Free trade won’t feed the world


The first hint of spring brings big iron and big irony to the winter-rested Illinois prairie.
Turbo-charged, $125,000 tractors tug 40-foot toolbars injecting $400-per-ton anhydrous so, a month from now, $50,000 corn planters can slug $100-a-bag seed into the $4,000-an-acre ground.
Then, come harvest, $200,000 combines will deliver – what – $2 corn?
Hidden costs. That’s just the obvious costs.
Hidden (and they’re getting harder to hide every year) costs to society often double agriculture direct expenses: $25 billion farm programs, soil erosion, water hypoxia, rural unemployment, food aid.
And this is the food production model the West wants to impose on the rest of the world through World Trade Organization ag negotiations?
Enormous mistake. Including ag in WTO talks is an enormous mistake, argues John Hodges, an English animal scientist and ethicist, in a paper recently published in Europe.
First, says Hodges, U.S. and European agriculture won’t work for the 80 percent of the world that lives outside of the West for several reasons – the least of which is that it’s not working all that well in the U.S. and Europe.
Instead, he recommends, “Agriculture should be taken out of the WTO agenda (to enable) developing countries to benefit from WTO-mandated free trade in non-agricultural food products without being forced to open their food markets.”
Protection. After all, he explains in his 16-page treatise (at, this is exactly how the West built their prolific food machines; it protected its “hero” farmers.
That protection, through public policies like tariffs, extension education, cooperatives, price support programs, ag research and cheap credit, delivered today’s agricultural “businessmen.”
It was both moral and ethical back then, Hodges notes, and it’s both moral and ethical today, because “western governments know from their own experience over the last 200 years that food cannot be treated simply as a tradable commodity subject to unrestrained capitalism


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.