Sucking the Life Blood from Family Farm Agriculture
By Mike Callicrate | March 5, 2013
“Our ground beef comes from Stampede Meat Company in Chicago, it’s delivered by Sysco, and we need enough volume for 2,000 locations.” This was the response from a Smashburger representative when I asked if the company would be interested in buying high quality, locally produced beef for their Colorado restaurants. His response was a painful reminder of the words of our Ranch Foods Direct delivery driver, Francisco Chavez, in describing the negative economic impact on our community when, every day, the Sysco truck delivers things from somewhere else, while taking the money away.
As explained in the book Fast Food Nation, McDonald’s growth was dependent on the rapid growth of their suppliers – who, due to a lack of antitrust law enforcement, have become part of a massive international wealth extraction machine – an economic parasite – a giant industrial-sized-tapeworm.
Consumers are getting it
Thanks to the many well written books, and revealing films like Food Inc., consumers are learning how broken and sick the food system is. They are looking for alternatives to the industrial food-like substances in their diet and trying to avoid a system that profits from exploiting refugee workers, abusing animals, degrading the environment and making people sick. So how do the chain and chain-like food companies adapt to meet this new consumer awareness?
First – Deceive the shareholder and the eater
While selling investors on the rosy prospect of big profits and growth, Wall Street based food companies disguise their real intentions to mine profits from the food system by creating a wholesome image that appeals to growing numbers of discriminating eaters. Squeezed between the growing awareness and demands of consumers and intense Wall Street/Investor pressure, companies often hype a marketing image far different from their actual practices.
Sensing what the consumer wants after the last film or news cycle, they carefully frame the message, “We serve only USDA inspected meat.” Really, don’t all restaurants serve USDA inspected meat? “Our meat comes from family farms.” Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, owns Murphy Family [Factory] Farms. Since the Federal Trade Commission is still on vacation, they get even more aggressive. “No hormones or steroids are administered the last 100 or 120 days.” The long-acting growth enhancing implants are normally administered more than 100 to 120 days before the cattle go to market. No labels reveal the use of the inhumane and aggressive body building beta agonists, Ractopamine and Zilmax, that aren’t classified as antibiotics, hormones or steroids. False country of origin labeling, the misleading use of the many zombie brands, making false claims of “never-ever” antibiotic and hormone use, and promises of improved animal welfare – in the future, are standard deceptions. Marketing the highly profitable Pink Slime in a way that makes someone want to eat it appears to be the greatest challenge to date. Perhaps our taste buds would be happier with less technology, and fewer lies.
Second – Put a fake family farmer face on big agribusiness
Expecting companies like Cargill and Tyson to actually be nice to producers, workers, and animals, while caring about the environment, is like expecting a Grizzly bear to become vegan. They demand profits and growth – at all costs. Cargill, the largest privately owned corporation in the world, is hiding behind the Colorado Proud label in Colorado. Tyson’s Farm Check supposedly has Tyson inspectors monitoring the animal handling practices of their contract growers. These suppliers are held captive, and unlike real family farmers, no longer own the livestock. They are treated like serfs, forced to exploit their family members and refugee workers, whose anger is often expressed in the mistreatment of animals – a direct transfer of the abuse they are receiving from companies like Tyson. Phony certification programs and deceptive marketing are providing false cover for some very dark behavior.
One of the most serious affronts to family farmers and ranchers is the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). The biggest food companies on the planet, with their cheerleader organizations, like Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers, American Meat Institute, Farm Credit, National Corn Growers and others pushing industrial agriculture, have literally stolen the identity of the iconic family farmer to cloak their ugly version of industrial agriculture. Adding insult to injury, USFRA is robbing government regulated commodity checkoff coffers (intended for promotion and research), which all farmers and ranchers are forced by law to pay into, to promote their model of agriculture which is driving these same producers off the land.
What we support prospers
With all their highly touted technology and so-called economies of scale and efficiencies, the industrial food system is collapsing. The predator has consumed the prey. The bones are being picked clean. Slaughter houses, like the Cargill beef plant in Plainview, Texas, are shutting down for lack of livestock. They blame the drought, but abusive market power and monopoly control is the real reason 90 percent of our hog farmers are out of business. Over 40% of our ranchers are gone, and over 85% of our dairy farmers are no longer caring for our milk cows due to a no-rules highly predatory marketplace.
Good food, humane treatment of livestock, and a healthy environment will never come from a factory. All that is needed for good stewardship and husbandry to return is a fair, open and competitive marketplace, free of market predators like Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield, and the giant Brazilian meat packer, JBS. Trying to change this broken food system is a waste of time. We should put our money and energy into supporting the rebuilding of our local and regional food systems, providing local, healthy alternatives that make the industrial food system less relevant.
Farms and ranches should be operated by people living on the land, making a living income caring for THEIR livestock, not a Smithfield’s Joe Luter, ruling from his New York City penthouse, demanding bigger profits from his tired and abused slaves.
This ravenous corporate tapeworm has sucked the life out of Rural America; it must die for us to live. Let’s stop feeding it.