Worn-out dairy cows reflect industrial agriculture’s failings

Worn-out dairy cows reflect industrial agriculture’s failings

By Mike Callicrate

Once again America and the world are shocked at the extent business will go to make money. And I don’t just mean the inhumane treatment of cows and the resulting record recall of 143 million pounds of beef. We aren’t happy with the amount of milk a normal cow produces. Growth promotants, production boosting hormones, antibiotics and all other forms of cost-reducing profit-enhancing technology is never enough.

Today’s highly concentrated and consolidated food system is dominated by huge multinational corporations that aren’t happy with the profit normal animals, humans and the earth will provide. The desperation of small operators is palpable as these modern Robber Barons sit fat and happy in their office suites looking down on the lowly highly disadvantaged independent competitors. The marketplace is so demanding and predatory that small and medium sized companies have little hope of surviving even with corner cutting and/or resorting to outright cheating.

Milking the system
The Bible instructs us to care for our animals, “A righteous man respects the life of his animal.” Our cows tell the ugly and sad story. A cow that once gave milk over a period of eight or more years is now, with the use of Monsanto’s rBGH hormone and aggressive hot feed rations, often used up after three years. The weak remains of this completely drained animal milking machine is then ground into our school lunches, fed to recovering patients in hospitals and nursing homes and further distributed through food service companies into restaurant and other institutional trade. This cheap meat is used by big food service companies to drive producers of good, healthy and safe local beef out of business.

No one is better off except the big food and chemical corporations. Desperation is seen in the way both humans and animals are treated. Our food system is like the coal mines and miners of Appalachia – family farm agriculture and small processors are being strip-mined out of business as the enormous wealth created from their labor and land is stolen by Tyson, Cargill, ConAgra, Swift, Monsanto and their big retail partners. Our nation’s future health and well-being is at stake.

Recalling the beef while eliminating the competition
USDA as a wholly owned subsidiary of the big food cartel is not the people’s agency that President Lincoln envisioned. Isn’t it interesting how the well publicized food recalls negatively affect the smaller plants most? What would this week’s beef recall have looked like had the inhumane treatment been videoed at one of the major plants, which by the way have tight security preventing such embarrassments? Many of the large national recalls have resulted in the elimination of smaller plants like Hudson and Topps, causing further consolidation of our food system into fewer and fewer hands.

USDA cops are in the pocket of the criminals
Obviously we aren’t happy with the job USDA is doing in protecting our food supply. However, what many don’t realize is the USDA is also responsible for making sure the marketplace is fair and competitive, giving us good choices as to where we buy our food.

USDA has abdicated their responsibility for enforcing the antitrust laws that were designed to protect the producers of our food from unfair business practices, thereby protecting all of us from monopoly control over what we eat. One hundred years ago Congress agreed that we are best served by a family farm and ranch food system with many buyers and sellers serving the best interests of consumers, not a system controlled by the Robber Barons that we have today. What physical and mental toll does it take on the management and labor of small and medium sized companies when they get up every morning facing the life threatening predators of big food? We see the anxiety in the lack of dignity and respect shown to others and to the animals that provide our food.

Bigger is not better
The relatively modern “bigger is better” experiment in agriculture and food, also known of as industrial agriculture, has been a complete disaster. The economy of scale and efficiency lies have been propagated throughout our corporate controlled universities and government agencies since before the days of Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz. Industrialization has been mandated through government policy, driving farm and ranch families off the land and into the cities to do “more productive work”. Like in Appalachia, this industrial model is mining, rather than nurturing our land, people and communities, leaving a wasteland of broken rural towns and dead dirt. Dan Glickman was asked during his term as Ag Secretary why USDA didn’t enforce the antitrust laws from the early 1900’s protecting independent producers and our marketplace. He said, “It’s different this time. We are trading in a global market, we need big companies that can do business globally.”

Let’s not allow the serious and totally unacceptable problems that have been exposed in the past couple weeks to push us closer to an even more dangerous food system – one controlled more and more by big food and a corrupt USDA.

Mike Callicrate is an independent cattle producer, business entrepreneur and political activist, particularly outspoken in addressing the rural and social impacts of current economic trends.

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