The current article of Sierra magazine has a wonderful article by Ken
Silverstein, called "Meat Factories" (Jan/Feb 1999, p. 28-35+.
www.sierraclub.org, (415) 977-5500). The subtitle: "Old MacDonald is dead
and gone. The industrial facilities that now produce all those bacon
burgers and chicken nuggets are among the nation's largest polluters." The
first page shows pigs in boxes jammed in together and literally no room to
move, then a closeup of a pig, with what I would say is a folorn
expression. That's how I'd feel in that situation anyway.
Those interested in this topic should really check this article out, but,
per the ongoing conversation here on SANet, I'll mention some of the points
it makes with my comments.
* The article says the reason for the low price of pigs is because of
VERTICAL INTEGRATION - from growing to supermarket is one company (maybe
with a contractor for the growing portion), and * they can afford to make
no profit on the growing park because they know they can make it up on the
consumer part.* To me, this seems to be a vital point in understanding the
current situation being discussed.
" 'Market power, not efficiency, is what's driving the family farmer out of
business," says the Sierra Club's Midkiff. "The companies don't need to
make money raising the hogs because they can make it further up the chain
during packing and distribution.' Indeed, hogs now sell for as low as 20
cents per pound, the lowest price in 25 years. Just to break even,
independent producers must receive at least 45-50 cents per pound."
COMMENT: This almost sounds like dumping to me - where you price something
impossibly low so no one else CAN compete so they go out of business - and
you fund it by other parts of the operation and/or hopes of future profits
from your future monopoly. Isn't that illegal?? Or only when a foreign
country does it?? We also have a history in this country of breaking up
vertical integration that results in monopoly power, such as was done with
the movie studios and theatres many years back.
* That and other elements discussed in the article do sound to me like a
monopoly situation. One person is quoted that you either sell to the
corporation at these low prices or to no one at all. That's monopoly.
Why would the corporations choose to have no profit go to the farming end?
It's an interesting question. Perhaps because the contractors would get the
profit, not the corporate folks. Perhaps because our culture values white
shirts more than blue collars, thinking they have more inherent value and
should thus be compensated more. Perhaps they are intentionally wanting to
control the whole market, getting rid of the pesky independents. But mostly
it seems they do this because they are getting away with it, and there's
little market to say otherwise. (Note: The contractors don't get the
profit, but they get responsibility for the huge waste problems this
consolidation of livestock creates, which they can't afford to treat. How
fair is that!?)
* To those who are fans of market forces - thinking/saying that these
corporations just doing what they can to give us consumers low prices - I
say two things (a) these corporations are making very good money, so it's
relevant to ask who has luxury and who suffers - they are not skimping on
all levels!; and (b) externalized costs.
As this article makes clear, there are very big externalized costs to these
factory farms - to the environment, to health, to communities - that are
not reflected in the pricing of the food at the store, but rather are borne
by people in the places where these farms are, by the farmers they replace,
and the community at large. If those costs were to be added into the cost
of this food, we consumers might make a very different choice at the
supermarket, and we would have a very different world. Externalized costs
are a huge Achilles Heel of market economics.
* Luckily we do have consumers who want their meat raised in a healthy
fashion, and thus there is the growing natural meat market. It seems that
supporting that is in all of our best interests.
* Some other points discussed in the article:
- In the past 15 years, the number of hog farms in America has dropped from
600,000 to 157,000. In general, every new corporate facility runs ten
family farms out of business.
- The article discusses the specifics of how these animals are raised -
wharehoused - pretty awful!
- Farms have now replaced factories as the biggest polluters of America's
- Costs of factory hog farms include
> manure going into streams, rivers, and groundwater, creating water that
can no longer be drunk or swum in (how does that change the life of a child
or a community?), contaminating well water and ground water, etc.;
> links with pfiesteria ("the cell from hell", killing billions of fish and
harming humans in the water);
Note: One problem has been e.coli and fecal coliform leels in the water -
one of the reasons for our e.coli problems? If so, is it here, not with
more toxics in our food, that the solution needs to occur?
> contribute to the closing of hundreds of thousands of coastal wetlands to
> horrible smells that keep people indoors, make people sick, and kill
local commerce and tourism.
> high worker injuries.
> high consolidation of power and money, linked to reduction of liberty and
democracy, free choice about our lives, leading to feelings of
powerlessness, depair, frustration, even personal and community-level
violence, addictions, loss of participation, etc.
- The article discusses the politicians, campaign contributions that seems
to have kept good laws from occurring, etc. The industry has huge numbers
of lobbyists and spends lots of money for both parties.
"When I first got involved in politics I thought the government would never
let the companies get away with wrecking people's homes and lives. But I
found out that justice doesn't always prevail. The American government is
bought and paid for by powerful people, and the big corporate [farm
operations] have a position with both parties." Don Webb
- There are locales where people are doing local laws - ex. no farms owned
by non-family corporations - no factory farms etc. Something to explore
and replicate, seems to me!
- Actions include alliances between workers, farmers, and
environmentalists. I think that's a great way to approach it - consider
what the actions of people concerned about health and environment have done
for organic farmers and food. As one group's leader said, "When people who
have been excluded from decision-making join hands and work together,
things will change." Many of us are suffering as a result of transnational
corporations running over our livelihoods, environment, communities, etc.,
and there is great power in seeing the overall picture and standing up
together. In fact, it may truly be the only solution there is.
Responsible corporations should not be afraid of being held accountable for
the results of their actions. Or is that only for welfare mothers??
- The EPA and USDA released a draft agenda in July calling for increased
inspections of factory farms and full regulation of those in
environmentally sensitive areas by 2005 (6 years from now!). Critics charge
they are moving too slowly.
- The Clean Water Network, a coalition of of more than 1,000 farm,
religious, enviro and Native American groups is developing its own strategy
- including calling for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms
until tough regulations are in place and all existing ones have permits.
(I like this idea - stop the expansion UNTIL the rules are in place -
rather than letting the mayhem continue on the promise the rules will come
"real soon now"!)
For those of you concerned with this topic, I suggest that you might want
* Get a copy of this article (and perhaps even join and support the Sierra
Club, if you don't already belong). I really have only skimmed the surface
with my summary!
* Read the article and take advantage of the information and resources
* Write a letter to Sierra magazine, sharing your experience, point of
view, etc. - either agreeing or adding to what they say. For instance, one
thing I noticed is they didn't highlight any meat producers we could
support - like local CSAs or organic, etc. It would be nice if Sierra
readers knew that there were options for their meat!
* Perhaps pass the information along to others that you know, personally,
in newsletters, etc. People need to know what's happening to our food and
our farms, and I think this article does a good job of highlighting
problems with the meat part of the equation.
I hope you find this information of value -
Best regards -
Community Action Publications
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