To win in 2020, Elizabeth Warren channels a message from ... 1896?

The Massachusetts Democrat quotes William Jennings Bryan in her campaign against big agribusiness

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has a new target: big agribusiness. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a new target in her campaign against big businesses: integrated agricultural conglomerates like Tyson Foods.

And in making the policy announcement, she’s channeling William Jennings Bryan.

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts announced Wednesday morning that she would seek to change the Justice Department’s antitrust enforcement to stop (and even reverse) large mergers in the agribusiness space, as well as change the way the department views vertically-integrated companies.

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“Tyson, for example, controls just about every aspect of bringing chicken to market — feed, slaughter, trucking — everything except owning the farms themselves. Chicken farmers have gotten locked into a ‘contract farming’ system in which they take on huge risks — loading up on debts to build and upgrade facilities — while remaining wholly dependent on Tyson for everything from receiving chicks to buying feed to selling the grown broilers,” she said in a post on Medium.

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Warren’s campaign made the announcement ahead of a presidential campaign swing through Iowa that starts on Friday, which includes a Saturday visit to the Heartland Forum in Storm Lake.

Warren also wrote she does not believe a consolidation between agribusiness and seed company Monsanto and chemicals multinational Bayer should have been approved. 

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The 2020 presidential candidate quoted from Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech to the Democratic National Convention of 1896 (where the then-Democratic nominee for president was promoting a move away from the gold standard toward bimetallism).

“Like Bryan, I will fight for farmers — ‘for this broader class of businessman.’ I want Washington to work for family farmers again, not just for the agribusiness executives pocketing multi-million dollar bonuses or the Wall Street traders sitting at their desks speculating on the price of commodities,” Warren wrote.

A statue of William Jennings Bryan is on display in Statuary Hall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A statue of William Jennings Bryan is on display in Statuary Hall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Family farmers are essential to Tyson Foods and their success is important to us,” Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said in response to Warren. “We’re an American company, and we’ve been working with poultry farmers on a contract basis since the late 1940s and it has been a relationship we believe works well for both the farmer and the company. As noted on our website, contract farming insulates the farmer from the risk of changing market prices for chicken and feed ingredients such as corn and soybean meal, which represents the majority of the cost of raising chicken. So, farmers’ compensation is not dependent on what the feed costs, or prices at the grocery store.”

Warren has been making what she calls trust-busting a key pillar of her run for the White House, having already visited Long Island City in New York to call for action to break up big technology companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet.

But Warren’s pitch to family farmers in Iowa goes beyond the broad antitrust question to some policy specifics that she hopes would allow farmers and independent repair shops to fix their own combine, tractor or other equipment.

“I strongly support a national right-to-repair law that empowers farmers to repair their equipment without going to an authorized agent,” Warren said. “The national right-to-repair law should require manufacturers of farm equipment to make diagnostic tools, manuals, and other repair-related resources available to any individual or business, not just their own dealerships and authorized agents.”

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