|A Food System Gone Wrong|
By Mike Callicrate
Why don’t you sue Wal-Mart?
Last week, in the final hours of Friday’s business, cattle owners finally gave in and dumped their cattle for an outrageously low $70.00 per hundredweight. Record high retail beef prices justify $90 live cattle. To add insult to injury, the packers called for delivery of many of those cattle early Monday morning, proof of how short bought and needy they were. Of course, the blindfolded cash cattle sellers couldn’t have know it
Today, thanks to the power of the big meat packer big/retailer cartel, only the wealthy, well-organized packers and retailers have money and information. Uninformed, weak, and desperate sellers of live cattle only have feed bills, hot weather, and cattle that have to be sold.
Contrary to the packer-retailer, and their supporting propaganda machine, the percentage loss of the consumer beef dollar to the producer at the ranch gate is due to market power, not value-added or extra services provided. USDA uses non value-added, raw choice beef for their comparisons. The farm and ranch gate has lost 20% of the consumer beef dollar at the same time as four-firm packer concentration has increased from 36% to over 80%. After subtracting the costs to convert boxed beef to retail ready product, it is clear that the big retailers are making over $500 per head profit while independent cattle feeders and ranchers go broke. Meat cutters are paid less per hour today than they were 20 years ago. Go to: meatpricespreads (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/foodpricespreads).
USDA Secretary Ann Veneman told an interviewer on the Kansas KSN television network this week, when asked about concentration, “There are many opportunities for producers to become part of the supply chain of the big companies.” In other words, opportunities to become indentured slaves for her agribusiness bosses. By abdicating her duty to enforce the P&S Act, and continuing to keeping livestock prices and terms of contracts secret through the 3-60 rule, Secretary Veneman and others in government are facilitating the packer- processor-retailer cartel in dealing producers in both the pork and beef industries the same crushing death-blow already dealt enslaved poultry growers.
Beef packers continue to illegally give undue preferences to their captive supply providers, some in excess of $100 per head, explaining why the advantaged feeders continue to profit and expand at the same time as smaller independent feeders go out of business…Precisely the tactic used in the early integration of poultry.
When we lose our free, open, and competitive markets, we lose our freedom. Rural communities, the source of a safe and sustainable food supply, die along with independent farmers and ranchers. All of America is losing with our food supply in the control of a few predatory, profit driven companies. It is time to break up the big multinational agribusiness companies beginning with the meat packers – Tyson/IBP, Cargill, and ConAgra. It is also time to apply the same criminal penalties to corporations and their executives that apply to individuals.
Whether you are a farmer, rancher, or consumer, you may want to ask yourself the question: Is your freedom worth fighting for, or would you and your children rather be serfs?
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Photo above featured in a 2003 article: This cattleman's got a beef, Mike Callicrate and Ranch Foods Direct take on the big meat packers by Kathryn Eastburn
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