“Food” Monopolies Lobbying to Crush Protections for Small Farmers

… The GIPSA rules—let’s call them “fair farm rules” for short—were proposed back in 2010 and designed to address the growing power of just a few corporations in the increasingly consolidated meat industry. Nationally, the top four companies in each industry slaughter four out of every five beef cattle, two out of three hogs and three out of five chickens. At the local or regional level, one company often controls an even larger percentage of the market.

Tim Gibbons, of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, says that consolidation has meant “the meatpackers report huge profits, while farmers’ share of the retail dollar has gone down dramatically—and consumers still see food prices rising at the grocery store.” In Missouri, Gibbons adds, thousands of independent small and mid-size family hog farmers have gone out of business because they don’t have access to a fair market. “Because of massive corporate control of the market, we’ve lost 91 percent of hog producers in Missouri since 1985. That’s over 20,000 farmers and many, many jobs in our rural communities.”

It’s not much better on the consumer side.

As the Washington Post points out, “Americans have never had so few options in deciding what company makes their meat.” Even as a growing number of local and niche markets make it easier for some consumers to trace the source of their meat, the trend in the rest of the marketplace is towards rampant consolidation. Just this week, Tyson Foods, the second largest meat producer in the world, sealed a bid to take over processed food giant Hillshire Farms, seller of Jimmy Dean and Sara Lee. When just a few companies control most of the market—and can use their power to keep out or buy up competitors—consumer choice is something of an illusion, and questions about food safety, antibiotics or other additives, animal welfare, and even taste can be tough to answer. …

Some lawmakers tried to save the rules, such as Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who offered an amendment to strike the anti-GIPSA language. She took meatpackers and poultry companies to task for making “an end run” around USDA’s efforts to implement the “pro-farmer, pro-consumer, pro-competition” rules.

Kaptur’s amendment failed, with the committee voting, in effect, to strike down the fair farm rules.

The Ag Appropriations bill is expected to be debated in the full House starting this week, at which point more amendments may be offered to preserve the rules. The Senate version of the Farm Bill, however, says nothing about the rules, and so unless the Senate overtly rejects the language in the House version, basic farmer protections will be eliminated—including, ironically, the right of independent livestock farmers to speak out about abuse to Congress or the USDA without fear of retaliation.

In rural America, according to Tim Gibbons, “Fair farm rules are a bipartisan issue–a non-partisan issue, really. Most people out here are calling for fair markets.” In Washington, it seems, the bipartisan support primarily leans towards the meat industry. With their lobbying muscle and the cover of “boring” political processes, the meatpackers and poultry companies are angling to do what many farmers and consumers would consider “evil”—continuing to strip small and mid-sized meat and poultry farms of their rights to a level playing field in today’s marketplace.


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