April 12, 2002. -- House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt announced his support this week for two important provisions to be included in the Farm Bill: a ban packer ownership of livestock and country-of-origin labeling for meat and produce. The Missouri Rural Crisis Center and other family farm groups -- who were instrumental in bringing these issues to Congress -- are hailing Gephardt for this announcement and calling on other Missouri Representatives to take similar actions.
The ban would prohibit big corporate meatpackers from directly owning livestock more than 2 weeks before slaughter; despite opponents claims to the contrary, the ban will not affect marketing contracts. Corporate ownership of livestock has resulted in lower prices and restricted access to markets for independent producers.
In his letter to the Farm Bill conference committee leadership, Gephardt expressed concern that a handful of meat packers have come to dominate the market. He added, I ask that you support the Senate provision that will prevent the largest meat packers in the nation from owning or feeding livestock in competition with farmers. Family farmers and ranchers will benefit, as will competition, by reducing livestock market distortion and providing enhanced access to packing plants for independent producers across the country.
Representative Gephardt has shown true leadership by following the will of the vast majority of Missouri livestock producers, said Bill Christison, a Livingston County farmer and President of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. He understands that diversified crop and livestock farmers are the backbone of Missouris rural economy.
Throughout the Farm Bill debate, family farmers have consistently called for banning packer ownership of livestock in an effort to begin to create fair and competitive markets, said Rhonda Perry, a crop and livestock farmer from Howard County and the Program Director of MRCC. The Senate heard our calls, and now its the Houses turn. If you support family farmers, youll do what Representative Gephardt has done. But if you work for Cargill, Smithfield and Tyson, go ahead and support a farm bill that will only further corporate concentration
Many believe that the ban is the most divisive issue in the Farm Bill, with a near perfect split down party lines among the Senate members of the conference committee. Outside of the conference committee however, the ban has wide bi-partisan support in the Senate, where the amendment was offered by Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Johnson (D-SD) and passed twice by the full Senate. Family farmers are left wondering why the House Republican leadership is totally silent despite numerous requests for support from throughout farm country.
MRCC urges Missouri citizens to continue contacting their legislators during the next week, when conference committee members are expected to be finalizing the next farm bill.
April 9, 2002
The Honorable Tom Harkin
I am writing to you to express my views over the direction of our Country's farm, nutrition and rural development policy. As you know, rural communities have suffered tremendous economic loss since the passage of the last farm bill in 1996. Several years of record low prices for agricultural products has devastated family farmers, reduced competition and left our farmers more vulnerable than ever before to foreign economic crisis. The last farm bill failed to provide a safety net that could protect the family farm from these threats. As you know, Congress has had to repeatedly manage agricultural policy through emergency aid bills that are unpredictable and poorly targeted. Farmers have earned fair compensation on their investment and hard work in providing us the best food supply in the world, and this farm bill should provide it.
In addition, farmers, who make their living off the land, are being called upon more than ever to lead in the effort to improve our environment. >From promoting clean water and wildlife protection, to the contribution agriculture can make to improving air quality, farmers face challenges but also offer tremendous potential. Expanding our commitment to farm conservation programs and investing in critical research programs is essential if we are serious about our commitment to protect the environment. This commitment should be reflected in this farm bill.
While I congratulate you on coming to a tentative agreement on funding to address some concerns about farm income and conservation, I am disappointed that our new fiscal reality contributed to the difficult choices you made. A year ago, we were anticipating significant non-social security surpluses that could have been used to address many of the challenges facing rural America. Today, the deficit spending we are sadly confronted with over the next decade endangers all our policy priorities including future years of spending on farm aid, conservation, rural development, research and nutrition that are being promised to farmers and the American people in this bill.
Beyond the tough fiscal issues, I believe there are several priorities that should be included in your final bill. First, I am concerned about the increased concentration in the agricultural economy, particularly in meatpacking. As you know, a handful of meat packers have come to dominate the market, setting prices and signing contracts that shutout smaller producers. Yet, at the same time, any claims of increased efficiency have not been matched by lower prices for consumers. In fact, two years ago, when hog prices hit record lows, consumer prices stayed flat. I ask that you support the Senate provision that will prevent the largest meat packers in the nation from owning or feeding livestock in competition with farmers. Family farmers and ranchers will benefit, as will competition, by reducing livestock market distortion and providing enhanced access to packing plants for independent producers across the country
Second, I ask that you include the Senate provision on country of origin labeling for fresh agricultural products. This provision builds on the earlier House-passed provision, which passed by an overwhelming margin. The Senate expanded the labeling requirement to include fresh produce, peanuts and meat products including beef, pork, lamb and farm-raised fish at the retail level. This is common information provided to consumers on virtually every other product they can buy. Consumers should have this information about the food they eat so that they can make decisions on behalf of themselves and their families - this is a consumer's right-to-know provision.
The Senate labeling provision is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, the Nation's two largest farm organizations. In addition, consumer organizations including the Consumer Federation of America support mandatory country of origin labeling. This broad support is evidence of the importance these various interests place in this provision and the understanding that a consumer, armed with adequate information, will make the right choice. This provision also gives public health officials the information they need to quickly trace the path of food-borne pathogens or intentional contamination of our food supply.
Next, I believe we need to recognize that America has the potential to literally grow ourselves out of many of the energy problems we currently face. The energy potential of bio-based fuels will assist us in reducing our dependence on foreign oil. At this critical juncture in developing these cleaner burning alternative fuels, we need to back decisive steps to promote the development of ethanol, soy diesel and emerging forms of bio-energy. I ask that you support the Senate energy provisions as the best way to add value to farm products while also solving our energy problems.
Finally, recent breakthroughs in agricultural research have shown us the potential for dramatically lowering production costs, minimizing impact on the environment, and improving the quality of the food we eat. I believe it is a mistake for us to under invest in agricultural research at this time. I also believe we may need to look at new ways to fund cutting edge agricultural research. I ask that you include a Senate provision creating a blue ribbon taskforce to consider the option of expanding federal assistance for agricultural research by creating a grant providing agency modeled on the highly successful National Institutes of Health.
I once again compliment you on your hard work to reach agreement on a final farm bill.
Richard A. Gephardt
The Campaign for Family Farms is a coalition of the following family farm organizations: The Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota), Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
|Published in In Motion Magazine, April 22, 2002
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