Unprecedented coalition takes on hog industry
What's the stink?
by Roger Allison
What's all this bellyaching about hog factories?
Are all these smaller farrners just jealous of companies that can produce pork at a better price? And really, the untreated pig rnanure that spilled into the rivers in North Carolina and Iowa, those were aberrations, this is a state-of-the-art industry getting better all the time, don't you know? We can't blame the whole bunch just because of a few bad apples. Isn't progress inevitable? Don't smaller producers get shaken out as an industry matures?
With these kind of hollow arguments, it's no wonder that an unprecedented coalition has formed of farmers, environmentalists, religious and labor leaders and animal welfare groups to take on the hog industry. The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, was kicked-off lastApril at a rally with over 3,000 people in Lincoln Township, Missouri. This little township was trying to enforce their democratically-passed planning and zoning to ensure that Premiurn Standard Farms (PSF) would be a good neighbor. The result? PSF, the fourth largest hog producer in the U.S., sued Lincoln Township for $7.8 million.
It's this type of exploitation of communities that has spurred us to fight the corporate takeover of the livestock industry. As a family farmer and the executive director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which represents 3,400 family farmer members, I have seen farmers and rural people pushed into action. The hog concentration issue is where the battle is being waged over the future ofagriculture in our country. Do we want corporate farms or family farms? The hog industry says that industrialization is needed to be competitive and to deliver a quality and consistent product to the consumer. The reality is that family farmers have always produced a quality product that the consumer demands in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. For example, Patchwork Farms, a project of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, produces and marlcets pork products that are raised in an environmentally sound and humane way.
This industrialization is not about efficiency or quality. It's about the huge amount of corporate capital and their control of the marketplace that are unfairly and illegally forcing family farmers out of business. Premium Standard Farms, for example, with over 80,000 sows in production, has a debt of over $700 million to Morgan Stanley and Chemical Bank and losses of over $25 mil lion a year, but still touts its efficiency. Whereas family farmers' money is recirculated again and again in the community, companies with no local ties drain money out of the rural economy: less retail sales less permanentjobs and less local per capita income.
These huge factory farms are wreaking environmental havoc on our land and natural resources. Just ask the neighbors of "the state-of-the-art" lagoon that spilled 25 million gallons of manure into North Carolina's Neuse River.
Corporate meatpackers are taking control of the meat market and putting family farmers out of business. They do this the old-fashioned way: they buy fewer hogs from independent producers and when they do, they pay around 25 percent less than they would from the large producers. These kind of practices brought about The Packers and Stockyards Act and other anti-trust legislation in the '20s.
Rural cornmunities and our way of life are being destroyed by the intimidation and power of these corporations. These hog confinement factories house and manage these animals in an inhumane manner - a process that is just plain wrong.
Only with public outcry will corporate control be overturned. The Campaign for Farnily farms and the Enviromnent is committed to holding public and corporate officials accountable and raising public awareness. As a direct result of April's Premium Standard Farms action, the issue catapulted into the national spotlight. The company dropped monetary damages from the law- suit and Lincoln Township was bolstered by an outpouring of public support. A meeting between the campaign and Secretary of Agriculture Glickman came about after a widely publicized march from Missouri to the Rural Summit in Iowa, that gathered thousands of petition signatures and citizen demands and support of labor along the way.
Labor and farmers are natural allies in this fight to restore a more equitable balance between corporate boardrooms, labor and the producers of raw material. Recognizing this fact, "Duke" McVey, the president of Missouri AFL-CIO is writing AFL-CIO locals asking members to contribute to this effort. This issue brings together rural and urban residents to stand up for a safe food supply, a clean environment and strong communities.
Throughout the '80s, farmers and labor built ties that had been severed. The only ones that benefit from low wages to workers and low prices to family farrn producers are corporations. The Missouri Rural Crisis Center has long been supported by organized labor in this state. As, both labor and farmers have learned, the only way to bring about social and economic justice is by organizing. By working together, we can create a "true" state-of-the-art farm and food policy that supports families, rural communities and urban consumers alike.
Roger Allison is Executive Director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, based in Columbia, Missouri. He owns and works a small farm near Armstrong, Missouri.
Photo of Roger Allison by Nic Paget-Clarke.