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To the Editor:
Some people will say anything. That's exactly what's happening with the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Those two organizations have worked consistently for years to consolidate our nation's food system, which has decimated rural communities and the farmers who have been cut out of markets because of "Big Ag's" corporate greed.
However, the numbers don't lie. In 1982, there were 330,000 hog farms in the U.S. Today there are only 66,000 left, most of them working as a contractor for a big meatpacker who tells them exactly how those pigs will be raised. Four companies -- including Smithfield Foods, Inc., Tyson Foods, Inc., JBS USA Holdings, Inc., and Cargill Inc. -- control a whopping 70% of the hog-processing market. As a result, hog farmers got 40 to 60 cents for each dollar spent on pork 50 years ago, and that's down to about 19 cents today. Meanwhile, "Big Ag" has raked in record profits.
The National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, and the big four, multi-national meatpackers that operate on a global scale, lobbied for policies that drove this consolidation, including the roll back of Country of Origin Labeling that would allow American farmers to fairly compete in the marketplace, and fought Packers and Stockyards Act reforms that would have helped level the playing field by protecting farmers from meatpacker abuses. The market is so consolidated today because of policies they actively put in place.
Now "Big Ag" is crying wolf. The meatpackers recently started blaming California voters, who passed Proposition 12 in 2018 by more than 60%, for consolidation. Proposition 12 set standards regarding how food sold in the state of California is produced, creating a tremendous market opportunity for independent family farmers. The use of gestation crates in the industrial model of pig production is a core issue addressed by Prop 12. It's just plain wrong to force an animal to live its life in a cage where it can't even turn around. Furthermore, people are increasingly moving away from this direction. Consumers don't want this model of industrial pork, so why not evolve with the times and not force outdated, egregious production models on the market?
Prop 12 gave independent hog farmers a solid market in which they could compete. Many of these farmers never had crates, so they didn't have to spend a dollar and are making a living in the pig business because the State of California opened up a market where consumers prioritize animal welfare and food production standards. Others, like Joe Brandt, an Ohio-based hog farmer, transitioned away from crates to take advantage of a market opportunity, but he's now being denied his payoff because "Big Ag" is challenging the legality of Prop 12.
The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation are fighting Proposition 12 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court this month. The Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Oct. 11 and you can bet "Big Ag" will say anything they can to paint a picture that benefits them. The truth is, you can't trust the voice of multinational corporations who have led the way in dismantling our food system for years.
Despite leading consolidation for decades, the big meatpackers now want to convince you that they are the ones whose livelihoods are at risk. Leave it to "Big Ag," who have been gobbling up power for decades with no concern for consolidation, to just now sound the false alarms. It is ironic that when we get a policy like Proposition 12 that might break some of their market power, they suddenly become concerned about concentration.
Farm Action knows better. We know how consolidation has actually worked because our supporters have been in its crosshairs. We also know that reforms, like the ones put in place by Proposition 12, are desperately needed to give independent family farmers a fair shot. That's all we're asking for -- a fair playing field so we can compete. We know what happens when "Big Ag" is allowed to write their own rules because that dynamic has gotten us to where we are today.
Proposition 12 is a lifeline that many independent farmers need to survive. We'll be watching closely to see how the Supreme Court comes down on this issue. If they side with "Big Ag" then they will be putting their thumb on the scales of the market in favor of corporate meatpacking giants over independent family farmers. We hope they correctly see Proposition 12 as the lifeline that it is for so many communities and families.
Vice President of Farm Action
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