Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Raising Livestock: The Wrong Way and the Right Way

The modern, highly centralized, factory farm model of raising and slaughtering hogs, cows, etc., has shown its weaknesses exceedingly well lately:

 . . . This unhealthy degree of concentration was not always so. It began as a strategic project of Nelson Rockefeller and the Rockefeller Foundation after World War II. The idea was to create a corporate strictly-for-profit vertical integration and cartelization of the food chain as John D. Rockefeller had done with Standard Oil and petroleum. Rockefeller money funded two Harvard Business School professors. John H. Davis, former Assistant Agriculture Secretary under Eisenhower, and Ray Goldberg, both at Harvard Business School got financing from Rockefellers to develop what they named “agribusiness.” In a 1956 Harvard Business Review article, Davis wrote that “the only way to solve the so-called farm problem once and for all, and avoid cumbersome government programs, is to progress from agriculture to agribusiness.” iv

The Harvard group was part of a Rockefeller Foundation four-year project in cooperation with economist Wassily Leontieff called “Economic Research Project on the Structure of the American Economy.” Ray Goldberg, an ardent proponent of GMO crops, later referred to their Harvard agribusiness project as, “changing our global economy and society more dramatically than any other single event in the history of mankind.” v Unfortunately, he may have been not all wrong.

In fact what it has done is to put control of our food into a tiny handful of global private conglomerates in which the traditional family farmer has all but become a contract wage employee or bankrupted entirely. In the USA today some industrial cattle feedlots hold up to 200,000 cattle at a time driven by one thing, and one thing only, and that is economic efficiency. According to USDA statistics, the number of cow/calf ranch operations in the US has dropped from 1.6 million in 1980 to less than 950,000 today. Similarly, the number of small farmer/feeders – those who fatten the cattle in preparation for eventual slaughter – has declined by 38,000. Today fewer than 2,000 commercial feeders finish 87 percent of the cattle grown in the United States.

Food production, like electronics, has become global, as cheap foods are mass packaged and shipped worldwide. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russian shops were flooded with Western agribusiness brand products from Nestle, Kelloggs, Kraft and the like. Domestic farm production collapsed. Much the same has taken place from India to Africa to South America as cheaper multinational products drive out local farmers. China before the current crisis imported 60% of its soybeans from US-controlled grain companies such as Cargill or ADM.

The system is essentially one in which farming has transformed to become factories to produce protein. It takes GMO corn and GMO soybeans to feed the animal, add vitamins and antibiotics in massive amounts to maximize weight gain before slaughter. The vertical integration of our food supply chain under globalization of the past decades has created an alarming vulnerability to precisely the kind of crisis we now have. During all past food emergencies production was local and regional and decentralized such that a breakdown in one or several centers did not threaten the global supply chain. Not today. The fact that today the United States is far the world’s largest food exporter reveals how vulnerable the world food supply has become. Coronavirus may have only put the spotlight on this dangerous problem. To correct it will take years and the will to take such measures as countries like Russia have been forced to do in response to economic sanctions.

The problem, however, isn’t one of supply but one of consolidation, according to Christopher Leonard, author of “The Meat Racket.” Speaking to Bloomberg News, and as reported by numerous news outlets, he said, “This is 100% a symptom of consolidation. We don’t have a crisis of supply right now. We have a crisis in processing. And the virus is exposing the profound fragility that comes with this kind of consolidation.”

Tyson, JBS SA and Cargill Inc. control the majority of U.S. beef, most of which gets processed in a limited number of large plants. Because the processing is concentrated into a small number of large facilities, a statement for the White House noted, “[C]losure of any of these plants could disrupt our food supply and detrimentally impact our hardworking farmers and ranchers.”

While the move to keep meat and poultry processing plants open was met with criticism from unions calling for increased protections for workers in the cramped conditions, the White House cited statistics that closing one large beef processing plant could lead to a loss of more than 10 million servings of beef in a day.

Further, the White House noted that closing one processing plant can eliminate more than 80% of the supply of a given meat product, such as ground beef, to an entire grocery store chain.

There are some solutions in view, however.  Dr Mercola notes one:

The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act would allow farmers to sell meat processed at these smaller slaughtering facilities, allow states to set their own meat processing standards and allow farmers to sell meat to consumers without USDA approval. As noted by the Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance:

“These facilities meet state regulations as well as basic federal requirements. They are typically very small with few employees. The extensive and complicated federal regulations that apply to massive meatpacking facilities are neither needed nor appropriate for these operations, which might process as much meat in an entire year as the large facilities do in a single day.

Their small scale also means that they are better able to provide necessary social distancing and sanitation measures while safely continuing operations.”

In addition to improving access to locally raised meat and reducing meat prices, the PRIME Act would support income for small farmers while also helping establish vital infrastructure in rural communities and reducing stress to animals caused by long-distance hauling.

As it stands, consumers who can’t pay for or store hundreds of pounds of meat from a share program are unable to access meat from a custom slaughterhouse. Farmers are also unable to sell locally raised meat processed at a custom slaughterhouse at local farmers markets.

This, however, would change under the PRIME Act, which could help solve short-term supply problems as well as prompt changes that are needed in the long term. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who introduced the act, tweeted May 3, 2020:

“Thousands of animals will be killed & wasted today instead of feeding families. Meanwhile Congress takes an extended vacation. Pass the PRIME Act now to allow small American owned meat processors to catch the ball that the Chinese, Brazilian, & multinational processors dropped.”


Here at the South, the memory of better ways of animal husbandry do exist, even if they are buried at present beneath the Olympic swimming pool sized manure pits of the CAFO ‘farms’ operating on her land:

Yonder is a description from one of Dixie’s homelands (Scotland) that ought to drive all Southerners to weep tears of repentance before the Lord and before the creatures He has made and given to our care:

Yet one more romantic evocation of the era from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica paints an irresistible bucolic scene:

“The milking-songs of the people are numerous and varied. They are sung to pretty airs, to please the cows and induce them to give their milk. The cows become accustomed to these lilts and will not give their milk without them. This fondness of the Highland cows for music induces owners of large herds to secure milkmaids possessed of good voice and some ‘go.’ It is interesting and animating to see three or four comely girls among a fold of sixty, eighty or a hundred picturesque Highland cows on meadow or mountain slope. The moaning and heaving of the sea afar, the swish of the wave on the shore, the caroling of the lark in the sky, the unbroken song of the mavis on the rock, the broken melody of the merle in the break, the lowing of kine without, the answering of calves within the fold, the singing of the milkmaids in unison with the movement of their hands, and of the soft sound of the snowy milk falling into the pail, the gilding of hill and dale, the glowing of the distant ocean beyond, as the sun sinks into the sea of golden glory, constitute a scene which the observer would not, if he could, forget.”


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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