Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen gave a green light to nonresident alien and foreign corporate ownership of Wisconsin agricultural properties in a formal opinion dated December 19, 2014.
Van Hollen was responding to requests from Wisconsin legislators seeking a formal opinion concerning how a 127-year-old Wisconsin Statute [Stat. § 710.02] limiting foreign ownership of Wisconsin land affects the federal 1995 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) treaty.
"Foreign companies and individuals are exempt from a state law barring them from owning more than 640 acres in Wisconsin, but they cannot use the land for agricultural or forestry purposes, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Friday," reports Rob Schultz in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Less than 640 acres is fine, though Van Hollen underplayed this fact in his opinion issued the Friday before Christmas Day.
The legal clarification is significant in light of the Chinese acquisition of some one-fourth of the American pork industry last year and the proposed Swine CAFO [Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operation] in Bayfield County composed of 560 acres in the Township of Eileen near Ashland County, in the center of pristine region that is a Wisconsin tourism attraction some 10 miles from Lake Superior.
Any CAFO composed of less than 640 acres in Wisconsin now is armed with a green light to sell to foreign corporations.
Foreign ownership of Wisconsin land increased more 91 percent in 2011 after doubling between 2006 and 2010, roughly tracking the enactment and implementation of administrative rules of the Wisconsin Livestock Facility Siting statute signed into law by Gov. Doyle in 2006.
The Siting statute has enabled the acceleration of industrial agriculture, CAFOs, in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans unsuccessfully tried to change the 127-year-old Wisconsin state law on foreign ownership through a provision in his 2013-15 budget in 2013. (Schultz, Wisconsin State Journal)
Said Gordon Stevenson, Wisconsin DNR runoff management chief (2001-2011):
Consider the Parable of Smithfield Foods. In 1936, a family built a small hog slaughtering and packing plant in Smithfield, Virginia. Their products were very good, the plant grew and town of Smithfield came to be known as the Ham Capital of the World. During the 1980s, the company vertically integrated. In plain English, that means they not only owned the processing facilities, but they figured out that if they controlled the production of hogs as well as processing they could be more profitable. By the end of 1998, Smithfield owned not only multiple packaging plants but 460 large hog farms and had contracts with 2,100 other pork producers 12 states. Smithfield Foods had become the number one pork producer in the United States and was growing internationally. They continued to grow, aggregating the assets of American pork production into larger and fewer blocks. Next time you go shopping, checkout the pork products. You will see labels like Morrell, Farmland, Armour and others. Smithfield owns all of those companies and multiple others. On September 26, 2013, Smithfield Foods and all of its holdings were sold to another company for $7.1 billion. [Bittman, NYT] The name of the company is Shuanghui International Holdings Limited.[Shuanghui changed its name this year to the 'WH Group' (BusinessWeek)]
Yes, a company from the People’s Republic of China now owns 26 percent of all of the assets of the American pork industry. This is the largest single Chinese purchase to date of American assets. China has successfully established an offshore economic colony on American soil. Let’s leave Virginia and Beijing and return to Wisconsin. We have dairy CAFOs in Wisconsin that are in the process of aggregating the assets of Wisconsin’s dairy industry into larger and fewer blocks. Any of those blocks can be bought and sold. I don’t believe I need to spell out why I told you the Parable of Smithfield Foods.
So, for example the proposed Swine CAFO in Bayfield County composed of 560 acres in the Township of Eileen would be open for sale to China.
The Iowa-based Reicks View Family Farm LLC that purchased the 560 acres has made no public comments stating selling to China is their intention.
It is easy to contemplate how domestic CAFO owners can structure their business organization, through LLCs for example, so that one business entity, each CAFO, is composed of 639 acres or less.
Van Hollen and the GOP are playing everyone for suckers, and clean and safe water is the ultimate mark, though it is conceivable this is not Van Hollen's purpose in issuing his formal opinion.
Wisconsin State Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Milton) called the January 2014 request for the attorney general's opinion an "end around" play to alter the the 127-year-old law. (Schultz, Wisconsin State Journal)
Van Hollen's opinion does serve as a roadmap on how to make Wisconsin Dairy and Swine CAFOs available for foreign sale.
The future for America's Dairyland looks bleak as the Walker administration calls for more production and less regulation in its 30x20 initiative as water and land are being devastated with pathogens from liquid manure runoff.