Veteran Farm News Cartoonist Fired for Speaking the Truth

Freedom of Information Act

Story at-a-glance -

  • A veteran political cartoonist was fired after highlighting how much Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere’s CEOs earn in relation to the 2,000+ farmers in Iowa
  • The cartoon caused one “seed dealer” advertiser to pull back their funding, prompting the cartoonist’s firing
  • Major agricultural commodity groups, including beef, egg and milk producers, are pressing the government to make them exempt from FOIA requests

By Dr. Mercola

Rick Friday is a veteran political cartoonist for Farm News, an Iowa newspaper. That is, he was their political cartoonist up until earlier this month. After drawing more than 1,000 cartoons over his 21-year career, he was fired from the newspaper after one of its advertisers complained.

It's true that money talks, and this is a clear example of who's really in control of the press. The career-ending cartoon pictured two farmers talking. One said, "I wish there was profit in farming."

The other responded, "There is, in year 2015 the CEOs of Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere combined made more money than 2,129 Iowa farmers."

As for who complained, it was reportedly "a large company affiliated with one of the corporations mentioned in the cartoon," according to a Facebook response written by Friday. The company canceled their advertisement with the paper after the cartoon was published, leading to Friday's termination.

Monsanto claimed it had no role in Friday's firing, but a reported email sent by his supervisor said it was a "seed dealer" that canceled their advertising.1

Friday's cartoon was accurate, by the way, but it doesn't matter. When you receive advertising money from Monsanto, DuPont and other bigwigs, you have to censor what you say so they — and their products — are painted in only a positive light. In rebuttal, Friday wrote:

"I did my research and only submitted the facts in my cartoon. That's okay, hopefully my children and my grandchildren will see that this last cartoon published by Farm News out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, will shine light on how fragile our rights to free speech and free press really are in the country."

Big Agriculture Pushes for Exemption From FOIA Requests

The major corporate players in agriculture easily hold enough clout to sideline a political cartoonist and that's not all. They hold incredible power in influencing federal, state and local legislation as well.

They also have blatant double standards, wanting to censor speech and expressions that might paint them in a poor light, while at the same time wanting to keep their own communications private.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives anyone the right to access information from the federal government. According to, "it is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government."2

FOIA requests allow the media, non-government organizations and private citizens to obtain information in the possession of government entities that would otherwise remain private. It can be used, and has been in the past, to disclose inappropriate relations between scientists and corporations, for example.

Some of the largest food producers in the U.S. are now trying to opt out of FOIA requests.

Major agricultural commodity groups, including beef, egg and milk producers, have petitioned Congress to include language in the pending 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill that would exempt their promotional groups from FOIA requests.

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Agricultural Commodity Groups Want to Keep Their Communications Private

The promotional and research groups pushing for the FOIA exemption are behind the widely known slogans "Got Milk?" and "Beef — It's What's for Dinner." They include the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and others.

They're overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) but are referred to as "checkoff programs" because they're funded by fees automatically charged to producers. NPR explained:3

"These programs have long been controversial because they use government authority to collect money for private commercial goals, such as advertising campaigns and research on the nutritional quality of particular foods.

Farmers themselves vote to set up such programs, but Congress then establishes them and at that point, every farmer is required, by law, to contribute to them."

In a letter obtained by Fortune, 14 commodity groups wrote a letter to the heads of the House's subcommittee arguing that since the research and promotion boards are not agencies of the federal government nor funded by federal funds, they should be exempt from FOIA requests.4

American Egg Board Tried to Squash Vegan Mayo Producers

The impetus for the proposed FOIA exemption occurred in 2015, when an FOIA request revealed the American Egg Board had waged a war against one of its competitors — a vegan start-up company (Hampton Creek) selling egg-free mayonnaise.

Emails obtained under an FOIA request revealed the American Egg Board went so far as to try to get the mayo out of health food store Whole Foods. The scandal led the CEO of the American Egg Board to retire early and the USDA to launch an investigation (which is still ongoing) into the group's practices.

Instead of cleaning up their acts, the commodity groups have now banded together to stop any further FOIA requests, lest any unsavory practices be uncovered once again. But, as food policy specialist Parke Wilde, Ph.D. told NPR, the groups "very much want to have it both ways." NPR reported:5

"In 2005, Wilde points out, industry groups argued before the Supreme Court that the checkoff programs were, in fact, 'government speech.' At that time, the groups were facing a challenge from farmers who didn't want to pay for those programs.

If the programs were part of the government, though, the farmers could be forced to pay up, just as they are forced to pay taxes. The Supreme Court agreed. Now that they wish to escape from the FOIA, however, the checkoff programs are emphasizing their private nature.

In early April, a dozen agricultural industry groups — but not the checkoff programs themselves, because they aren't allowed to lobby Congress — asked Congress to declare the checkoff programs exempt from the FOIA because they 'are funded solely with producer dollars, and therefore are not agencies of the federal government.'

The House Appropriations Committee has now adopted that view."

Rancher Sued USDA Over Beef Checkoff Program's Favoritism to Large Producers

Checkoff programs have long faced criticism for serving the interests of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) over small producers and have even been sued as a result. Rancher Mike Callicrate filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Kansas City in 2012 against the USDA, the Cattlemens' Beef Board (CBB) and others.

