This is a guest article by Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks.

We have been asked so many questions about the USDA and how it protects Americans from contaminated foods that we decided to assemble some basics about the department, its history, demographics and why so many people know so little about its activities.

USDA currently employs 105,000 people scattered across the country and located in dozens of countries around the world. The number varies slightly because many of the workers are seasonal, particularly those that work for the Forest Service branch. This also includes the Farm Service Agency, whose non-federal employees were estimated at 9,425 in 2009.

The USDA’s proposed fiscal year budget for 2010 called for an estimated $132.9 billion in spending, an increase of $16.6 billion more than 2009.  Roughly 80% – about $105 billion in 2010 – is slated for 2011 programs required by law.

Mandatory programs include nutrition assistance, commodity, export promotion and conservation programs. USDA’s discretionary programs account for the remaining 20% – about $28 billion. Programs include the Women, Infants, and Children program; rural development loans and grants; crop insurance; research and education; soil and water conservation technical assistance; management of National Forests; domestic marketing assistance; and programs that address pest and disease threats.

During his terms in office, George Washington was unsuccessful in his efforts to create a Board of Agriculture to disseminate educational information on farming. Until the Civil War, many states vehemently opposed central planning for agriculture. Until then schools of botanical research were supported by only state funds and private universities. It was part of the ongoing states’ rights issues that still trouble our nation today. Farming in the Deep South using slaves was much different from the industrialized techniques used in the North.

Under Lincoln, the first Commissioner had an annual budget of less than $90,000 which covered only four scientists, entomology, chemistry, statistics and horticulture.  They were charged with overseeing all of the nation’s farms. Today, multiple department heads at the USDA each earn more than the original budget.

The Hatch Act of 1887 transformed the Bureau of Agriculture into the USDA and converted the Commissioner into the Secretary of Agriculture which became a member of the president’s cabinet.

But this act also opened agriculture to the whims of Congress and lobbyists. It was the beginning of an era of greatly expanded federal powers. Originally devoted to research, today the USDA governs the way millions of Americans are fed daily, controls what food is available for our purchase and decides what crops receive federal funding. In other words, fertile ground for lobbyists, campaign contributions and favoritism.

The Hatch Act authorized federal funds for the development of agricultural research at land grant colleges set up on tracts of government-owned land. Within four years, every state had a land grant college receiving federal funds. By 1897, the USDA employed nearly 2450 people, with an annual budget of $3 million.

Until the early 1900s, the USDA was mostly focused on research, discovery and financing agricultural exploration in foreign lands. The focus included hiring botanists trained to search for new plants and varieties that would launch new agriculture in the US. After Upton Sinclair’s seminal book The Jungle was printed in 1906, the USDA shifted its focus to food inspection.

In 1907, the Pure Food and Drug Act enforced milk pasteurization, meat inspection, and enacted an inspection system for foods sold in interstate commerce. By 1912, the USDA’s budget reached $24 million. By the 1920s, its budget increased to $150 million. By the late 1920s, President Hoover was compelled to start price supports for crops because of the drought that drove many from their ancestral farms.

When Roosevelt was elected, New Deal farm policies offered subsidy payments for reducing crop and animal production, a school lunch program and a program to increase grain storage. As a result, the Department’s budget increased to $279 million in 1932. By 1939, the budget had increased to $1.3 billion. Employment had also increased to nearly 80,000.

By 1959, the USDA was paying more than $2 billion in crop subsidies caused by overproduction. The cost of storing surplus farm crops rose to $482 million in 1959. Storing farm crops increased to $2.8 billion by 1983. In 1984, USDA employment had grown to nearly 136,000 employees – four times as large as the State Department. By then, the annual budget of the USDA was about $30 billion.

Now, the USDA has become a tool of big business. As discussed in our books and other blogs, the creation of genetically engineered or genetically modified foods and the agenda of the biotech industry dominate farm and food issues in Congress and the White House. Republicans have one policy, the Democrats another. To add spice to the argument, the newly formed Tea Party has a completely different view of federal spending on just about everything, including agriculture.

Our country is as torn over the policies of farming as it is over states rights, entitlements and foreign policy. President Roosevelt’s concerns over how Americans farmed and how the federal government dispensed its farm subsidies proved to be correct. It was as clear then as it is now that a free-for-all in farming would result and now has resulted in the chaos plaguing American farmers today.

These concerns include the fact that despite a billion dollar budget, the USDA only inspects about 1% of food imported from other countries. While this may not seem like a lot upon first glance, according to the 2007 FDA Food Protection Plan, 60% of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80% of our seafood are imported. The USDA is doing no better inspecting factory farms in the U.S.

More than 22,000 factory farms (CAFOs) dominate the countryside approved by state and federal governments and subsidized by the USDA who fails and refuses to regulate and inspect them. CAFOs drive people from their ancestral family farms by generating pollution, releasing smells and toxic fumes, detectible for miles and leaving dead diseased animals on the roadside. The government is not on the side of sustainable family farms and disdains their complaints in favor of the interests of big business.

Monsanto is suing DuPont. Sustainable farmers and the organic food movement are suing Monsanto over the destruction of heirloom seeds by Monsanto’s GMO seeds and plants. Groups are challenging the efficacy of genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets in the courts. Superweeds, caused by the use of excessive pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup, are taking over farming areas in states like Arkansas. The destruction of valuable soil by the use of dangerous chemicals and a failure to rotate crops is also a major issue that will eventually harm farmers and cost billions to correct.

Then there are the “seed police”, a group of Monsanto private investigators patrolling America’s heartland looking for unsuspecting farmers who may have accidentally impinged on a Monsanto patent. Monsanto has even hired the notorious Blackwater to spy on bloggers and other opponents.

Since the mid-1990s when GMO seeds were first introduced into the market, Monsanto has sued 145 U.S. farmers for patent infringement, putting many family farms out of business. Farmers who formerly separated and stored heirloom seeds for future crops have been put out of business also. Monsanto Canada has also sued many farmers there. Since our government is a partner with Monsanto on many projects, is our government in effect suing family farmers by proxy?

In 2004, Switzerland’s Syngenta sued Monsanto charging them with using coercive tactics to monopolize markets. This allegation has been made by organic and conventional American farmers for years as well as many foreign governments. Monsanto was the defendant in the longest civil jury trial in U.S. history – running from February 1984 through October 1987 – over a 1979 chemical spill that poisoned citizens of a small Missouri town with dioxin. Monsanto may be the most litigious corporation in the history of agriculture.

America’s heartland has become a Civil War battlefield of farmers, environmentalists and organic food groups against the corporate interests of farming led by Monsanto and Big Agra. Ancestral family farms are being gobbled up by big businesses in the name of factory farming where animals are confined in an animal version of a concentration camp and sold as pseudo-food in markets across the land.

Worse, the goals of Big Agra are supported by the politically corrupt USDA which is now run by a Monsanto biotech insider, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsak. As we frequently point out, the industry packs the USDA, in the same manner as conservatives and liberals try to pack the Supreme Court, in an effort to make their views become the views of the entire country. It is power politics at it’s worse.

For example, in 2008, the USDA Federal Crop Insurance Corporation endorsed a pilot program in four states (accounting for more than 50% of corn production) in which farmers who planted triple-stacked, “insecticide laced corn” Monsanto Bt genetically modified corn (three pathogens inserted) could get a price break up to $6.00 an acre on their crop insurance premiums. This program will benefit factory farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soy to the tune of $75 million this year in crop insurance refunds. In effect, our government subsidizes Monsanto’s agenda.

Monsanto’s New Business Development Manager Tim Hennessy said the USDA endorsement gave Monsanto a competitive edge. The only reason for the 80% threshold to receive aid is that the EPA rules require that when a farmer plants a genetically modified crop, 20% of the field must be a buffer zone of plants that are not genetically modified. Scientists argue that a ten-mile buffer is insufficient.

This favoritism toward Monsanto leaves the interests and lifestyle of small family farmers dead on the side of the road while the American people are left to eat substandard food that makes then ill, fat and shortens their lives. All done in the name of greater profits and world domination of the farming industry with the aid of the USDA. Do Americans want our government to be a partner in untested technology that is being forced upon us despite the negative assessments made by the FDA and USDA’s own scientists?

The USDA is a politically driven train with no clear leadership and no breaks to stop its runaway policies, or lack of policies, depending on your political persuasion. The department is running amok advancing biotech agendas with little regard for American citizens.

Monsanto complains that there is too much regulation and not enough assistance in compelling foreign markets, particularly Europe to accept their genetically engineered products. Wikileaks recently exposed documents proving the conspiracy between Monsanto and the Bush administration to coerce France and Spain into accepting GMO food exports. It is no wonder many European countries are disgusted with American strong-arm tactics and economic coercion. Is this a sound agenda for American foreign policy?

What can Americans do to stop this? One way is to support the farmers and organic groups who have had the courage to challenge genetically modified foods in the court system. Another is to write your state and U.S. senators as well as your representatives and your governor. Postcards to the White House and Congress pile up on their desks and cause elected officials to rethink policies that may lose them votes.

Votes trump campaign contributions. Just ask Meg Whiteman who spent more than $120 million in California and still lost the election for governor. Americans must join The Food Revolution much like the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies did in the American Revolution. Only by The Food Revolution can Americans insure the freedom to eat organic and natural foods without being told what to eat by the biotech industry.

It is either join The Food Revolution or be left to eat packaged foods with more than 100 chemical ingredients; fast foods containing ammonia treated meat; and factory farmed meat coming from livestock confined in dark warehouses, sprayed with pesticides to kill lice and other vermin, standing in piles of manure, pumped up on animal steroids requiring daily does of antibiotics placed with their genetically modified Monsanto Bt corn and soy feed in a race to get them to market before the animals die of acidosis or other illnesses.

The U.S. is a market-driven economy. You can vote successfully with your dollars. If you refuse to buy it, they will no longer produce it.

To paraphrase Patrick Henry of Virginia, “Give me liberty to eat healthy foods, or give me death instead of chemically polluted substitutes.” It is America’s choice. And that choice must be made now before Americans lose the war over will control what they eat.

Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks, R.N., are the authors of award winning books – Arthritis, Inflammation, Gout, Crohn’s, IBD and IBS – How to Eliminate Pain and Extend your Life (Books and Authors 2010 Best Books in the Health, Diet & Reference Categories) and Mannie’s Diet and Enzyme Formula – A Change of Lifestyle Diet Designed for Everyone (Blogger News Net 2010 Best Health And Nutrition Book Award winner) available at HowToEliminatePain.com, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other booksellers around the world.

It’s Not Your Fault – Weight Gain, Obesity and Food Addiction is now available at HowtoEliminatePain.com, Amazon and booksellers everywhere. The authors latest book, The Food Revolution Papers – A Primer on What’s in Your Food, is due in bookstores on October 1, 2011.

Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks are the co-hosts of Surviving the 21st Century with Simon Barrett on Blogger News Network on Saturdays at 10:00 A.M. PST/1:00 PM EST found at http://www.bloggernews.net or Blog Talk Radio.

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