April 23, 2007
This Time, Clinton Really Did Do It

George Herbert Walker Bush may have begun the process, but William Jefferson Clinton is the man most responsible for saddling both the United States and its neighbors with the human and economic catastrophe called NAFTA.

This is from “You Are What You Eat,” an article in the New York Times magazine by Michael Pollan, who puts his money where his mouth is. I know, because when he lived in Cornwall he bought his raw, unpasteurized milk from the same organic dairy I do, Debra Tyler’s Local Farms.

To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States.

The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at April 23, 2007 01:06 PM
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I first learned about these effects in 1998 or 1999, when I was working on a nursing book whose lead author, a Californian, stressed the importance of having a Nahuatl interpreter readily available in hospitals.

But you can keep your raw milk!

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 24, 2007 2:08 AM

Isn't there a contradiction here? Wheat and corn and other high caloric food prices are low because of Nafta, but Mexican tortillas are high priced because the price of corn is up.

What's keeping the Mexicans from growing corn at their old prices and selling it locally for tortilla production? I presume oil isn't a significant factor in the cost of production there.

Posted by: The Old Guard on April 24, 2007 6:58 AM

Isn't there a contradiction here? Wheat and corn and other high caloric food prices are low because of Nafta, but Mexican tortillas are high priced because the price of corn is up.

I don't see a contradiction. Artificially high prices are bad because they hurt consumers, and artificially low prices are bad because they hurt producers.

What's keeping the Mexicans from growing corn at their old prices and selling it locally for tortilla production? I presume oil isn't a significant factor in the cost of production there.

Market forces, presumably. If you were a Mexican corn grower, would you sell your corn at a low price to benefit Mexican consumers, or would you sell it at as high a price as you can get? Maybe you'd be charitable and sell at least some of it at a low price, but you can't reasonably expect most growers to do that.

Posted by: KeiTh Thompson on April 24, 2007 7:28 PM

OG, the Mexican corn grower you're addressing your question to is now living with nine other former corn growers in an efficiency apartment in Atlanta.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 24, 2007 11:42 PM
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