- WILLIE NELSON JOINS FAMILY FARMERS IN NATIONAL
AG DAY PROTEST
- NPPC ACCUSED OF SPYING ON FAMILY FARM
- SENATOR WELLSTONE CALLS FOR FEDERAL
INVESTIGATION OF CHECKOFF FUNDS
- USDA SECRETARY TO VISIT NORTH CAROLINA
- WORC PETITIONS TO END CAPTIVE SUPPLIES
- POULTRY GROWERS PRESS USDA FOR FAIRNESS
- USDA NOT ABLE TO REGULATE ANTITRUST
- NATIONAL CHEESE EXCHANGE NEWS
- TROUBLESOME CREEK ON PBS
FAMILY FARMERS MAKE PROGRESS IN STRUGGLE
AGAINST INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE
Farm Aid News & Views has reported often on the
environmental, social and economic impacts of industrial
agriculture. In recent months, family farmers have made some
headway in their struggle to promote family farming and
sustainable agriculture. This issue of Farm Aid News & Views
will explore recent developments in the battle over corporate
concentration in the hog, cattle and poultry industries. It will
also provide readers with ways to assist farmers in developing a
sustainable, family farm based agriculture system.
WILLIE NELSON JOINS FAMILY FARMERS IN NATIONAL
AG DAY PROTEST AGAINST FACTORY FARMS
Last week, Farm Aid President Willie Nelson joined hundreds
of family farmers in Des Moines, Iowa as they protested against
factory farming at the offices of the National Pork Producers
Council (NPPC), which recently admitted to paying a DC
consulting firm $50,000 to monitor the activities of farm groups
opposed to the industrialization of the hog industry.
The rally, organized by the Campaign for Family Farms and the
Environment, took place on March 20, National Agriculture
Day. Family pork producers alleged that the NPPC is more
interested in promoting industrial agriculture than supporting
family hog farmers, pointing to the NPPC's inaction in
addressing the 25 percent decline in pork producers over the last
During the rally, demonstrators called for the following steps:
* An end to NPPC's surveillance of family farm groups;
* A full investigation by the Office of Inspector General into
NPPC's misuse of pork checkoff funds;
* An end to the mandatory pork checkoff program.
According to hog farmer and Iowa CCI member Larry Ginter,
"The NPPC doesn't recognize that there are ways to raise hogs
other than huge factory farms. Family farmers are interested in
sound animal husbandry. We feel that factory pork farming is a
threat to both the environment and a way of life." Larry Ginter's
mother Alice had written an impassioned letter to Willie
Nelson inviting him to the rally.
Responding to NPPC assertions that the rise of factory farms is a
natural evolution of the pork industry, Willie Nelson said, "I
think it's a very unnatural evolution. It's anti-environmental,
it's unhealthy, it's not good for the family farm and it's not good
To cap off the protest, farmers planted a sign that renamed the
NPPC as the "National Factory Farm Council." Roger Allison of
the Missouri Rural Crisis Center said, "Today is only the
beginning. Family farmers will continue to fight in every
township, every county and every state to oppose any attempt to
promote factory farms over family farms."
NATIONAL PORK PRODUCERS COUNCIL
ACCUSED OF SPYING ON FAMILY FARM ORGANIZATIONS
The controversy about the National Pork Producers Council's
(NPPC) misuse of checkoff funds began in February when it was
revealed that NPPC had paid a Washington, DC firm nearly
$50,000 in producer checkoff dollars in 1996 to monitor and
collect intelligence on groups promoting family farming and
sustainable agriculture. Checkoff funds are federally mandated
assessments on pork producers for use in research, promotion
and market development. In 1996, the NPPC received
approximately $45 million in pork checkoff funds from
America's pork producers.
"The NPPC board of directors feels it is only prudent to monitor
on a regular basis what is being said about pork producers and
their industry by any and all groups and individuals that may
have a negative impact on our ability to produce pork," NPPC
President Bob Ruggles says.
According to NPPC documents, groups under surveillance
include the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs (CRA), the
Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community
Improvement (Iowa CCI), the Corporate Agribusiness Research
Project, the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project (LSP) and
the National Farmers Union.
Although NPPC defends its surveillance activities by raising the
specter that family farm groups have been infiltrated by "anti-
meat" activists, the real reason for their monitoring activities is
clear. All of the family farm groups under investigation have
criticized the NPPC's position on issues related to hog factories
and livestock concentration. According to Leland Swenson,
president of the National Farmers Union, "It appears that every
organization that has questioned the industrialization of the hog
industry is now being watched by the NPPC."
