February 26, 2013

Farm Bureau is a dubious ‘voice of agriculture’ on pesticide bill

Leo Horrigan, MHS

Leo Horrigan, MHS

CLF Correspondent

Center for a Livable Future

A coalition of groups is supporting a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would require that pesticide use be recorded in a central database, so that researchers could track the environmental and health impacts of these chemicals.

The bill is being introduced for a third time, and for a third time its main opposition comes from the Maryland Farm Bureau.  This persistent opposition begs two questions: What is the Farm Bureau, and whom does it represent?

The Farm Bureau says it draws its strength from “the active participation of over 30,620 member families that belong to the state’s 23 county Farm Bureaus.” But, don’t be fooled.  Most of these “member families” are not farm families.  We know this because the state of Maryland has only 12,800 farms. So, where does all that additional membership come from?

Granted, there are plenty of people who don’t farm but are sympathetic to farming and farmers (myself included).  Some of these people might decide to join the Farm Bureau. But, most of the Farm Bureau’s non-farmer membership seems to be made up of people who join the Bureau merely (or mostly) so they can receive discounts on their policies with Nationwide Insurance.

Maryland customers get a 10 percent break on home insurance and 7 percent on car insurance if they join the Farm Bureau, and annual membership costs only $50 to $60.  Maryland is one of nine U.S. states where Nationwide and the Farm Bureau team up to offer such discounts.

It’s a good deal for the customer, to be sure.  But, it’s also a good deal for the Farm Bureau, which gets to pump up its membership numbers so it can appear to represent more people than it really does when it comes time to advocate for certain legislation.

Speaking of which, who exactly does the Farm Bureau represent?  The Maryland Farm Bureau is part of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), and both purport to be on the side of family farmers.  However, a 2000 study by Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) reported:

“AFBF is allied with some of the nation’s biggest agribusinesses. It has large investments in the automobile, oil and pesticide industries, often supports factory farming rather than family farming and regularly opposes government regulation to reduce air and water pollution and pesticide use and to protect wildlife, habitat, rural amenities and food quality.”

DOW also pointed out that farm bureaus around the country were controlling insurance companies worth about $6.5 billion in yearly revenues, as well as agricultural cooperatives worth $12 billion.  It also reported that “agricultural cooperatives under the direct control of state farm bureaus earn significant revenues from pesticides and market them aggressively.”

All of which gives one pause when considering whether the Farm Bureau should be considered a legitimate “voice of agriculture,” as it claims to be.  Instead, we should probably not confuse Farm Bureau opposition to a pesticide reporting bill with farmer opposition.

The Pesticide Reporting and Information Act was introduced as both SB675 and HB775.  There is a hearing on the House version of the bill on Wednesday, and a hearing on the Senate side on March 5.

3 Comments

  1. I testified yesterday in support of the bill even though there will be additional reporting requirements for me and my farm. I believe public health officials, environmental agencies, and the public generally, are entitled to this information. Farmers should be “free to farm” but we have to be aware of the impact of our production techniques on the public welfare and public resources. I urge the public to get engaged on this issue!

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