Community Agriculture Alliance: Taking back the livestock market

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— History will be made at Colorado State University on Aug. 27. For the first time since the creation of the Department of Agriculture by President Abraham Lincoln, the USDA and the Department of Justice will hold a joint meeting. The subject of this historic meeting is livestock market concentration.

“Market concentration” is what we grew up calling “monopoly,” and today, after 100 years of battling monopolies, trusts and corporate power, America’s food is controlled by a few corporations more concerned about profits than food safety. When Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meet with concerned citizens to discuss the livestock market, every independent livestock producer and every consumer has a stake in the discussion. Those producers plan to tell Holder and Vilsack that they must act now to restore competition to the U.S. livestock market.

Here’s why: Four or five corporations control 80 percent or more of every traditional meat sold in America — beef, poultry, pork and lamb. This is bad for consumers, and it’s disastrous for the family farmers and ranchers trying to produce safe and abundant food for a growing population.

In August, livestock producers will have a chance to explain how corporate control of the market has driven consumer costs up while crushing the “wholesale” value of the ranchers’ livestock to little more than the cost of production. They can point out that huge corporate meat processing plants actually create the health risks we are reminded of so frequently in the news — contaminations that force recalls of millions of pounds of ground beef, for example. It will be a forum to remind the administration that our food safety efforts have had the unwanted consequence of bankrupting small ranchers and meat processors while doing nothing to curb the risks and abuses of manufacturing meat.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime for family farmers and ranchers, a chance to shape the future of rural America. Livestock producers and consumers who want immediate, aggressive action to restore competition to the livestock industry will have their voices heard.

The gathering can send the federal government a mandate too clear to ignore. It can begin reversing the monopolistic controls that have created a food system serving no one but international corporate shareholders. It’s a chance to preserve the future of rural America and the independent livestock producer who cares about land, cattle and consumers. These hardworking rural Americans want a fair price for their work. It’s a chance to stand up for local foods and preserve the part of our agricultural community that is not “too big to fail” — the American family farm and ranch, a leader in agriculture for the world.

For more information about the joint USDA/Department of Justice meeting, contact Leellen Koroulis at 970-879-2092 or customdraft@earthlink.net.

Koroulis is vice president of the Northwest Colorado Farmers Union.

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