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Bernie Sanders gives speech in Osage on “Plan to Rebuild Rural America”

Bernie Sanders

OSAGE – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders today unveiled a comprehensive plan to rebuild and reinvest in rural America. In a speech at the Mitchell County Fairgrounds in Osage, Iowa, Sanders outlined a detailed blueprint to protect farmers from monopolistic agribusiness corporations and climate change, and to focus more federal investments on rural communities that have too often been ignored by Washington.

“While corporate profits soar in agribusiness, while merger after merger gives even more power to a handful of huge conglomerates, thousands of family farmers are forced off their land every year because the prices they get for their products are lower than the cost of production,” Sanders said. “Tragically, instead of seeing good jobs, education and health care coming into our rural communities, we are far too often seeing desperation and depression – and a terrible increase in suicide and opioid addiction. We need to turn this around.  We cannot create an economy that works for all Americans if we continue to neglect the needs of rural America.”

Much of Sanders’ plan deals with the agriculture sector, which is a primary source of income for one in 5 rural counties across the country. As large agribusiness corporations have been permitted to consolidate and vertically integrate, farmers today now receive the lowest share of consumers’ food dollar in recorded history. Meanwhile, rural communities have been ravaged by pollution. To reverse the trend, Sanders would:

  • Intensify antitrust enforcement to block new monopolistic mergers and ban contract farming
  • Protect farmers from predatory patent lawsuits from seed corporations.
  • Reform farm subsidies so that the majority aren’t going to giant farms, but to small- and mid-sized farms.
  • Restrict foreign ownership of American farmland, which poses economic threats to farmers and also raises national security concerns about the food supply.
  • Stop effectively exempting factory farms from the anti-pollution laws that other large-scale industrial operations face, and take action against corporations whose products are creating herbicide drift and polluting organic farms.

A separate part of Sanders’ plan deals with reinvesting in rural economies and communities. Sanders proposes to increase funding for rural teacher pay and for rural public education including ESL programs, classes for students with disabilities, student transportation and college accredited classes.

As president, Bernie will pass his recently introduced legislation to increase funding for community health centers and invest more resources in the national health service corps, which extends health care into underserved areas. Sanders also proposes to expand labor and workplace protections for farmworkers and protect them from Trump’s deportation machine.

Read the full plan HERE

Here are the full remarks:

For the past 28 years, I have had the honor of representing one of the most rural states in America – the State of Vermont – where people in small towns know each other by name.

Where they go to the same schools together. Where they go to the same restaurants, stores and movie theatres.  Where their children play in the same little league baseball games.  Where they go to the same doctors and hospitals when they get sick.

Where their parents and grandparents go to the same nursing homes.  Where people grow up together, raise families and grow old together.  In other words, where there is a real sense of community.

I know that is true in Vermont and it is true in Iowa as well.

There is something very beautiful and special about the rural way of life and it is something that we should celebrate and cherish with every fiber of our being.

But let me be very honest with you. What you understand and what I understand is that rural America is in a state of massive decline and that is an issue that we have got to address.

The reality is that we have a Congress, a White House and a corporate media that has, for far too long, ignored the many crises facing rural America.

In Iowa, in Vermont and all over this country, we have seen more and more young people leave the small towns they grew up in and love, not because they don’t want to stay, but because there are fewer and fewer jobs that pay a living wage.

According to a recent study, nearly 35 percent of rural counties in the United States are experiencing protracted and significant population loss.  In Iowa and Vermont the numbers are even worse.

Two-thirds of Iowa’s counties and more than half of the counties in Vermont have experienced declining populations.

We have seen schools, churches and community centers shut down, and once vibrant Main Streets become boarded up and deserted.

In Iowa, in Vermont and all across rural America, we have seen family farmers go out of business as the prices they receive for their products decline rapidly and large agri-business corporations and factory farming take over agriculture.

We have seen rural hospitals and nursing homes shut down, and not enough doctors, nurses and dentists to provide the quality health care that rural Americans deserve.

Tragically, instead of seeing good jobs, education and health care coming into our rural communities, we are far too often seeing desperation and depression – and a terrible increase in suicide and opioid addiction.

We need to turn this around.  We cannot create an economy that works for all Americans if we continue to neglect the needs of rural America.

