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Synthesis/Regeneration 19   (Spring 1999)


Eating with Conscience

by Howard Lyman, Humane Society of the US


I am a fourth generation cattle rancher and feed lot operator. Now I travel about the country for about 12 months out of the year and I talk to people about eating with conscience.

Eating with conscience today begins with the question who produced my food; what did they use on it; and what will it do to me and the environment. It is something that people should ask themselves every time they pick up a fork, because this fork is the most dangerous weapon in the arsenal of homo sapiens. We are digging more graves with our forks than any other tool. Now when I go around talking to people I tell them that the future is not going to be decided by corporations; it's not going to be decided by Congress, it is going to be decided by consumers. Every time you take out your wallet, every time you spend a dollar, you're voting on the future.

Who is going to produce your food? Right now, as we sit here, we probably have the greatest rush in the history of the world. As the corporations look at the control of food, the one thing that you can not do without, the one thing that they can raise the price on and you have to pay them, is food.

You know DeBeers went out and ended up with control of the diamond industry. Is there anyone in this room who cannot survive without a diamond? You know that it is a wonderful thing to have a monopoly, but it is a greater thing to have a monopoly on something that is absolutely necessary. The corporations have looked at this and they decided that the future is going to be with their control.

At one time I had 7,000 head of cattle, 12,000 acres of crops, and 30 employees. I never forgot the time I wrote a check for a million dollars and it didn't bounce, and I thought that I was farmer of the year. But when I went to Washington DC and worked on Capitol Hill I really learned the importance of something called the golden rule: "Thems that got the gold makes the rules."

After five years of working on Capitol Hill, I said to my friends, "This game is rigged; the deck is closed; we will never win here."

My friends, they all looked at me and laughed. They said, "What are you going to do, go talk to the people?"

And I said, "You know, there is only one word that strikes fear in the heart of the elected politicians and that one word is 'unemployment,' and where does it come from, it comes from the people."


... Every other farmer is going to be out of business, in less than two years.

How many of you realize that in 1945, there were 2,500,000 family farmers in the United States of America and today there are less than 200,000 family farmers in America, and they believe that by the year 2000, there will be less than 100,000? Just think about it. Drive down a road in rural America-every other farmer is going to be out of business, in less than two years. If we get out the statistics from the USDA, they will say, "Nothing to worry about; there are 2.1 million American farmers." Doctors, lawyers, accountants, who live in rural America and have a racehorse or a 4H cow; they are counting them as family farmers. It is the people out there who are raising the food, the ones who were the absolute cornerstone of this so-called democracy in this country; we are losing them at a phenomenal rate.

Are we going to save them by going to government and passing laws? No. We are going to save them when we end up with the people who have a common purpose, that come together and look at it and say, "Wait a minute," and they take a look at who's producing my food.

How many of you really realize that there are 15,000 more farmers' markets today in the United States than there were a year ago? The organic industry is growing 20 to 25% a year, and it has for the last six years. The United States Government tried to bastardize the organic standards. I want to tell you a story. I was in Washington DC and worked on Capitol Hill when the National Organic Standards were passed. Every year it had come up for a vote. There are 35 opportunities to kill a bill. You have to win 35 battles in passing a law. Every year we would get through 20, 25 or 30 and then the other side would step out and go and we would lose the National Organic Standards.

In 1990 we have 33 victories. We need two more victories, one in the House of Representatives, and one for the President to sign. The President, George Bush, is adamantly opposed to the National Organic Standards. But you don't fight the battle that is down the road; you fight the one that is in front of you.

We are so close we can feel it. So we sat there and said, "How can we win this in the House?"

Someone said, "Why don't we go to our friends in organized labor?"

So we went and met with people and they said, "Sure, we will support you. It is in the best interest of our members. What do you want us to do, do you want us to write letters, want us to lobby on the hill?"

We said, "No don't do that. All we want you to do is stand in the door on the day of the vote, and tell the members of Congress to vote for the bill when it comes up."


The United States government tried to bastardize the organic standards

Now labor puts a lot of time and effort and money into electing people for Congress. People in Congress love to take the labor's money, but they really do not like to do what labor wants because they believe it hurts them at home. Can you imagine, here is a bill, nobody is lobbying against it, there is no pressure, and all we're asking is the members to do is stand in the door and give it a thumbs up. They do. All are standing there and they are looking to the Members of Congress to vote for it. They look at it and say "Boy, what a freebie. I can vote for this, and nobody at home is going to be mad at me. Labor will be happy and the next time they come and ask me to do something, I can say the last time you asked, I did what you wanted. You know one out of two is not bad." They walked in thumbs up, and guess what, the National Organic Standards bill passes. The USDA goes nuts. The Administration goes nuts. This is not what our corporate friends wanted. They thought they had a lock on it and they could get rid of it again. Now it is up to the President. He is going to have to veto this bill.

