While the appropriations that routinely wind their way through Congress aren’t supposed to create – or kill – policies already passed in other bills, the National Farmers Union is warning that opponents of Country of Origin Labeling and the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration will try to harm both COOL and GIPSA by starving them of funding.
NFU President Roger Johnson testified before the US House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development and Credit. Members of the committee heard from several interested parties on the state of the U.S. livestock industry earlier this week.
Johnson reminded the committee that rural America has lost 34 percent of beef operations and 91 percent of hog farms since 1980 – a total loss of 1.1 million livestock farms. There are also fewer meatpackers and processors. Today, the top four beef packers have control over 81 percent of cattle slaughter in the U.S.,
and the top four swine processors control 65 percent of hog sales.
In meetings sponsored by the Ohio Farmers Union earlier this year, farmers, FSA and state extension officials all seemed to agree that one constraint in promoting a grass-fed beef cooperative in northwestern Ohio is the dearth of independent processing in Ohio. Speakers representing their own successful independent family farm livestock operations and cooperatives told OFU members that attempting to work with the multi-national, market-dominating processors will only lead to total dependence and the potential for ruin if a farmer runs afoul of the system and is essentially black-balled in the Big Ag marketplace.
“Fewer livestock buyers result in less competition, greater opportunity for antitrust violations, and a difficult market for the remaining farmers and ranchers,” said Johnson. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the authority to prohibit deceptive or fraudulent buying practices by processors and may protect farmers and ranchers if they have been harmed by unfair trade practices, but appropriations riders over the last three years have kept USDA from implementing these basic fairness rules. Future riders that impede enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act must be defeated,” Johnson said.
On COOL, Johnson told the committee, “I commend Congress for maintaining (COOL) standards in the 2014 Farm Bill. Consumers want to know more about the food they purchase, while U.S. farmers and ranchers are proud of what they produce.”
“NFU strongly opposes the use of an appropriations rider or other legislative vehicle to deny consumers access to information about their food.”