But let me be clear.  If we are to accomplish our goals, we need a massive grassroots effort to stand up to the greed of corporate America – a greed which is destroying the American middle class in so many ways.  It is true in agriculture, but it is also true in almost every part of our lives.

Let me give you a few examples: at a time when the average interest rate on credit cards is now over 17 percent and even higher for credit cards purchased in stores, Wall Street is making record-breaking profits and paying their CEOs outrageous compensation packages.

At a time when the top 10 drug companies in this country made $69 billion in profits in profits last year, 1 out of 5 Americans cannot afford the medicine they need because we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

At a time when the top 5 insurance companies made over $20 billion in profits and the top 65 CEOs in the healthcare industry made $1.7 billion in compensation in 2017, 34 million Americans are uninsured even more are underinsured as the price of healthcare continues to soar.

At a time when climate change ravishes the planet, the fossil fuel industry continues to make huge profits while their CEOs lie to the American people about the dangers of carbon emissions.

And it is no different in terms of agriculture.

While corporate profits soar in agribusiness, while merger after merger gives even more power to a handful of huge conglomerates, thousands of family farmers are forced off their land every year because the prices they get for their products is lower than the cost of production.

Today, I am releasing a plan that I will fight to implement as president to strengthen, rejuvenate and revitalize rural America.

Let me give you just a few of the highlights.

First and foremost, when we talk about rural America, we have got to talk about agriculture and the crisis in family farms.

Today, roughly one in 5 rural counties across the country rely on farming as a primary source of income.  Here in Iowa, a third of the entire state’s economy is tied directly to agriculture and ominously more and more and more of the state’s agriculture is being dominated by just a handful of large corporations.

Shockingly, over the past 40 years, the U.S. has lost 90 percent of its pork producers, 88 percent of its dairy producers and 95 percent of its egg farmers.

In rural America, we are seeing giant agri-business conglomerates extract as much wealth out of small communities as they can, while family farmers are going bankrupt and, in many cases, treated like modern-day indentured servants.  That is unacceptable and together was are going to change that.

In too many rural communities there is only one buyer of crops, which means farmers and ranchers are at their mercy. They are forced to use one corporation’s feed and livestock. They are forced to accept one corporation’s costs, and they are forced to accept one corporation’s lower and lower payment rates.

The result: Today, for every dollar Americans spend on food, farmers earn less than 15 cents – which is the smallest share in the modern-day history of our nation.

And the same is true on the buying end for farmers. In many cases, there really is only one seller of seeds and chemicals, which lets the sellers dictate the prices.

This growing monopolization of agriculture is unfair to food producers. It is unfair to consumers. It is unfair to the environment. And it has got to change.

We cannot continue to allow just four large companies to control 82 percent of the beef packing industry, 85 percent of soybean processing, 63 percent of pork packing, and 53 percent of chicken processing.

We cannot continue to allow Monsanto to control 80 percent of U.S. corn and more than 90 percent of U.S. soybean seed patents – a situation that has only gotten worse after the Trump administration approved Monsanto’s disastrous merger with Bayer.

We can no longer tolerate 96 percent of chickens and 42 percent of hogs being owned by large food processors and rented to farmers who are too poor to own their own land or livestock.

We cannot continue to allow the top 10 percent of farms to receive 77 percent of all government subsidies – with much of this money going to absentee farm owners, who live in big cities, renting out their land.

Here is what is going in agriculture today, farm bankruptcies in the Midwest are at their highest level in a decade. People whose families have worked the land for generations are being driven off their farms. Meanwhile the CEO who controls Smithfield Foods, one of the large agribusinesses in the United States received a $291 million compensation package in 2017.

Let me be as clear as I can be.  We need more family farms in America, not more factory farms.
If Teddy Roosevelt, the great trust buster were alive today, you know what he would say to these huge agri-business companies: He would say break them up.  And working together, that is exactly what we are going to do.

As president, I will not only impose an immediate moratorium on agri-business mergers, I will nominate an Attorney General who will aggressively address the growing monopolization of the American economy including agriculture. In other words my Attorney General will aggressively breakup agri-business monopolies that are devastating family farmers.

In my view, no industry should be controlled by one or two corporations, and that includes giant agri-business conglomerates.

Working together, we are going to strengthen antitrust laws that protect family farmers from the corporate middlemen that stand between the food grower and the consumer.

