten to erode his support among the same farmers who helped deliver Trump an electoral victory no pundit thought possible.

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What may surprise even the president, however, is how easily he can fulfill his promise to act quickly, and how closely it aligns with the rest of his trade and economic agenda. What American farmers — real, actual farmers, and not multinational corporations stealing the farm brand for their own marketing purposes — want is actually pretty simple: A fighting chance to succeed.

 

It’s an increasingly popular position both in the courts and in the court of public opinion.

Just this week, the Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court decision that, essentially, said the government cannot force ranchers to pay a tax to private state corporations that, in turn, use the money to promote the idea that all beef — no matter where, or how, it is raised — is equal. 

The court sided with independent cattle ranchers who argued that they have a right to spend their money and promote their goods how they choose and agreed that they should have to voluntarily opt into such a program. The government cannot use its power to undermine independent ranchers’ competitiveness in the marketplace. It was a case that the beef lobby, which is increasingly funded by huge, multinational corporations, was watching closely. The ranchers’ victory is a stunning and important win for family farms. 

It also signals the latest expansion of an unlikely, but increasingly popular, political movement that crosses partisan lines: The movement to “have the backs” of truly independent and, in many cases, family-run farms that are struggling to survive the corporatization of our food supply.

Americans increasingly want to know where their food comes from, how it was raised and who helped get it to their family’s table. And more and more, they understand the importance of supporting farmers who boost the local economy, respect the land, water and air of their neighbors and live and operate by their version of the golden rule: Feed others the food you would feed your own family, too.

And this is where Trump’s goals align with a big segment of the public’s, too.

Under regulations Trump inherited, the beef consumers find in their local grocery store marked ‘Product of USA’ could actually be from nearly any corner of the world. That’s because the government has stubbornly refused to enforce country of origin labeling, which would give a clear picture about what meat is imported, and what is raised and processed here at home. Instead, under the current system, your steak can be labeled ‘Product of USA’ just as long as it was packaged here in America — but it could have been raised, slaughtered and processed virtually anywhere else on the globe.

With a stroke of his pen, Trump has the power to mandate that the labels on the meat we buy reflect the truth about where it comes from. Indeed, he would be merely enforcing the plain language of the law, which the USDA has ignored for decades. It’s a position favored by Tomi Lahren on the right and good food groups — like Public Justice — who tend to skew a little further left. It might be the most broadly popular — and commonsense — executive order the president ever signs.

Trump swept into office promising to get the government out of the way and “put America first.” And while your views on what that should mean, and how far it should go, likely depend on where you fall on the political spectrum, there is an emerging consensus that America’s farmers and ranchers haven’t been given a fair shake as huge corporations move in on their turf.

The president has an opportunity to help them in a very big, very meaningful way. From ending unfair taxation of cattle ranchers in the west to demanding that U.S. beef be labeled properly and fairly, he can be the president who takes executive action to give farmers a fighting chance, and who helps build a lasting, bipartisan respect for America’s ranchers, cattlemen (and women) and family farms.

Paul Bland is executive director and David Muraskin is the Food Project attorney at Public Justice, a national public interest law firm that pursues high-impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses.