Dakota Resource Council
North Dakota isn’t exactly the center of the universe, so big-money anti-consumer campaigns don’t breed a lot of opposition there. Sometimes the media coverage mistakes them for actual grass roots activism. After all, the middle of nowhere is the last place you’d expect to see big-city dollars spent in a frantic effort to alter local food choices. So if there’s anywhere in the United States where things are what they seem, it’s North Dakota. Right?
Not so fast. The Dakota Resource Council (DRC) is writing new rules for prairie radicals. Many of the actors in this play are real live farmers and ranchers, but that doesn’t change the fact that the script is being written by the same moneyed interests and wealthy foundations that are behind America’s urban lunatic fringe. Whenever DRC tries to hold Great Plains farmers hostage to its vision of “sustainable” agriculture, you can bet that the plays are being called from the sidelines.
Take the commodity “checkoff” system, for instance. These government-chartered programs set aside a fraction of a food product’s selling price (e.g., $1 per head of cattle) in order to fund the world-wide promotion of the product. Advertising campaigns like “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” and “Pork: The Other White Meat” owe their existence to commodity checkoff programs. In addition, checkoffs fund research into less costly and safer methods of food production.
By pooling their pennies in this way, American farmers and ranchers have long been able to enhance their position in the global marketplace and make their products more affordable, while planning for the future at the same time. Who could be against this?
You guessed it. DRC refuses to play nice with its industry colleagues, largely because its membership is chock full of “alternative” farmers — like organic beef producers, and “non-GMO” wheat growers. They raise and market fringe products that cost more to produce and appeal to a tiny fraction of the public. So, of course, they cost more.
When beef, or pork, or flour, or even mushrooms get more affordable for average Americans, it widens the gap between the cost of these conventional commodities and the “specialty” products favored by DRC’s membership. So when a lawsuit was filed to halt the mushroom checkoff, the Dakota Resource Council immediately lent its name to the litigation. The group has also pushed (unsuccessfully, so far) for checkoff dollars to be “refundable” to producers whose “interests are not served” by these programs. Translation: they’d like very much to win a poker hand without anteing up.
The Dakota Resource Council has mastered the Conflict Industry’s ploy of dressing up anti-consumer positions in “spin” rhetoric. Consider this DRC position statement, which reflects the group’s current statement of purpose: “DRC opposes legislation that makes risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis the paramount consideration in public health and safety rules, opposes the elevation of peer review over public comment, opposes the administrative determination of the monetary value of human life, and opposes opening administrative channels for challenging existing rules.”
What does all this mean? DRC is ready to toss objective science out the window and replace it with politicized shouting matches. The group wants to get rid of scientific peer-review and replace it with “public comment” — a plan that would result in complex decisions being made by whichever activist faction sends in the most pre-paid post cards. It’s a neat sleight-of-hand for those with axes to grind. Lastly, DRC wants larger food producers’ hands tied when challenging outdated or anti-competitive government regulations — especially those which keep the food supply plentiful and prices low.
In 2001 a DRC affiliate called the Grand Forks County Citizens Coalition agitated for local zoning changes designed to shut out pork producers who want to build facilities in North Dakota. DRC and the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC, DRC’s parent entity) also lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency during the construction of rules that would affect the pork industry.
The Dakota Resource Council’s arguments to the EPA suggested that the production and waste-handling methods used by larger producers (those that raise DRC’s ire by making meat more affordable) should be closely scrutinized and more heavily regulated. At the same time, DRC insisted that smaller hog operations should all be exempt from the regulations, lest the government start “penalizing” the “alternative” methods used by DRC members. “Under these rules, even small cow-calf operators like me would have to get a federal permit,” complained Linda Rauser, now the DRC chairwoman. “We need to focus our regulatory efforts on big factory farms.” Translation: use the bureaucracy to screw your competitors while ensuring that the regulations contain holes just large enough for you to skate through. How nice.
DRC has also dipped its toe into the battle over genetically improved food products, since a few of its members grow “non-GMO” wheat and soybeans (again, the kind that costs more to produce and more to buy). The group had an active role in the promotion of “Raising Risk,” an alarmist report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). The goal of “Raising Risk” was to damage the credibility of the USDA’s genetically modified organism testing program, and this agenda fit in with DRC’s mission nicely. The PIRGs are Ralph Nader’s college-campus protest brigades that complain about everything from crop-saving fertilizers to health-enhancing chlorinated water.
The organization of State PIRGs also plays an integral role in the Genetically Engineered Food Alert campaign, a coalition whose latest target, Kraft, has the gall to make good use of science in order to improve food quality and safety. When GE Food Alert “actions” are announced, North Dakota media outlets learn about them from the Dakota Resource Council.
Along with a black eye, DRC’s curious and contortionist position on commodity checkoff programs has probably also led to a sore mouth — from speaking out of both sides. DRC’s Linda Rauser has been a chief spokesperson for various legal challenges to these checkoffs. She routinely calls the beef and mushroom checkoffs “unconstitutional.” Yet the group is willing to push for having checkoff dollars used to fight its battles.
Item Numero Uno on DRC’s list of “Where We Stand” on issues is the following: “DRC supports the use of state wheat checkoff dollars to file an anti-dumping complaint against imported Canadian durum and hard red spring wheat.” So DRC’s position on checkoffs is hypocritical at best: if we get to put in a minority of the money and make a majority of the decisions, we’re for it. Otherwise it’s simply got to go.
The Dakota Resource Council talks a good game about wanting to “protect” its member farmers from the “corrupting” influence of “big agribusiness,” but no one is forcing them to grow a crop that runs counter to their politics. Truth be told, these radicals seem more interested in hamstringing the competition than in establishing a level playing field.
Instead of raising the market value of their own “alternative” products through hard work and innovation, DRC’s leaders prefer to “compete” by throwing excessive regulation, red tape and litigation in their opponents’ way. By its own admission, DRC’s crown jewel accomplishment for the 2000 North Dakota state legislature was a failed bill that would have placed a two-year ban on the planting of genetically improved wheat anywhere in the state. Fortunately for consumers, the DRC-backed bill was defeated.
DRC is also a signatory to the “Farmer’s Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture,” a statement that relies heavily on the so-called Precautionary Principle for its so-called logic. Most of the Declaration’s other signers are foundation-funded, leftist organizations with small memberships and large megaphones. This Precautionary Principle, by the way, says that before we do anything, we must prove that it will present no level of harm to anyone, at any time, now or in the future (a task which is beyond the realm of true science). DRC and the other signatories to this treatise want to be the ones who get to define “harm.”
Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin recently described the Precautionary Principle in this way: “This is the idea that nothing should be used, sold, emitted or otherwise approved by the world’s governments until and unless it’s proven safe. If we had applied that cowering standard in the past, we wouldn’t have open-heart surgery, penicillin, skyscrapers or the combustion engine. Too much caution can be as dangerous as too little.” But the Precautionary Principle is a powerful weapon when you want your techno-savvy competition stopped in its tracks, which is precisely why DRC endorses it so heartily.