We are going to apply antitrust laws to the companies that control the seeds.

We are going to reform our patent laws to protect farmers from predatory patent lawsuits from companies like Monsanto.

We are going to make sure rural residents have the right to sue companies when their genetically altered crops contaminate nearby farmland.

And working together, we will restore the agency that enforces antitrust laws in the meatpacking industry – an agency that Trump eliminated.

We have also got to recognize that the control large corporations have over farmers is not just about the crops, the seeds and the livestock. It’s also about the farming equipment.
Unbelievably, farmers are unable to even repair their own tractors or other equipment because of the greed of companies like John Deere.

In many cases, farmers can’t change engine settings, they can’t retrofit old equipment with new features, and they can’t modify their tractors to meet new environmental standards without going through an authorized repair agent.

How insane is that?

While John Deere is ripping off farmers, its CEO made over $18 million in compensation last year. By the way, despite making $2.2 billion in profit, it utilized the loopholes that Trump’s tax bill gave them and paid nothing in federal income taxes.

The idea that a farmer who buys a tractor or other farm equipment for many thousands of dollars is unable to fix it in the most cost-effective way is beyond belief.

Together we are going to pass a national right-to-repair law that gives every farmer in America full rights over the machinery they purchase.

And yes, companies like John Deere are going to pay their fair share of taxes.

When we talk about how giant factory farms are destroying the social fabric of rural America, we cannot ignore the horrific environmental impact that they are having on rural communities.

Over the past 30 years, the number of factory farms in America has skyrocketed from about 3,600 in the early 1980s to more than 19,000 today.

This change has resulted in the loss of over 82% of independent hog producers from 1982 to 2007 in Iowa alone, even though the number of hogs has increased exponentially.  Everyday family farmers are driven off their land as we see the growth of massive consolidated industrial farms.

In Iowa alone, there are over 10,000 factory farms.  This massive concentration has caused an environmental catastrophe.

Make no mistake about it.  These factory farms are a threat to the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities we live in.

Incredibly, and this really is incredible, factory farms are responsible for 1.4 trillion pounds of animal waste in America.

Given this reality, it is unacceptable that Republicans in Congress have been doing all that they can to exempt factory farms from environmental laws.

Unbelievably the Trump administration recently proposed a rule to exempt factory farms from reporting pollution emissions under “right to know” laws — even though communities near these operations are experiencing nausea, headaches, increased rates of asthma and chronic lung disease as a result of pollution.

It goes without saying, working together we are going to reverse that rule.

Working together, we will apply the full force of the Clean Water Act, on factory farms.

And let me tell you something else we’re going to do.  We’re going to regulate large factory farms under the Clean Air Act as industrial factories not only to improve the environment but also to improve the lives of rural Americans.

Further, we must transition away from farming systems that currently require chemical-intensive, industrial farming practices that extract wealth from rural communities, degrade the soil and pollute the environment.

And when we talk about improving the life of rural Americans, we can no longer tolerate a situation in which federal aide to agriculture goes in exactly the wrong direction. We must end a system where the top 10 percent of farmers get 77 percent of subsidies from the USDA. Our job is to protect family-based agriculture. Not to make billion dollar corporations even richer.

Our agricultural policies have become so absurd that Trump’s own Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue collected more than a quarter of a million dollars in farm subsidies, even though he isn’t even a farmer — he just rents the land he owns.

It goes without saying that farmers should not be forced to sell their crops below the cost of production. Farmers deserve a fair price for the very hard work they do.

When we are in the White House, we will reform these subsidies, and make sure they are targeted more towards independent family farmers who are actually working on their land.

And when we talk about the need to ensure a fair price for family farmers we are talking about the need for parity price floors to ensure farmers earn the cost of production plus living expenses.

We need to enact supply management programs and re-establish the grain reserve to prevent shortages and surpluses, to ensure farmers earn a decent income and to ensure consumers receive a high-quality, stable, and secure supply of agricultural goods.

If we are going to rebuild rural America, we need to rebuild the agricultural infrastructure in small towns. This includes independent processing facilities, that were lost during consolidation since the 70’s and 80’s. Farmers should have a choice where to sell their livestock or crops. In other words, we need competition.

Today, the average age of a farmer in the United States is 58. Clearly if we are going to strengthen family based agriculture we need to help young farmers transition on to the land and ensure farming allows them to support their families.

