The Covid-19 Pandemic has had many effects on the economy of the United States, and particularly hard-hit has been the agriculture and food sector. Not since the Depression have we seen such a disparity between retail and farmgate prices, empty grocery shelves while people clamor for food, and farmers going out of business.
Like something straight out of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, farmers are euthanizing livestock, dumping milk, and allowing produce to rot in the fields, while industry experts vaguely cite market forces beyond our control as the cause for such actions. Meanwhile, farm and ranch groups are scrambling to rally support for stopgap measures to stem the bleeding.
At OCM, we have been advocating for market reform for over 20 years. Many of the changes that we have been proposing for decades have finally been recognized by politicians and the public as viable ways to mitigate the effects of disruption caused by COVID-19. Now more than ever, it is clear that our agriculture and food economy is in need of a major overhaul, which includes strategic, structural changes to our virtually nonexistent, noncompetitive markets.
With that, here is a breakdown of 9 actions that could be taken now to strengthen our agriculture and food system:
- Break up the Big Four meatpacking companies that now control over 85% of the beef market. Never again allow the top four companies to control more than 30% of the market.
- Decentralize meat processing by implementing state/federal cooperative meatpacking plants in underserved areas under the authority of the Talmadge-Aiken Act of 1962.
- Enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 and stop unfair practices, such as collaboration, price fixing, coordination, that unfairly pit farmers against each other and further consolidate corporate control.
- Enact a Moratorium on Mergers by passing the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act, which would also establish a commission to review mergers, concentration, and market power in those sectors and develop recommendations to establish a fair marketplace for family farmers and their communities.
- Reinstate Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling to align existing demand for domestic beef with the proper supply. And if it doesn’t, ban beef imports, especially from Brazil.
- Ban packer ownership of livestock and curb captive supply. This major conflict of interest allows packers to strategically manipulate prices.
- Reform the Checkoff system by passing the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, by removing NCBA as the main recipient of checkoff funds and by declaring a Checkoff Holiday for dairy producers until milk prices are restored to sustainable levels.
- Stop the merger of Dean Foods/DFA and investigate possible antitrust violations by cooperatives safe-harbored under the Capper-Volstead Act.
- Reinstate the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as a stand-alone agency with direct oversight of AMS, and end political appointment of the director and deputy director of GIPSA.
While the damage to our agriculture and food system didn’t happen overnight and won’t be fixed overnight, there is much that could be done now to begin to repair the damage done by unchecked corporate control and the loss of competition in markets. OCM will continue to work to restore fair competition in a market that functions for the people, as it should.