The NPPC has denied allegations that checkoff funds were used
for surveillance. However, recently obtained reports from the
NPPC to the National Pork Board and the USDA describe the use
of checkoff funds for this very purpose. In addition, the reports
boast of NPPC's efforts to influence a "60 Minutes" story on the
corporate takeover of the pork industry.
Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs says, "That is
an illegal use of checkoff funds. Federal law authorized use of
checkoff funds to present a favorable image of pork, not to
protect the image of corporate farming."
Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center states that
recent NPPC activities are a direct assault on family hog farmers.
She calls for an end to the mandatory checkoff program. "Use of
checkoff funds for this type of action is not morally right. Family
farmers cannot continue to pay mandatory fees that fund work
meant to ultimately put them out of business."
Hugh Espey of Iowa CCI says, "It just goes to show you how out
of touch NPPC is with the majority of producers. They use
producer money to spy on rural groups rather than sit down
with them and talk about issues."
ACTION ALERT: SENATOR WELLSTONE CALLS FOR
FEDERAL INVESTIGATION INTO POSSIBLE MISUSE OF
Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) last week called on U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman for an investigation by
the USDA's Office of Inspector General into possible misuse of
pork checkoff funds by the National Pork Producers Council
Rhonda Perry of Missouri Rural Crisis Center applauds Senator
Wellstone's actions. "We need other Congressmen to sign on to
the Wellstone letter," Perry says. The Campaign for Family
Farms and the Environment urges people to write or call
Secretary Glickman to ask him to initiate a full investigation
into this matter.
Contact: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, USDA,
14th and Independence SW, Washington, DC 20250. 202-720-
USDA SECRETARY GLICKMAN
TO VISIT NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina has become the model of the worst that can
happen when industrial farms come to town. The number of
hogs on North Carolina farms has risen from 3.7 million at the
end of 1991 to 8.5 million in 1996, elevating the state to the
second largest hog producer in the nation. Meanwhile, the
number of North Carolina hog producers has plummeted by
two-thirds over the last ten years. Operations marketing 2,000 or
more hogs annually accounted for only 9.3 percent of all North
Carolina producers, but owned 90 percent of the total hog
inventory in the state.
USDA Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman has accepted an
invitation from the North Carolina Hog Roundtable, a coalition
of community, environmental and family farmer groups
fighting the damage caused by intensive swine operations in
their state, to come and see for himself the havoc wrecked by
industrial hog farms. Glickman will be participating in a Town
Hall meeting, a forum for residents to express their concerns to
The Town Hall meeting, originally scheduled for March 10, has
been rescheduled for May 2. For more information, contact
David Harris of the Land Loss Prevention Project, 919-682-5969.
ACTION ALERT: POULTRY GROWERS PRESS USDA FOR
For years poultry growers have been fighting an unfair system of
vertically integrated production -- 98 percent of all produced is
bred, owned, butchered and marketed by giant corporations such
as Perdue and Tyson. Family farmers play the role of indentured
servant in this system through contractual agreements to raise
the corporate-owned birds. The typically unfair contracts are
dictated by the corporations, and the poultry growers have
traditionally had no recourse in their struggle to make a profit.
Growers earn as little as four cents a pound for poultry that
consumers buy for more than $1.20/lb. at the supermarket. To
make matters worse, growers are often pitted against each other
in a system that fosters comparison and competition.
"We have worked for years to try to get the Packers and
Stockyards Administration investigators educated to the
problems that we've had in the field," says Marinell Strain, a
poultry farmer and member of the Oklahoma Contract Poultry
Growers Association. "They always told us that they didn't have
the authority to investigate our complaints, nor did we have
specific evidence concerning the mis-weighing of live birds,
inaccurate feed weights, the delivery of sickly chicks and the
sometimes intentional miscalculations by processors."
Poultry growers have barraged the USDA with their concerns in
letters, interviews and meetings. The USDA seems to have
finally recognized the plight of the family farm poultry grower
and has asked for public comment on the general issue of
relations between growers and processors.
Of specific interest to the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and
Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), the agency responsible for
overseeing the poultry industry, is fairness to growers in the
% The weighing of live birds, which determines how much
farmers get paid;
% How processing firms weigh and deliver the feed they provide
to farmers; and
% How growers' pay is calculated, including the question of
whether it is fair to farmers to figure that pay by comparing one
grower to another.
If new USDA regulations are adopted, the USDA would likely
have greater power to investigate and enforce anti-grower
actions by processors.
