Regardless of what this week’s "March on Washington" by the "Band of Bakers" accomplishes, and there’s every reason to hope for success, the day of March 12, 2008, will mark a great and unforgettable moment in American baking history. That six industry organizations have been sparked by the initiative of the American Bakers Association to join in this unprecedented effort should not only quickly persuade Washington of the nightmarish situation baking faces, but might turn out to be striking enough to convince the Bush administration of the need for actions that so far have been resisted. By making Washington aware of the terrible consequences of the tipping of the supply-demand balance in wheat toward unimaginably high prices and the threat of actual scarcity, the March of bakers may produce steps to relieve the current situation and to prevent recurrence any time soon.
For anyone familiar with the rivalries that have existed between various industry organizations, the makeup of the March participants is itself remarkable. The A.B.A. is credited with launching the idea in response to its members’ bitter complaints about the disastrous consequences of soaring wheat and ingredient prices. Joining are the Independent Bakers Association, which is noted for its independence about Washington affairs, the Snack Foods Association, the National Pasta Association and the Retail Bakers of America, along with BEMA, as the main allied group.
In choosing the name, Band of Bakers, the instigators behind the March 12 March could not have made a better choice. In this context, "band," as stated in the Oxford English Dictionary, is, "A uniting or cementing force or influence by which a union of any kind is maintained." Like other marches on Washington that have addressed everything from veterans’ needs to peace, from women’s suffrage to desegregation, this March by the Band of Bakers reflects passionate dismay with the government’s failure to do anything that would offer relief. Baking, the industry that is the major user of American wheat, feels disregarded if not neglected. Millions of consumers who rely on wheat foods as essential and health-giving have been forgotten.
Because of the unbelievable volatility of wheat markets in recent weeks and months, there is the prospect, albeit remote, that the March could be sufficient to reverse the market’s course. Just like financial markets that respond swiftly in interpreting every word of the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, who knows how wheat prices that swung recently more in a single day than in most past years or longer will react to news coverage of this bakers’ protest? Similarly, while it may be unrealistic to expect Washington to react immediately to the calls of the baker-marchers for releasing good wheat land tied up in the Conservation Reserve Program, to revise incentives to grain use in making ethanol, to look at foreign food relief or to address speculative trading in futures, making the case for these approaches might well signal that the government has taken note of what is occurring and will carefully examine the alternatives presented.
In this highly charged political year, with its presidential election, a March on Washington, even when participant numbers pale in comparison to something like the Million-Man March of 1995, has a good chance of winning the attention of one of the major candidates. Soaring wheat prices are at the core of rising food costs. The calamitous impact this is having on the teetering national economy and on the well-being of millions of people is a huge issue. Surprisingly, wheat’s role has drawn almost no attention in the debates that have colored primary campaigns. If the March on Washington by the Band of Bakers does nothing more than elevate this matter to a central position in the looming debate about how best to improve the national economy, it has the likelihood of doing more to ease the current wheat market dilemma than almost anything that has been suggested as a remedy by government.