Further we need to make sure people of all races and backgrounds can engage in agriculture. We need young people, women, and people of color back on the land.

In 1914, 14% of American farmers were black. Today fewer than 2% are. We need our EQIP and Guaranteed Loan programs to stop going to factory farm infrastructure and start going to small farmers.

We need to prioritize regenerative and sustainable farming practices that sequester carbon in the soil like returning livestock to pasture land and transitioning away from mono-crop, fence row to fence row farming.

The industrial agriculture model of farming is not working for farmers, it’s working for giant agribusiness conglomerates.  This has got to change.

Our trade policies should not hurt farmers and ranchers in America and across the world.  We need trade policies that prioritize domestic food security – not dumping low-cost commodities on other nations – undermining the local farmers there.

Farmers, workers, and environmentalists need a seat at the table during international trade negotiations.

And it isn’t just corporate control of agriculture that is a concern — we must also challenge foreign ownership.

America’s ability to grow our own food and feed our population is a national security issue. But more and more of our cropland is controlled by foreign corporations and governments.

One agricultural publication estimated that “the government of China now controls more than 400 American farms consisting of a hundred thousand acres of farmland…33 processing plants, and one out of every four American hogs.”

As president I will put the Secretary of Agriculture on the national security panel that regulates foreign investments in the United States. We will also strengthen the laws governing those foreign investments, so that they take into account national security concerns about our food supply.

Despite what Donald Trump may think, climate change is real. It is caused by human activity. And it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world. It is a moral imperative that the planet we leave to our children must be healthy and habitable. As president of the United States I will do everything possible to lead the world to fundamentally transform our energy system away from fossil fuels towards energy efficiency and sustainable energy. We are talking about making massive investments in wind, solar, and geothermal – precisely the kinds of investments that can revitalize and rejuvenate rural America.

And let me take this opportunity to congratulate Iowa, which now generates about 30% of its electricity from wind.

Our current food system accounts for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.  Not only can farmers drastically reduce their on-farm emissions, but farmers also have the potential to actually sequester 10% of ALL carbon emissions in the soil. But we can’t do this with ‘get big or get out’ industrial farming.

We need to pass legislation that includes a strong plan to help farmers transition into regenerative, independent family farming practices.

Further, we need to pass comprehensive disaster coverage and make sure that family farmers in Iowa receive their fair share of payments for the devastating floods that have ravaged this state.   Floods and other natural disasters will only increase as climate change continues to wreak havoc on our planet.

We must also recognize that immigrants play a critical role in America’s agricultural sector and rural communities.

In Iowa, Vermont and throughout rural America, many undocumented workers live in constant fear of deportation and lack basic human rights.

We need comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path towards citizenship and expanded visas for our undocumented farm workers.

And we must stop the mass workplace raids that rip families apart. And we must stop locking children in cages.

There is no question that we need to substantially rebuild rural America.  And let me tell you what that means.

It means that every person in rural America and every person in this country is entitled to healthcare as a human right. Farmers have some of the highest uninsured rates in America and 41% of dairy farmers lack health insurance.

We will join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing healthcare to every man woman and child.

This will be an enormous help to struggling farmers who today cannot afford the outrageous cost of healthcare in this country.

We will not keep people in rural America or bring new people into our small towns unless we have high quality education.

Our young people will not stay in rural America unless they receive an education that allows them to create and work in the jobs of the future.

It is unacceptable that rural teachers make substantially less pay than teachers in the suburbs. We will pay rural teachers a living wage with good benefits.

It is unacceptable that more than half of all children in Iowa don’t have access to a childcare space, while tens of thousands of Iowans live in childcare deserts.

It goes without saying that you are not going to have small businesses create jobs in rural America if we don’t have state of the art broadband and cell phone service. It is beyond comprehension that today, 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack Internet access.

We will expand high-speed Internet access to every American – particularly in our rural areas.

Look.  We have an enormous amount of work in front of us. But this what I believe. Farmers do some of the most important work in the world. They feed us and they sustain us.

Rural America has historically been a wonderful place to raise a family and enjoy a good life.

If we stand together, and are prepared to take on the greed of powerful corporate interests there is absolutely no reason why we cannot rebuild family based agriculture and our rural communities and I pledge to work with you to do just that.

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