Wednesday, September 08, 2010

New York Times calls for end of anti-competitive agriculture industry

The U. S. Department of Agriculture's move to address anti-trust issues in the agriculture industry are an important step in the right direction, but more can be done, The New York Times writes in an editorial. "New rules proposed by [USDA Sec. Tom] Vilsack aim to restore the balance between independent livestock producers and the industrial behemoths," the newspaper writes. "The behemoths have screamed, a sign of how entrenched they really are."

"An even bigger problem is increasing concentration and vertical control," the newspaper writes. "The number of hog farms in the country has declined by 89 percent in the past 30 years, the number of cattle ranches by 40 percent." The Times also points to the decline in open, cash markets for livestock, where just four percent of hogs were sold on the open market in 2010, as a key problem in the industry. "As a result, livestock is increasingly traded from packer to packer, not farm to packer, giving packers more control of the total market — in the pasture, in the barns, in the feedlots and on the killing floor," the newspaper writes.

"By themselves, these changes will only modestly reduce the concentration in the industry today," The Times concludes. "We hope Mr. Vilsack will be able to make his modest rule changes stick. But we also think it’s time for a larger initiative in preparation for the next farm bill — which could reach Congress in 2012 — to prevent packers from owning animals before they’re ready for slaughter, restore open markets and let small farmers back into the game." (Read more)

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