Back in August we reported on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed swine slaughter modernization program, which would (i) replace trained USDA veterinarians responsible for the food safety inspection of hogs at meatpacking plants with employees of those slaughterhouses and (ii) eliminate the current maximum speed limit imposed on the slaughtering and evisceration lines.
This so called modernization is vigorously opposed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit food and health watchdog, which seeks to improve the food system to support healthy eating. We noted that there are hundreds of swine slaughter plants in the United States, with approximately 40 larger plants supplying approximately 90 percent of the nation’s pork and that three meat packing giants dominate this industrial pork trade, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods (now owned by the Chinese-based WH Group) and the Brazilian-owned JBS.
The domination of the pork trade by huge industrial agriculture (multi-national) corporations is no surprise. The USDA has long favored the big farms at the expense of the small. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, on a recent visit to the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin, laid it on the line when he gave his seal of approval: The big get bigger and the small go out.
This heartless statement regarding struggling American farms was spotlighted by Charles D. Thompson Jr., a former farmer and author of the just published book, Going Over Home: A Search For Rural Justice in an Unsettled Land, in his must-read commentary, Small Farms Valuable Assets to Society, Sustainability, published in the Albany Times Union (10/4/19) and also available on Press Reader. Thompson points out the U.S. government shovels billions toward agriculture every year, but it’s the large farms that get the handouts – it’s almost guaranteed. If they’re so efficient, Thompson emphasizes, why are taxpayers always helping them?
Further evidence of this bias in favor of big ag, according to Thompson, is also reflected by what happened to the $15 billion that taxpayers have already begun paying for the bailout of the China tariffs debacle. The top 1 percent of recipients of trade relief received, on average, $183,331. The bottom 80 percent received, on average, less than $5,000.
So it comes as no surprise to learn earlier this month that high-level trade talks between the U.S. and China have resulted in a partial trade deal, according to business news reported by Jeff Mason and David Lauder of Reuters, U.S. Outlines ‘Phase 1’ Trade Deal with China. In exchange for a delay in the U.S. raising tariffs to 30% from 25% on about $250 billion in Chinese goods (that had been set to occur on October 15th) China has agreed to purchase as much as $50 billion in agriculture products including America’s pork.
What’s a big part of this partial trade deal’s quid pro quo? The U.S. buttresses the meat packing giants, and China resolves, at least temporarily, the growing shortage of pork for its citizens.
China consumes over 50 million tons (i.e., 100 billion pounds) of pork a year, and the shortage of pork in China is eye-opening, as reported by Wang Yiwei and Raymond Zhong in Swine Fever? Trade War? China Turns to Strategic Pork Reserves in the New York Times (10/7/19). Pork prices in China are skyrocketing, the result of African swine fever, which harms pigs but not humans and has swept across the country as reported by Raymond Zhong and Ailin Tang in A Vicious, Untreatable Killer Leaves China Guessing in the New York Times (4/22/19).
We share Thompson’s concern expressed in his recent essay: The higher truth is all of agriculture is in crisis, thanks in large part to climate change. The answer is not bigger ships hauling more grain to other countries. The agricultural challenge of our time is to grow food with less water, using less energy and safer pest resistance, while providing the maximum benefit for the largest number of people. Let’s help small farmers gain a foothold.
And there is a yang to the yin of the swine flu epidemic sweeping China: that the plan to create 1,000 Slow Food villages over the next five years in China will be fulfilled, and that Slow Food Great China’s commitment to celebrating the rich food traditions of China, protecting our edible biodiversity, supporting sustainable cultivation and processing methods, and promoting social justice will be vigorously and broadly supported.
Hope springs eternal.
(Frank W. Barrie, 10/23/19)