The suit alleged that money cattle ranchers are forced to pay to improve beef marketing in the U.S. is used to lobby for policies that are harmful to small family farmers.

For every head of cattle brought to market, the seller must pay a set amount to the Beef Industry Council, which is then sent to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

Although the suit was later dropped, Callicrate has continued to speak out against beef checkoff program practices, including mismanagement of funds by NCBA. He reported:6

"The current structure and administration of the Checkoff Program fosters severe conflicts of interest.

NCBA uses the millions in Checkoff dollars to promote the interests of packers and retailers, and their views concerning industry structure, rather than promoting beef and the interests of beef cattle producers.

Significant funds are expended on ads in producer publications that promote the Checkoff Program rather than beef, leading many busy cattle producers into believing the program is working.

The NCBA vision of vertical integration, patterned after the poultry and pork industries, is in stark conflict with the vast majority of independent, Checkoff-paying cattle producers.

NCBA enjoys total control of the Checkoff Program due to the representational structure of the Checkoff Program. NCBA, with membership representing less than four percent of the nation's 750,000 beef cattle producers, has a lock on the governance of the Checkoff Program and its many millions of producer dollars.

… In what has become known as a 'pay-to-play' scheme … State Beef Councils that can afford to, and pay the most, are rewarded with a disproportionate number of voting seats, and thus control the Federation. Not surprisingly, of the 85 voting directors on the Federation, approximately 82 are reported to be NCBA members."

Virtually All Agricultural Programs Subsidize CAFOs

John Ikerd,  Ph.D. is an industrial agriculture insider, making him a rare voice to speak out against the conventional model. He worked as an extension livestock marketing specialist and an agricultural economist, spending the first 15 years of his academic career promoting industrial agriculture, which includes large-scale CAFOs.

He explains that virtually every program that has come out of the USDA during his career has in one way or another subsidized specialized, standardized, and consolidated production. Consumers ultimately pay the cost of the risks inherent with these types of operations. We also pay for subsidized credit that allows farmers to expand their operations.

Today, we have a higher percentage of people who are food insecure or go hungry in the U.S. than we had in the 1960s, before widespread industrialization started. About 15 percent of Americans are now classified as being food insecure. More than 20 percent of American children live in food insecure homes.

So while the industrialization of agriculture lowered production costs, and to some extent made certain foods (read processed foods) less expensive, the system has completely failed to secure food for all.

With respect to what could be done to improve CAFOs (either that, or speed up their conversion to more sustainable operations), Ikerd suggests treating them as if they were any other factory industry. They're not like traditional agriculture, they're not diversified like a family farm, so why are they being treated like one?

CAFOs — and other agrigiants like Monsanto — need to be held accountable for the pollution they create, the public health problems they bring, and they need to have regulations in place to address the fair treatment of workers and animals — just like any other factory enterprise.

Moreover, if their subsidized risk protections were removed, they would no longer be able to compete with diversified, independent family farms. All of this would likely prompt CAFOs to be broken up into smaller, more diversified pieces, which is the solution to healthier food, people and planet.

Sustainable agriculture is the answer to these and many other related problems. While it may not be the easiest solution, implementation wise, it's the best and most logical solution in the long term. Sustainable agriculture balances the need to produce food to be economically viable and efficient with a need to take care of the land and support rural communities and society as a whole.

To Learn Who Rules Over You, Find Out Who You're Not Allowed to Criticize

The food industry is only one powerhouse that engages in a variety of schemes to control what information is widely disseminated — and what is not. The medical field is another. The film "Vaxxed," which asks the question of whether autism could be related to vaccines, was originally scheduled to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival but was pulled from the lineup on March 26, 2016 — allegedly due to threats from other filmmakers to cancel their participation.

The Tribeca Film Festival was started by Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro and producer Jane Rosenthal in 2001. While De Niro felt pressured to pull the film, he makes it clear it's a film people need to see, noting there are many issues relating to the way the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluates and monitors the safety of vaccines that are not being spoken about openly — and they should.

De Niro has an 18-year-old son who is autistic, and he admits he has concerns about vaccines and autism. "There is a link," he says, and draws a parallel between people who have severe, even fatal, reactions to penicillin. De Niro points out that the same might be true for some people who react to vaccines.

Still, to protect the vaccine program and the fantastic profits generated from it, any and all "cracks in the wall" must be sealed, and the primary way this is done is by way of censoring, ridicule, and character assassination. They want mandatory vaccines from cradle to grave, and in order to implement that all dissenters must be destroyed.

In the case of De Niro, they may have met their match, as he's not one to be intimidated and dismissed so easily — although a number of industry "bobble heads" have already tried to make it seem as though he's just another confused parent of an autistic child looking for a scapegoat. They are wrong, of course, and efforts to paint De Niro as a fool just might backfire in the most spectacular way.

The decision to pull "Vaxxed" has created so much blowback and publicity that whoever was pushing for its removal may have cause to regret it, because it has given the film a much higher public profile than if it had simply been screened as scheduled. Likewise, in the case of Rick Friday and his poignant cartoon that cost him his job, it's now getting far more exposure than it ever would have had it stayed in Iowa's Farm News. So it seems Friday got the last word after all.