As we bring this series to a close, many of you may be wondering – is there hope?Hope for the farmers and ranchers of America? Will the next generation have a fair chance to compete in agriculture? What can well-informed, conscious consumers do to make a difference? As the saying goes, the wheels of justice turn slowly…
In January 2022, the Biden Administration announced it would allocate $1 billion in federal money to increase competition in the meatpacking industry. The funds, coming from the American Rescue Plan, were used to expand the independent meat processing sector, including funds for financing grants, guaranteed loans, and worker training. Biden stated that the funding to expand meat and poultry processing will give farmers more options than just the “giant processing conglomerates.”
$655 million was spent on loans and grants to help launch new meat-processing facilities, or support existing small operations to compete with The Big 4.
In September 2022, the USDA announced new efforts to strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. These efforts include (1) publishing the proposed Inclusive Competition and Market Integrity Rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect farmers and ranchers from abuse, and (2) a new $15 million Agricultural Competition Challenge to ramp up collaboration with the State Attorneys General on enforcement of the competition laws, such as the laws against price-fixing.
“Highly concentrated local markets in livestock and poultry have increasingly left farmers, ranchers, growers, and producers vulnerable to a range of practices that unjustly exclude them from economic opportunities and undermine a transparent, competitive, and open market — which harms producers’ ability to deliver the quality, affordable food working families depend upon.” – Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack
Former antitrust attorney at the Department of Justice, Peter Carstensen stated that while the changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act could be significant, he doesn’t believe that investment in independent processing itself would address market concentration. Austin Frerick, deputy director of the Thurman Arnold Project at Yale University, an antitrust research center, echoed that opinion stating that the plan does not go far enough to tackle the power of the top meatpackers, and "I do not believe this plan will meaningfully change the concentration numbers.”
In addition to the efforts to increase competition in the meatpacking industry, the USDA recently proposed new requirements for the “Product of the USA” label claim, briefly mentioned in Part 6. This proposition comes after almost a decade of petitioning from the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, who has been fighting for change since the 2015 repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling. Current policy allows imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label provided it passes through a USDA-inspected plant. This is a heavily exploited loophole that has allowed multinational corporations to import meat, simply repackage it, and pass it off as a higher-quality product raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers. Under the new requirements, the “Product of U.S.A.” label will apply exclusively to meat, poultry, and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. Consumers often pay a premium for products made in the U.S.A., and at the most fundamental level, we deserve the right to know where our food comes from.
Truth in labeling will likely continue to be an uphill battle, with rampant greenwashing across virtually all sectors (see our article, ‘Greenwashing in Pasture Raised Chicken’ for more), however, many believe the proposed changes to the Product of U.S.A label claim, combined with increased awareness, and a movement toward conscious consumerism, may result in stricter labeling laws to combat deceptive marketing.
In August of 2022, we received the news that our chicken processor would be closing, leaving just two chicken processors in the entire state of Texas that offer processing for small farms (big chicken processors like Tyson don’t process for other farms). This was a major obstacle for us and given the time-sensitive nature of meat processing, left us scrambling to find an alternative. While we’ve had long term plans to build a processing plant on our property at The 74, we were quite a ways from putting that idea into motion. Fueled by the pressure to process our chicken and feeling a bit desperate, we explored the possibility of buying the chicken processor that was closing down and applied for one of the USDA financial grants. We ultimately trusted a shared gut feeling that it wasn’t the right move and opted to go in a different direction.
As you’ve learned throughout this series, relying on a few big processors for America’s meat production can be very risky, especially during a state of crisis (like the pandemic). While we did not receive that grant, we changed courses and began the process of building The 1915 Meatery – a butcher shop allowing us to process our animals in-house, according to our values, and ultimately expand the products we offer.
Like so many Americans, we saw the writing on the wall over the last few years, and we felt the need to do something about it. As Henry Kissinger once said, “control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” As a small farm with a passion for honoring animals, the land, and our fellow conscious consumers – we pledge to continue empowering people through education and providing an alternative option to The Big 4 – one living, breathing animal at a time.
Throughout this series, we’ve been blown away by the amount of support, appreciation, and meaningful conversations sparked by each part of The Big Meat Dilemma. If you need any help finding a farm, we welcome you to browse through the cuts on our website, or visit EatWild.com to find a farm near you. We’re incredibly grateful for our community – so if you’ve made it this far, we’d like to extend a token of our appreciation – use code: BMD5 for $5 off your order of $100 or more.
Thank you for taking this ride with us. We’ll see you for the next series on The 1915 Experience.
Part 7 sources: Reuters, RD.USDA.gov Grants Issued, MissouriIndependent, IowaCapitalDispatch,FoodSafetyNewsRead more about our decision to build The 1915 Meatery here.
Thank you so much for this series. Very informative and clearly presented.
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