On Wednesday the Senate Agriculture Committee held an historic hearing to examine the state of the U.S. meatpacking industry. Titled “Examining Markets, Transparency, and Prices from Cattle Producer to Consumer,” the hearing was the first of its kind in decades and yielded ample evidence of harm to American cattle producers, consumers, and rural communities as a direct result of concentration in the food system.
The witness list included Dr. Mary Hendrickson, Rural Sociologist at the University of Missouri and author of “The Food System: Concentration and Its Impacts,” a report commissioned by Family Farm Action Alliance. Dr. Hendrickson expressed grave concern over the unequal distribution of power in the food system; currently, everyone must abide by decisions handed down from a few transnational agrifood companies’ boards of directors.
With their questions, Committee members displayed a clear interest in the lack of resiliency and transparency of the U.S. agricultural system and a sense of urgency to do something as soon as possible about its unprecedented levels of concentration: for example, just four meatpacking companies control 85% of the market.
“We commend Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Boozman for calling for this hearing,” said Emily Miller, Research and Policy Manager of Family Farm Action and co-author of the Food System report. “The hearing leaves no doubt that meatpacking monopolies are stealing fair market opportunities from cattle producers, gouging consumers, and putting profit over people. The time for action is now.”
Committee members and witnesses alike mentioned many possible reforms to the political, power, and financial structures that underpin our agricultural system. Among those suggested were checkoff program reforms, introduction of mandatory Country of Origin Labeling requirements, programs to support young and disadvantaged farmers, investment in local and regional food systems, funding for small and local meat processors, the Farm System Reform Act, the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act, and meaningful reforms to the Packers and Stockyards Act, such as removing the competitive injury requirement and defining “undue preference” to end preferential treatment.
All of these programs and policies should be advanced without delay. Family Farm Action will continue to work toward dismantling corporate monopoly control over agriculture while advancing policies like these, which will build a more sustainable, inclusive economy.
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