Poultry growers say USDA is taking a step in the right direction;
growers have long said that federal intervention was necessary
to protect family poultry farmers who are up against the vast
economic and political power of huge processing companies. "I
think poultry growers nationwide are especially pleased about
this initiative," says John Morrison of the National Contract
Poultry Growers Association. "This initiation of the rule
making process is the direct result of the work of the National
Contract Poultry Growers. It's evident that our combined voices
can be heard."
Comments must be submitted before May 12 to Harold Davis,
Acting Deputy Administrator, GIPSA, Stop 3641, 1400
Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250-3641; fax
202-205-3941. For more information, contact the National
Contract Poultry Growers at 1-800-259-8100.
ACTION ALERT: WORC CIRCULATES PETITION TO END
Three corporate giants dominate over 81 percent of the nation's
cattle slaughter: IBP, Inc., Cargill and ConAgra. This percentage
is up from 70 percent in 1990 and 45 percent in 1982. While
cattle concentration is increasing, cattle prices fell to a record low
last year without a corresponding decrease in consumer prices.
Family cattle producers have alleged that concentration enables
packers to pay less for cattle because producers lack competing
buyers to bid up prices. Even if some competition exists
nationally or regionally, producers in most localities may have
access to only one buyer.
To compound the problem of lack of competition in the cattle
industry, the "Big Three" packers are also known to process
"captive supplies" of cattle. Packer controlled, owned and fed
cattle are "captive," as are exclusively contracted feedlot cattle,
which under contract can't receive bids from or be sold to any
other packer. This allows packers to artificially lower prices paid
In an effort spearheaded by the Western Organization of
Resource Councils (WORC) and other family farm groups,
Secretary Glickman was asked to intervene against the misuse of
captive supplies by adopting a rule that would prohibit packers
from procuring cattle for slaughter through the use of a forward
contract unless the contract has a price attached to it or is bid in
public. WORC also requested that packers be prohibited from
owning and feeding cattle, unless the cattle are sold for slaughter
in an open, public market.
The USDA published the proposal in January and asked for
public comment. WORC is asking supporters of the rule to send
their comments to:
Acting Deputy Administrator, Packers and Stockyards Programs,
GIPSA, USDA Stop 3641,1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room
3039-S, Washington, DC 20250. For a copy of the notice and the
petition or more information, contact WORC at 406-252-9672.
REPORT: USDA NOT CAPABLE OF REGULATING
The Packers and Stockyards Administration of the USDA is
responsible for addressing antitrust issues in the livestock
Whether the Packers and Stockyards Administration is capable
of regulating antitrust is another matter. Auditors from the
USDA's Office of Inspector General recently reported to the
USDA Secretary of Agriculture that the Department's antitrust
division is incapable of taking action against the anticompetitive
practices of the meatpacking industry. The auditors reported
that the USDA's Packers and Stockyards Administration's
investigative systems have not kept up with the growing
potential for anticompetitive practices in the multibillion-dollar
Between October 1994 and September 1996, the Packers and
Stockyards Administration's regional offices investigated 84
anticompetitive cases, only three of which resulted in
enforcement action. The auditor's report also indicates that the
department may have been hasty last year in wrapping up a
major investigation of allegations that the industry's top three
corporations were using their purchasing power to drive down
beef prices and increase their profits.
CHEESE EXCHANGE NEWS UPDATE
Farm Aid News & Views reported in January that farm
organizations were asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to
use its authority to develop a new basic formula price to replace
reliance on the National Cheese Exchange (NCE) as the nation's
milk price setter. In response to mounting criticism and the
prospect of increased regulation, the NCE, based in Green Bay,
Wisconsin, recently announced that it would close shop.
National Cheese Exchange traders have agreed to create a new
cash market and move their operations to the Chicago
Mercantile Exchange. Critics say that this move is nothing more
than an effort to avoid increased regulation.
MUST SEE TV:
TROUBLESOME CREEK TO AIR ON PBS
Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern, a film by Jeanne Jordan and
Steven Ascher and a 1996 Academy Award nominee, will be
broadcast April 14 at 9:00 pm (EST) on PBS: THE AMERICAN
EXPERIENCE. This award-winning documentary tells the story
of Russel and Mary Jane Jordan as they face possible foreclosure
of their Iowa family farm. For more information visit
Farm Aid News is produced by the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy for Farm Aid. Editors
Harry Smith and Kate Hoff. We encourage the
reproduction of Farm Aid News & Views. Comments and
suggestions welcome. Farm Aid (617) 354-2922. Fax:
(617) 354-6992. Email: Farmaid1@aol.com. For more
information on agricultural publications contact IATP,
(612) 870-0453. Fax: (612) 870-4846.