April 17 Protest in Brussels

April 17 is marked as the International Day of Peasant and Farmer Struggle.

In honor of 19 landless peasant farmers massacred in Brazil in 1996 we celebrate resistance, solidarity and this year mobilize against Transnational Corporations and Free Trade Agreements.

I was asked to participate and represent the National Family Farm Coalition in protests in Brussels Belgium with Via Campesina Europe and other Civil Society groups. I had never thought much about “civil society” and what it actually meant. Simply stated it is the third sector of society, that part of society that is separate from government and the market, the part of society that most of us belong to, that part of society that longs for social justice.

And it makes sense, those of us who are not part of government, not part of Wall Street or the corporate elite, should be protesting what they do in our name. Increasingly, it seems, what they do does not benefit society in general but rather those who already have too much power, too much money and see no problem with the ever widening income gap.

The “Lobby Tour”, a combination educational event and protest march, was a walk through the European Quarter (home of the European Commission, the political center of the European Union) in Brussels. The aim was to highlight the impact of trade agreements on small farms and the massive influence of corporate lobbying on the EU Parliament and the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG Agriculture).

There are nearly 500 corporate lobbying offices in the European Quarter, (perhaps second only to Washington DC) and we stopped at several whose aim is to push more chemicals, GMO’s and industrialized agriculture on the EU.

To do this they need free trade agreements.
TTIP: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – trade agreement between the EU and the United States.
CETA: The comprehensive economic trade agreement – trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

While TPP, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement – a regional treaty on regulation and investment between the US and 11 other countries bordering on the Pacific Ocean has been the focus of protest in the US, we cannot discount the negative effects TTIP will have on both the US and EU.

Hanny van Geel activist with Via Campesina EU noted that “The TTIP will destroy many farms in Europe and the United States. Food production will fully industrialized and migrant workers will be reduced to slavery. Rural employment and peasant agriculture disappear. The quality of food, local, healthy, real and good will not be available. The environment will be a victim of chemicals, GMOs, degradation of its soils and the loss of its biodiversity. DG Agri should stop the negotiations and help develop our precious and peasant food systems. We need fair markets, no free trade. The populations should benefit, not the multinationals. ”

Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory, a member of D19-20, said “The TTIP is a dream tool for in agribusiness lobby groups who want to undermine food safety regulations and negate the efforts of communities and farmers in Europe and elsewhere to obtain a sustainable and socially just food system. However, these lobby groups do not want to be in the spotlight, then this is exactly what we will do in our lobby tour “.

We occupied the offices of DG Agriculture and requested to meet with one of the EU Trade Negotiators to present our demands . John Clarke one of the lead negotiators for the EU accepted our statement and demands, but abruptly walked out after telling me our trade negotiators were telling us “bald faced lies”.

Here is one European press version of my discussion with him.

According to an American farmer of Wisconsin at the meeting, the European negotiators have assured [the EU] that [chlorine dipped] chickens and US [hormone treated] beef would not be allowed on European soil, while US negotiators promise that this will be the case. “It means that someone is lying,” he says.

The TTIP only benefits large agricultural companies in the United States, those with the most money and have allies in Washington, according to the farmer.

Solidarity, we are not alone in the fight against free trade.