Advocates for Independent Ranchers, Workers and Consumers Demand Federal Action to Restore Fair Markets

Press Release from Food and Water Watch Fort Collins, Colo. – Today the USDA and the Department of Justice hold the fourth in a series of historic workshops on corporate concentration and lack of competition in agriculture. This workshop will examine the livestock industry. A coalition of organizations that represent independent ranchers, workers and consumers is asking the agencies for new regulations and enforcement efforts to clarify and strengthen protections provided in the Packers and Stockyards Act to mitigate unfair practices that put farmers and ranchers, workers, and consumers at a disadvantage. Last night on the eve of this workshop, more than 500 independent ranchers and farmers, meatpacking workers, consumers, urban farmers, and food justice activists gathered for a public forum. Organization leaders and the public spoke about the need for government action to curb unchecked mergers and other anti-competitive activities that have allowed meatpackers to drive down cattle prices while keeping consumer beef prices high.

“We’ve reached a tipping point where everyone along the value chain, from ranchers who can no longer make a living to consumers who worry that their meat may make them sick, have had enough,” said Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “We need fair, functioning markets for livestock so that independent producers can stay in the game and consumers can have a real choice of where they buy their meat, not just from one massive company with many brands.”

The 2008 Farm Bill required that the USDA spell out how the protections contained in the Packers and Stockyards Act apply to livestock markets and are to be enforced. In June 2010, USDA released a proposed rule to define how the law can be used to rein in unfair practices in the livestock markets caused by consolidated meatpacker power.

“I’m tired of waiting for the government to do something,” says Gilles Stockton, a rancher from Montana and a member of Western Organization of Resource Councils. “It’s stupid to keep arguing whether there is a problem – it’s obvious there is a problem. We need action from the USDA and DOJ to restore competition in the cattle industry.”

In the U.S., 83 percent of beef, four out of every 5 beef cattle is processed by four companies, and 66 percent of pork, two out of every three hogs, is processed by four companies. The beef packing industry has also expanded beyond slaughter and processing and now large packers own their own cattle and operate feedlots, controlling supply through all stages of production.

Earlier this month, 21 senators led by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) sent Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack a letter in support of the new regulations to clarify and strengthen the protections afforded by the Packers and Stockyard Act for livestock producers, swine production contract growers and poultry growers.

The public forum also highlighted that these new USDA regulations are just the first step towards restoring competition in livestock markets, and called on the agency not to buckle to meat industry attacks on the rule, but to move as quickly as possible to put the rule into effect, so that other policy reform can begin that will restore competition to cattle markets.

Thursday’s leading speakers included:
· Gailmarie Kimmel, Be Local Northern Colorado
· John Stencel, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
· Rhonda Perry, Missouri Rural Crisis Center
· Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF
· Gilles Stockton, Western Organization of Resource Councils
· Mark Lauritsen United Food and Commercial Workers
· Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch

Photos from Thursday evening’s public forum can be found at http://bit.ly/PublicSpeaks

For interviews or more information, please contact:

Food & Water Watch: Anna Ghosh, 415-293-9905, aghosh(at)fwwatch(dot)org

WORC: Kevin Dowling, 406-252-9672, kdowling(at)worc(dot)org

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