Do you remember a man by the name of Jim Wright? We went and saw Jim and we said this is good for family farmers, this is good for our American people. Would you just include this in something that President Bush would have to sign? Jim Wright says, "I can do that." He sticks it on an appropriation bill and the White House is down there pulling out their hair. They have to sign it. But it is not over. It is not over because USDA, a multi-million dollar organization, could not find $85,000 to bring together the group to come up with the National Organic Standards.

It wasn't until Bill Clinton came in that they started working on it. It wasn't until 1997; seven years after the bill was passed, that they actually went and got it in front of the American people. But guess what happened. The bad guys never went to the meetings, they never testified. But they took their corporate money; they spread it around so when the government agencies went and took a look at this, they bastardized this document. Then they sent it out. "Boy, it took a long time to get it out there, but we are going to get it in front of the American people, so lets do it around the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, so we can have rather a short response time. We will probably get about 3,000 responses out there. We will have all our corporate friends write on it; so we will get 1,500 responses saying that it is no good, but have around 1500 responses saying that it is just fine. It was equally balanced so we think that it is OK and it will become law."

And guess what happened. They had one person sitting behind a desk expecting 3,000 letters, and here comes a trainload. 285,000 people out there had organized and sent material; the USDA is inundated, and you know what, 99% said, "Not only is it bad, it is crap."

But you know what it shows. We can organize. How do we do this tonight? Do we go out and send out a bunch of letters licking stamps and doing all the things that we did back in the 60's? Somebody on the other side said they are wasting their money at the Post Office. And we lose again. Go home from here and understand that this is not about winning battles, this is about winning wars. And that's what we want to win.

How do we do it? Someone said yesterday, "If you hold a meeting and everyone agrees, then there is only one person thinking. You don't have a big enough coalition." I'll tell you what; when you have a meeting; look out into the crowd; I tell you; there had better be black, there had better be white, there had better be yellow, there ought to be male, there ought be female, there should be tall and short; you ought have some people that are as mad has hell, and you need some people that are smiling; when you do that; then you have the coalition. You want people that have money and some that don't have money. You want people that look at it say, "Burn the damn place down," and you want others that say that you better get together and talk to them. You put all of that together and you put it in there and you stir it up, and that's what a coalition is all about. And then you start working smart. Because we are not in this to win a battle, we're in this to win a war. We are in this to win a future for our children.

I want to tell you right now some things that you need to understand. Number one. How can you tell when a politician is lying to you? His lips are moving. You remember when they asked Ralph Nadar "What do you think about a third party?" He said, "Hell, I'd settle for two parties." We have one party with two designations. Wake up. Until we can enforce unemployment, they don't care about us. Can we do that? You're damn right we can do that.

We have to start working in the twentieth century. We have to start working electronically. We have to give up licking stamps and sending them out there. We want to use e-mail. We want to use faxes. We want to whip the polls. And what we want to do? We want to go out there, and raise enough hell so that they will understand that they can't do this to us. And you know what, about 95% of the people out there happen to believe in the freedom-and it doesn't make any difference where they come from because the issues we are going to win on is clean air, clean water, clean food.

I went on the Oprah Winfrey show and stood up in front of 20 million American people and I said to them, "We shouldn't be grinding up cows and feeding them to cows. Every major health organization in the world agrees."

Oprah said, "That stops me cold. I'll never eat another burger." We get sued for millions of dollars. They take us into the worst venue in the world Amarillo, Texas. 25% of all the cattle fed in America comes from Amarillo. A hundred and twenty feed lots averaging 55,000 head of cattle each. Amarillo Texas. The largest slaughter facility down there employing a thousand people, the largest employer in Amarillo, Texas. It is not the end of the world, but it is clearly visible from there. If you were going to give the world an enema, you'd get the hose and go to Amarillo.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce put out a memo and said "We will not roll out the red carpet for Oprah Winfrey and we totally support the cattlemen." They had bumper stickers that said that the only bad cow in Texas is named Oprah. But you know what? We went there and we won.

How did we win? We won; not because of the facts, not because of the science, we went and defended the case on the right of free speech. Can you imagine the cattleman in an interview who said the right of free speech is not etched in granite? I sure hope it is, because if we don't have it, we can't come together and we can't live. You do not see deacons suing the cattle industry, you see the cattle barons suing the deacons. We are winning. Let's come together, lets work together, lets change the world, let's win the war.


This is an abridged version of Howard Lyman's July 18, 1998 talk at the First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering.


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