Have you ever been in a room where cattlemen, a labor union, a progressive consumer group and urban farmers were all working together? Such an event took place in Ft. Collins on the evening of August 27th, 2010. Everyone was there because they are interested in non-corporate food. These unlikely allies are working together to stop the takeover of another segment of our economy by a few corporations. How long has this enlightened cooperation been going on?
Corporations have demonstrated their ineptitude by ruining the newspaper business and the economy, and now they are well on their way to destroying, degrading, and contaminating the food industry. A few corporations have already taken over the egg industry (500,000 bad eggs!), the chicken industry, and the hog industry, but the cattlemen are fighting mad and fighting back. They don’t plan on taking this lying down.
This situation did not come about overnight. In 1919, the Federal Trade Commission presented President Wilson with seven volumes of evidence related to noncompetitive practices in the meat packing industry. Two years later, Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act. That law was supposed to make the meat business more competitive, so everybody could make a living. As it turns out, it was not properly enforced, so now there are just four major corporations (one of which is based outside the United States) dominating the meat packing business. As a result, what used to be a competitive market is now a closed market. Meat prices used to be set by market conditions. Now the corporations offer the cattlemen a contract, and they can take it or leave it. The ranchers are making a lot less money because the corporate packers are getting it all, and the consumer is paying more and more at the corporate-owned supermarket. In addition, the banking system is working to concentrate the control of money and credit, in order to solidify corporate power.
Now, cattlemen are working with meat-packing union members, who are also taking it on the chin. Corporate owners are doing their best to hold down wages and increase production. Safety is secondary to getting the job done, and the facility environment is one of blood, stench, heat and hurry. One example: In 2003, Luis Madrigal had his arm severed in a Tyson packing plant in Pasco, Washington. For some reason, the arm protectors had been removed from the machine he was operating. The rate of injury and illness at that Tyson facility is more than two and a half times the national average for meat packing plants.
The day after the unlikely gathering of ranchers and union workers, the Department of Agriculture and the Justice Department held an event. Cabinet members Vilsack, of the US department of Agriculture, and Attorney General Eric Holder were there to orate and, hopefully, to listen to some sense. Two thousand people showed up to speak and reinforce comments.
Probably the most visionary comment was made by Vaughn Meyer, a rancher from Reva, South Dakota. He said, in part, “An overwhelming amount of facts and figures have been presented here today. However, I would like to [refer] briefly to that which will not be said here today. That which is as bone chilling and sobering as an Arctic Northerly in mid-December. The silence here today that is representative of the 370,000 producers who, through the past 16 years, have lost their hopes and dreams in production agriculture. The silence of over half a million family members whose last view of their livelihood was in their rear view mirrors. A silence that is relative to the loss of 215,000 rural Main Street businesses throughout the past decade. I witness this silence, only broken by the wind, as I pass daily through my home town of Sorum, SD, now zip code zero.”
How much more corporate control of the economy can we stand? The Obama Administration deserves credit for organizing this series of five events nationwide, but will they actually do something to help the family farm flourish? As agriculture goes, so go the rest of us. We all eat. Corporate food is not wholesome food.
Thanks to www.foodandwaterwatch.org for the quote.