March 25, 2003
By Mike Callicrate
“A 38-year-old poultry grower in my county in North Carolina committed suicide in his chicken house Sunday morning. After the first shock and sorrow for the family, I felt anger with myself for not visiting that community more often, then anger that the growers won’t stand up anymore even though I know that you can’t fight when your head is on the block and the sharp blade of the guillotine is held by a fraying rope,” reported a long time grower advocate. This is just one of many farmer suicides in production agriculture. The so-called efficient, vertically integrated, industrial manufacturing model of global food production and distribution has ensnared and enslaved farmers. Pork producer necks are also now under the blade with beef producers being herded rapidly to slaughter by the meat integrators Tyson, ConAgra, and Cargill. This global cartel controlled food system, rather than nourish the people who sustain it, consumes them. The result is a food system that concentrates money and power at the top and poverty at the bottom while compromising food access, quality, and safety in the process.
Hopelessly indebted producers denied market access, have a choice: sign abusive, one-sided production contracts with built-in provisions barring their access to the courts or exit the business they love, leaving behind their property, homes, and unpaid debts.
Farmers and ranchers are failing under the low commodity prices and nonnegotiable fixed contracts of this food cartel at the same time as consumers are paying record-high prices for food. Hard fought new legislation, like mandatory price reporting, that sought to shine a revealing and healing light on market injustices, was gutted in rulemaking by the very packers and retailers it was designed to regulate. Now producers, fighting to save their latest legislative win, country of origin labeling (COOL), are being lied to, threatened, and intimidated by these same multinational fear-mongering rascals who stand to lose their exorbitant profits if consumers have the necessary information to choose where their food comes from and how it is produced and processed.
It’s been said that the foundation of suffering is ignorance. Most people don’t know how our food system is being monopolized and how producers and consumers are being exploited. They don’t know how our nation’s food security is being undermined?
Our current administration and many in Congress know, but they prove by their actions and refusal to enforce existing antitrust laws that corporate profits are more important to them than people. They don’t support local food security, human dignity, fairness, and a sustainable, affordable food system…the very foundation of human existence. Instead, they continue to sell out our vital interests to the big money that got them elected. Many have actually facilitated the takeover of the U.S. and global food systems by Tyson, Cargill, ADM, ConAgra, Wal-Mart, Kroger, and others.
The best selling book, Fast Food Nation, exposed a broken, unhealthy, and unsafe food processing and distribution system driven by fast food’s demand for higher and higher profits. You only have to look at McDonald’s earnings to see the change informed eaters are causing in the fast-food industry.
The newly published book, Plucked and Burned, exposes an equally abusive “immoral and fiendish” food production system that has turned once prosperous independent farmers into slave laborers.
Brother David Andrews, CSC, Executive Director of The National Catholic Rural Life Conference, www.ncrlc.com, recommends the book, “The truth about the poultry industry needs to be told, as it is here. More importantly though, it needs to be heard, understood, received, and dealt with through justice and equity. Eating is a moral act. The story Plucked and Burned blazes with moral insight and passion. My prayer is that it leads to effective and prompt changes in a system that is morally degrading.” This model of control and abuse is now being fully executed on all of us, from those who consume, to those of us who produce everything from shirts to coffee to lamb chops.
Plucked and Burned completely captures the life and sadly the death of the poultry farmer. Poultry farmers cannot be away from the farm to walk the halls of the legislative buildings to tell their stories of unfairness and corruption to government officials. “Plucked and Burned” delivers the story to people who can change things as it takes the reader into a world of lies and deception,” Kay Doby, President, North Carolina Contract Poultry Growers.
The U.S., which sets the world market for food commodities is being “plucked and burned”. The fruits of our earth and the labor of the world’s people are stolen from its rightful recipients without the fair distribution of wealth provided by fair, open, and competitive markets. A properly regulated free market system is a proven delivery mechanism for the promises of America – economic freedom, economic fairness, social justice, and the opportunity to prosper.
Eating really is a moral act. Consider the difference you can make with your food dollars, the values, and ethics you can support. Your legislators should know you expect a just and safe food system free from monopoly control and that you want no less for other people around the globe.
Mike Callicrate is a cattle feeder from St. Francis, Kansas. He is an outspoken advocate for competitive markets, family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. He is a plaintiff in the national class-action antitrust lawsuit against Tyson/IBP. The 12,000 head Callicrate feeding operation remains closed, waiting for a fair and competitive market.