Sanders Pitches to Iowa, Wants Halt to Agriculture Mega-Mergers

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Bernie Sanders, a top-tier candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, proposed a broad overhaul of policies affecting small-town family farmers and the agriculture industry that would include a moratorium on new agribusiness mergers.

Speaking to supporters in tiny Osage, Iowa -- a farming community with about 4,000 residents -- Sanders also promised to steer more farm subsidies away from bigger companies and to strengthen antitrust laws governing the industry.

Sanders Pitches to Iowa, Wants Halt to Agriculture Mega-Mergers

“In rural America, we are seeing giant agribusiness conglomerates extract as much wealth out of small communities as they possibly can, while family farmers are going bankrupt and in many ways are being treated like modern-day indentured servants,” Sanders said at an event that is part of a days-long sweep through the state.

Sanders is looking to position himself in Iowa, which will hold the first 2020 nominating contest. It’s a state he narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential race. It also comes as he’s aggressively taking on former Vice President Joe Biden, who joined the 2020 Democratic contest days ago and leads in most polls of the field of candidates that has now reached more than 20 contenders.

Echoes of T.R.

In making his announcement, Sanders noted the importance of agriculture to the Hawkeye State’s economy, where about a third of economic activity is tied to farm production. Iowa is the largest U.S. corn and hog producer.

Sanders’ proposal was short on detail, but he said he wants to return to the trust-busting policies that existed under former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt.

“If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, you know what he would say to these behemoth agribusiness companies: He would say, break them up. And, working together, that is exactly what we are going to do,” the Sanders plan said.

The candidate specifically took on Bayer AG’s 2018 purchase of Monsanto Co. for $63 billion, saying the two now control nearly 80 percent of the corn seed market.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also has singled out the Bayer-Monsanto merger when she vowed in late March to break up the big agribusiness “stranglehold” over farmers. She promised an antitrust challenge to reverse the deal.

Sanders on Sunday said he wants to provide stronger protections for smaller farmers that do business with giant meat-packing companies. The plan posted on his website cited figures from the environmental group Food & Water Watch that showed consolidation in the pork-packing industry had contributed to an 82 percent decline in the number of Iowa hog farms from 1982 to 2007.

He also said he wants to strengthen rules under the Clean Water Act, and also to begin applying the Clean Air Act to what he calls “factory farms,” industrial-scale operations that raise vast amounts of animals for slaughter.

Sanders said he also wants to treat issues affecting the food supply as a national security issue.

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