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How Congress Is Moving to Crush Protections for Small Meat and Poultry Producers

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range page and our All About Organics page.

As comedian John Oliver said last week in his much-watched primer on net neutrality, "If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring." Big Ag has known this strategy for years and perhaps no one does it better than the meatpackers and poultry companies-companies like Tyson, Smithfield, and trade organizations like the American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council.

They've got a head start because the struggle over their domination of the marketplace has taken place over the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspectors, Packers, and Stockyards Administration, known as GIPSA. Under the cover of a bureaucratic sounding name and an obscure government agency, meat companies have quietly flexed considerable lobbying muscle to kill one of the most important policy reforms for livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers-and therefore one of the most important policy reforms for those of us who care how our meat is raised.

The GIPSA rules-let's call them "fair farm rules" for short-were proposed back in 2010 and designed to address the growing power of just a few corporations in the increasingly consolidated meat industry. Nationally, the top four companies in each industry slaughter four out of every five beef cattle, two out of three hogs and three out of five chickens. At the local or regional level, one company often controls an even larger percentage of the market.

Tim Gibbons, of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, says that consolidation has meant "the meatpackers report huge profits, while farmers' share of the retail dollar has gone down dramatically-and consumers still see food prices rising at the grocery store." In Missouri, Gibbons adds, thousands of independent small and mid-size family hog farmers have gone out of business because they don't have access to a fair market. "Because of massive corporate control of the market, we've lost 91 percent of hog producers in Missouri since 1985. That's over 20,000 farmers and many, many jobs in our rural communities."      


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