Immigration, the 2007 US Farm Bill, and the Transformation of our Food Systems

Food First | 07.01.2007

The current immigration legislation attempts to balance the fears of a post-9/11 electorate with the management of the largest single migration in the modern history of the Americas. At this writing, this bill focuses on symptoms rather than causes and faces strong opposition from all sides.

Rather than immigration reform, sweeping reform of our national and international food & agricultural policies could do much to address the underlying causes of immigration—grinding poverty that drives people to abandon home and family.

For decades the U.S. Farm Bill has used taxpayer subsidies to keep grain prices low, causing overproduction that benefited big grain companies who then dumped cheap grain abroad at below the cost of production. This subsidized overproduction—coupled with free trade agreements and the devastating polices of the International Monetary Fund—forced millions of small farmers in the Global South out of farming. Many of the 1.1 million immigrants crossing the U.S.’s southern border each year are these farmers, who can no longer afford to farm. In the U.S., over-production of grain encourages over-consumption of cheap, processed, unhealthy foods. It has concentrated market power in the agri-business sector, making farmers worldwide dependent on a handful of corporate giants for their inputs and their markets.

Though the economic power of the agri-foods industry (and their lobbyists) is strong, many observers maintain that conditions for far-reaching agricultural reform in the U.S. have never been better. This is because our food systems are in a profound state of flux and transformation.

First, as the Food First Backgrounder, Biofuels: Myths of the Corporate Agro-Fuels Transition explains, the “agro-fuels boom” is transforming our food and fuel systems worldwide, bringing both under one enormous industrial roof. There will be big winners and losers in this transition. The question is not whether agro-fuels have a place in our future—they are inescapable—but whether or not we allow a handful of global corporations to determine the future of our food and fuel systems.

Also in this issue of News & Views: 

  • Thanks to a public outcry, a temporary victory for organic coffee growers
  • Help Food First produce “ El Camino del Migrante”: Documenting the Mexican Immigrant Struggle for Food Sovereignty