In the space of a generation, U.S. hog production has transformed, even if the Midwest, with Iowa foremost, is still the leader, said a new USDA report. There were half as many hog farms in the country in 2017 as there were in 1997, and the largest farms, often specialized operations, raised 93 percent of the pigs.
The increasing dominance of large factory farms in Iowa means hog farmers earn $2 less per pound of pork than they did 40 years ago, when the state had many more smaller farms, according to a new report by the nonprofit advocacy group Food & Water Watch.
The chief executives of the nation’s four largest meatpacking companies said on Wednesday that they were not the cause of surging meat prices at the grocery store, which are up by 15 percent in a year. And they told a skeptical House Agriculture chairman David Scott there was no pact to drive up profits at the expense of consumers or limit the meat supply for Americans.
The chief executive officers of Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS, and National Beef — the four largest meatpackers in the country — will testify at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on consolidation in the meat industry, said chairman David Scott.
The pandemic has given the idea of agricultural collectives a boost—in some instances, a gigantic boost. In 2020, when the coronavirus disrupted industrial food systems, causing widespread backlogs and shortages, local co-ops, farm collectives, food hubs, and other distribution projects found fresh relevance. Some food hubs reported revenue increases as high as 500 percent, according to a May 2021 report from the Wallace Center, a nonprofit that supports community food and farming solutions.(No paywall)
Grocery prices are climbing at their fastest pace since 2008, with beef, pork and poultry leading the way — up nearly 13 percent since last November, said the government's new inflation report. The White House pinned the blame for surging meat prices on meatpackers "taking advantage of their market power to raise prices while increasing their own profit margins."
When Sanderson Farms announced a base pay cut for its growers throughout Mississippi in early August, farmers claimed it was an effort to undercut wages in the wake of a merger between Sanderson and Wayne Farms, another major producer in the state, as Marcia Brown reports in FERN's latest story, produced with The Capitol Forum. (No paywall)
Three months ago, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA would commit $500 million to expand meat and poultry processing capacity and create a more competitive livestock market. "I believe it is going to leverage literally billions of dollars in investment from investors and local governments," said Vilsack at a meat locker plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Buoyed by a Biden administration pledge to vigorously police agricultural mergers, the National Farmers Union launched the nationwide "Fairness for Farmers" campaign on Wednesday to restore competition in the marketplace. "This endeavor has clear goals: to curtail consolidation in agriculture and bust the monopolies, which negatively impact farmers, ranchers, and consumers," said NFU president Rod Larew.
The USDA will propose three rules to give cattle, hog and poultry producers more leverage in dealing with meat processors in an increasingly concentrated industry, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The initiatives would make it easier for a producer to prove unfair treatment by a processor and would write a new regulation on use of so-called tournament systems by processors to determine pay for poultry farmers.
Large meatpackers would be required to buy 50 percent of their cattle for slaughter each week on the open market under legislation filed by nine senators. It was the second bill this month aimed at greater transparency in cattle prices.
While overfishing no longer threatens U.S. fisheries, other pressing sustainability issues, such as finfish aquaculture and consolidation, top the list of concerns among fishers and fisheries experts, according to panelists who spoke at FERN Talks and Eats in New York City on Monday.(No paywall)
A coalition of farmers, fishers, students, and advocates rallied at the headquarters of food service provider Aramark on Monday to demand that the company source its food more ethically. The Community Coalition for Real Meals demonstrated in front of Aramark's Philadelphia headquarters on Monday and delivered a petition that the group says has been signed by over 100,000 people.