Progressive Plate June 10th
June 10, 2020
Local Root Strategies Team Dishing On All Things Farm & Food Politics
What We’re Talking About
The USDA’s Rocky Roll Out of CARES Act Relief
Much of the Trump administration’s implementation of the CARES act has been anything but smooth, and with the USDA receiving very little guidance from Congress on how to distribute relief funds, their execution has been particularly ineffective. They started with the ill-designed Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which awarded $1.2 billion dollars, and received immediate criticism for many of the contract recipients. The USDA then followed that with the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) which distributed $16 billion dollars to farmers in need. In classic Secretary Perdue fashion, the USDA left out smaller and minority farmers and instead used resources to bolster political support for President Trump among larger commodity farmers.
Sonny Perdue and President Trump believe that in farming “the big get bigger and the small go out.” That is clearly reflected in the way they have administered aid during the pandemic. They don’t believe independent family farms are worth saving.
There are plenty of competent people working at the USDA, but it is clear that the agency is corrupted by the influence of multinational agribusiness and powerful commodity lobbyists. We need serious reforms to get multinational corporations out of the department.
For years, a few multinational corporations have been buying up competitors and executing mega mergers. This went virtually unnoticed by the average American until COVID-19 hot spots started popping up at mega meatpacking plants. Soon, Tyson Foods was crying fowl about the weakness in the system that they built. Quickly, President Trump rushed to their rescue --signing an executive order mandating that meat processing plants stay open during the pandemic. This brought new attention to claims of market manipulation by the world's meat giants with senators, attorneys generals, and now the Justice Department suddenly interested in addressing this problem. Meanwhile, poultry industry executives are being indicted for price fixing that spans as far back as 2012, and a Brazilian court cleared the notorious Batista Brothers to return to managing their company--JBS--the largest meat producer in the United States.
Multinational meatpackers are a dramatic example of market concentration and corporate corruption much like the Beef Trust of the early 1900s.
To reign in this out-of-control sector, we need strong antitrust reforms--and progressives have been leading that call for years.
It is a little surprising that republican lawmakers are now concerned about the concentration of the industry when leaders of their party have been paving the way for agribusiness for decades.
Black Farmers Matter
Almost every sector of modern society is affected by systemic racism, and farming is no exception--especially when we consider how it drove a major portion of America’s original sin of slavery. The Center For American Progress’s 2019 report made it clear we have a lot of work to do. Fortunately, Civil Eats has compiled a list of groups we can support to begin taking action against the effects of systemic racism and discrimination. It is time we take responsibility for discrimination in land access, discrimination at the hands of the USDA, price discrimination, and a failure to inclusively represent people of color in the farm community.
Change In Motion
Farm System Reform Act Picking Up Momentum
Senator Cory Booker boldly led the introduction of the Farms System Reform Act in 2019 shining a bright light on the broken livestock and meat system that multinational corporations have built. As mega meatpacking plants became hot spots for COVID-19, Senator Warren decided to co-sponsor the legislation and Rep. Rho Khanna introduced companion legislation in the House.
The bill includes important reforms:
Strengthening laws from the early 1900s (The Packers and Stockyards Act) to prevent hyper concentration in the livestock industry.
Creating farmer safeguards to prevent predatory pricing and contracting practices by multinational meatpackers.
Placing a moratorium on the expansion or development of new large factory farms.
Allocating $100 Billion over 10 years to help farmers caught in this broken system transition to more sustainable and regenerative production.