It is countdown time for the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA’s proposed rule that would protect small family livestock farmers and ranchers from the historical monopolies of the big four meat packers who control the market. You’d expect that pro-citizen groups and all enlightened meat consumers would be united in hot pursuit of fair market access for small farmers, pushing the USDA to allow the GIPSA rules to be enforced after the comment period ends on November 22nd. You’d be wrong. Read more
The USDA has a law on the books that levels the playing field between family farmers who raise cattle, hogs and poultry and the large meat packers who purchase their livestock and bring it to market. It’s called the Packers and Stockyard Act, and its overseen by the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration or GIPSA. But don’t tussle with that mouthful because it doesn’t explain what you need to know about the complex livestock market system. Just keep reading. GIPSA makes sure small producers have equal access to market that larger producers do. It’s fair competition, which is, of course, the American way.
Sounds great, right? And just in time for the good food revolution. But instead, this law has been gathering dust because the USDA hasn’t enforced it. New proposed rules (previously covered here on Civil Eats) amending the act would prevent large meat packers from artificially lowering the price of cattle, hogs and lamb. But four companies control over 80 percent of the U.S. meat market, and these “Big Four” are fighting an effort to strengthen the rule. Read more
On Tuesday, a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry held a meeting in the lead up to the 2012 Farm Bill that descended into a contentious complaint session by Democrats and Republicans alike over the new rules proposed by the USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). Many Ag Committee members take campaign donations from the industries that would be affected (in the 2010 cycle, House Agriculture Committee members have taken a combined $236,500 from the poultry and egg industry, and $281,611 from the livestock industry), and their reaction makes clear then that these rules could hold the potential for real reform. Read more
This morning, I woke up to an NPR report that began like this:
Since the 1980s, American agriculture has become increasingly concentrated. Today, less than 2 percent of farms account for half of all agricultural sales. The new antitrust division of President Obama’s Justice Department has said that scrutinizing monopolies in agriculture is a top priority.
That shift is giving hope to independent farmers, who have complained for years that agriculture giants are shrinking the marketplace and paying farmers less for their products.
Naturally, this got me right out of bed, as I have been reporting on the role competition plays in agriculture of late here on Civil Eats, and because the media barely batted an eyelash when the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent out a press release a week ago about the public workshops that will be held all over the US beginning in early 2010 to find out from farmers about possible anti-competitive behavior in agricultural markets. Read more
Yesterday, the news wire sparked with some really good news — Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack are joining together to hold public discussions on “competition issues affecting the agriculture industry in the 21st century and the appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in that industry.” This is the first time any such talks will have been held on an industry that is massively consolidated and under-regulated.
For example, did you know that in 2006, 83.5% of beef-packing was controlled by 4 companies, same goes for 66% of pork packing, 58.5% of the chicken processing and 55% of turkey processing. Similar numbers exist for the seed companies, the grain processors bringing animal feed to feedlots and HFCS to most of the packaged foods in the supermarket, and the supermarket retailers themselves. Numbers this high indicate a lack of competition. Read more