A glimmer of Progressive government has appeared in the eye of the Obama Administration in the persons of Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who opened a daylong workshop at Colorado State University for the few remaining independent cattle producers. These two cabinet secretaries were dispatched from Washington to express the government’s intention of reviving the Packers and Stockyards Act. This is the law from the by-gone age of Teddy Roosevelt’s muck raking that could break the strangle hold of our food supply by trans-national monopoly corporations.
Since 1980, the number of hog farms has dropped from 660,000 to 71,000 and cattle farms has fallen from 1.6 million to 950,000. While hog farmers got 50 percent of the retail value of a hog in 1980, their share today is 24.5 percent according to the USDA. Hog farmers that remain are no more than share croppers with virtually all the of hogs owned by meat packers and not by the farmers who raise them on contracts that put all of the risk on the farmer and all the profit into the pockets of corporations.
U.S. meatpacking giants like Cargill Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and National Beef Inc., and Brazil's JBS SA, have been growing and consolidating control to a degree that didn‘t exist in 1921 when the P&S Act was passed. Cargill for example has used NAFTA to dump half price corn into Mexico to devastate the Mexican farm economy and simultaneously they recruited dispossessed Mexicans to come to work in its US meat packing plants (without legal papers of course).
Hog production had recently been shifting to mega farms in Mexico where health, safety and environmental laws don’t exist but that pesky swine flu pandemic has slowed that movement. The Packers and Stockyards Act also gives the government broad authority over poultry and eggs and we now see how well allowing giant unregulated egg producers works.
No meaningful government intervention in any area of big Agri-business vs. small farmers has occurred over the last 60 years. In fact this has been IMF policy applied worldwide to drive small farmers off the land in the name of efficiency, efficient elimination of independent people and efficient creation of corporate profits. In this efficiency movement people that are not of the top 3/10 percent of income are expendable.
This is not an easy row to hoe for the Obama Administration as Bush appointed Appeals Court Judges routinely dismiss suits brought by farmers alleging price fixing and predatory practices by packers. The corporatist Supreme Court simply refuses all appeals. Court watchers have said there is no right or left bias to Supreme Court rulings in general but rather the deciding factor is which side is the corporation on. The corporation always wins. The thrust of the new USDA rules are intended to create an environment where these farmer lawsuits will be more difficult to quash.
Unfortunately these measures will probably have little immediate impact on the farm crisis but they do set a political agenda that puts Obama squarely in the Progressive movement. The DOJ has even broken into the long boarded up offices of its anti-trust division and is studying the possibility of breaking up the mega corporations. But maybe it’s just my polly-anna nature that I see this as a real possibility. www.prairie2.com