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The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.

I first met Al Krebs at Willie Nelson's Farmer and Rancher Congress in St. Louis in 1986. He handed me a four-page flier announcing that The Corporate Reapers was to be published later that year. Six years expired before the monumental work was made available. In 1990, Prairie Fire Rural Action (550 11th St., Des Moines, Iowa 50309) published Heading Toward the Last Roundup: The Big Three's Prime Cut, an abridged version of Krebs' three chapters on the concentration of the meat-packing industry. That whetted my appetite to see his major work.

Krebs dedicated the work "to the stewards of the land, those men, women and children who plant, nurture and harvest nature's bounty of food." He writes as an advocate for farmers and consumers: "It is the very structure of our current food production and delivery system and the self-serving policies that it generates that cause starvation throughout the world and hunger in our own country."

The basic premise of the book is that "almost from its inception, American agriculture has been the victim of concerted efforts by various |communities of economic interests' to dispose of its |excess human resources' (farmers) as a sure way of concentrating the means of production into as few hands as possible."

Krebs focuses on the role of corporate agribusiness in designing policies that threaten to destroy our family farm system. He questions the meaning of economic and political democracy when that corporate power so often is able to impose its own will and narrow interests on our government - and on all of us.

Krebs explains in detail the concentrated economic power in the hands of a dwindling number of giant, multinational corporations, and the economic, social, political and environmental costs that farmers, workers and consumers are forced to pay to sustain such power.

Most readers will not be surprised to read of the shoddy manner in which governmental agencies dealt with African-American farmers. Krebs deals with that form of racism at some length. He gives but little attention, however, to the plight of the Hispanic field workers.

The book is lengthy, and the author is dead serious about his subject. His passion comes through as clearly as it has when I've conversed with him about the damage done by the "reapers." I can hear him fuming about the "footprints of the slick soles of corporate America as it treads across our farmlands."

Catchy titles of chapters and sections, however, indicate Krebs' sense of humor: "What Is That Glowing in the Kitchen?" (irradiated food); "The Enemy Within" (the Farm Bureau); "The Reign It's Plain Is Mainly in the Grain" (Cargill, Continental, etc.); "Heading Toward the Last Roundup" (IBP, Excel and ConAgra); and "Ifs, Ands and Butz" ("the Cornell man who undoubtedly would have the most profound effect on U.S. agriculture").

Populist writer Krebs challenges his readers, rural and urban: "As the United States confronts the economic and political morass of the 1990s ... the time has come to disengage ourselves from the endless fratricidal debates that have existed in the past among farmers, farm workers, labor, consumers and environmentalists. Rather, this period should be viewed as that one propitious |democratic moment' in our lifetimes that we begin to seriously put together a progressive populist movement."

Father Norm White has for 10 years been rural life director for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa.
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Author:White, Norm
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 19, 1993
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