agriculture * food * energy * environment
The American food system isn’t broken, but it is sure in need of repair as recalls of food items become more common place. With the ag industry becoming so concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer food processors, these types of massive recalls will become more common, especially if the industry and the government is so lax in inspection. In the age of the modern supermarket, this is truly a national issue of food security.
The Food and Drug Administration’s recently released inspection reports detailing unsanitary and inhumane conditions at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, two companies responsible for the largest egg recall in U.S. history.
“The FDA’s inspection reports detail shockingly unhygienic and inhumane conditions that are pervasive throughout the egg industry, and which the Humane Society of the United States has documented repeatedly, including at major Iowa egg factories earlier this year,” said Michael Greger, MD, director of public health and animal agriculture for the HSUS.
“The egg industry must end these cruel practices and reduce this unacceptable food safety threat by switching to cage-free systemsat four Iowa egg factory farms revealed rampant animal abuse and food safety concerns, such as live birds forced to live on top of mummified bird carcasses rotting in cages,” Greger said. “These conditions were similar to those that the FDA found at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms.”
He said every one of the last 10 studies comparing cage to cage-free systems found higher Salmonella rates in cage systems, including a 2010 study that found 20 times greater odds of Salmonella infection in caged flocks.
Approximately 142,000 Americans suffering Salmonella infections from eggs every year is an egg-borne epidemic.
At the same time, the Competitive Enterprise Institute said that a FDA proposal to limit the use of certain antibiotics in livestock, warning that a ban could unintentionally increase the threat of foodborne illness in the United States.
According to CEI, the FDA draft guidance would prohibit the use of “medically important” antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, and chickens, and would require veterinary oversight for remaining uses.
In its comments, CEI warned that “uses of these drugs for growth promotion reduces pathogen loads in animal-derived foods and have a positive impact on human safety, so such restrictions could do more harm than good.
According to CEI, antibiotics use in livestock has been criticized by the public health community due to concerns that it contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. However, U.S. government studies indicate that livestock uses account for only about 10 percent of the problem with resistant bacteria and that misuse in human patients is the leading cause of antibiotic resistance.
“Whether you’re talking about human or animal use, banning beneficial uses today can have negative impacts on human and animal health just as surely as a lack of long-term drug efficacy can,” said Gregory Conko, CEI’s Director of Food and Drug Policy. “Instead, we need to balance the current benefits of antimicrobial use against the inevitable development of resistance, and this can include using antibiotics for livestock growth promotion purposes.”
According to CEI, the FDA already regulates animal antibiotic use very stringently and mandates efforts to slow down the development of bacterial resistance. Many governments in Europe have banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, but with little or no effect on the development of resistant bacteria.
“After the U.K., Denmark, and then the entire European Union banned antibiotic use for growth promotion, the incidence of many resistant bacteria increased, not decreased,” said Conko. “Those bans have increased the cost of raising animals and made food more expensive, but they’ve done absolutely nothing to improve public health
Again, this issue is a direct result of the massive concentration of livestock processor, especially when you consider that four packers control over 80 percent of the fed cattle market compared to 36 percent in 1980. When you crowd this many critters together you need to keep them healthy. Also consider the lost of independent feedlots with capacities under 1,000 head have been reduced by 30,000 since 1996. Giant and crowded feedlots and hog and poultry confinements produce a lot of sick animals. Under this type of system, antibiotics play a vital role or all of those animals would become sick from those confined conditions.
The drought in Russia (global warming) is one of the reasons the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that fiscal 2011 agricultural exports are forecast at $113 billion, up $5.5 billion from the revised 2010 forecast.
According to the USDA, “Much of the increase is due to greater grain and feed shipments, (up $4.3 billion from the revised 2010 forecast) due to sharply reduced competition from Russia, Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine.”
Horticultural exports, the USDA reports, are “forecast up $1.7 billion from 2010 on strong demand from Canada, the EU, and Asian markets.”
According to the report:’
*Increased livestock and poultry product exports are expected to more than offset slight declines in dairy product exports. Cotton exports are forecast up significantly with larger domestic supplies and less export competition.
*The only major category expected to fall is oilseeds, due in part to increased competition from South America.
*Fiscal 2010 exports are raised $3 billion from the May forecast to $107.5 billion, due mostly to greater grain and feed shipments and higher values along with increased livestock, poultry, and dairy product exports.
*The forecasts for cotton, oilseeds, and horticultural products are raised. Much of the overall increase is due to greater shipments to Asia, primarily Hong Kong and South Korea.
*The forecast for 2011 imports is $81.5 billion, up 5.8 percent from the revised 2010 forecast, as import demand grows steadily.
*Import values are expected to increase as income growth improves and some commodity prices remain relatively strong. Continued strong demand in 2011 is expected for livestock and horticultural imports, although uncertainty about economic recovery may limit gains for wine, beer, processed fruits and vegetables, and nuts.
*The $77-billion total for 2010 reflects higher import unit values than seen in 2009, especially for processed products as volume is lower.
Cattle Trade Center reported Tuesday that c0rn futures in Chicago climbed to a “15-month high at nearly $4.30 a bushel.”
But, according to the article, that could be a bargain as in the next several months corn prices, negatively impacting livestock and ethanol producers, could go beyond $5 per bushel.
The cause of the higher prices, according to the story, is the drought that’s impacting Russia and the global grain supply.
According to the story, “yield prospects in the U.S. deteriorate, some brokers and analysts say corn is headed past $5 a bushel, a level it hasn’t traded above in more than two years, based on front-month futures.”
In 2oo8, corn prices hit more than $7.60 per bushel causing problems in the livestock and ethanol industry.
The drought in Russia, the flooding in Pakistan, is all part of a greater picture that the warming climate is causing on the planet. These weather extremes that will lead to prolonged drought in one area of the global to raging floods in another part of the world will all put a strain on this planet’s ability to grow crops.
With greater and greater demand for food and dwindling reserves, even a year’s disruption in one area of world’s harvest will wreak havoc on the entire global food chain as it is happening now. But as the climate gradually gets warmer and weather patterns become even more extreme, these disruptions will prove more deadly than they are now.
Here’s another sign that weather problems will continue to impact global food supplies as NOAA and NASA reports in a new joint study of a “relatively new type of El Niño, which has its warmest waters in the central-equatorial Pacific Ocean, rather than in the eastern-equatorial Pacific, is becoming more common and progressively stronger.”
A workshop, led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Friday in Ft. Collins, Colo., examined competition in the livestock industry and featured panel discussions on trends in the livestock industry, market consolidation and market transparency.
According to the Center for Rural Affairs, public workshop was designed to explore the “appropriate role for antitrust and regulatory enforcement in American agriculture.”
Iowa Farmers Union President Chris Petersen, addressed issues of buyer power, concentration in livestock markets, enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and antitrust in the meatpacking sector as well as discussing the environmental impact of vertically-integrated, industrial livestock production, increasing packing and processing capacity in under-served areas, and fostering the next generation of America’s family farmers and ranchers.
Petersen, who farms near Clear Lake, Iowa, represented both the Iowa Farmers Union and the Center for Rural Affairs with his comments and participation on the panel. He and his wife Kristi maintain a 30-sow Berkshire herd on their farm near Clear Lake, Iowa, where they produce 400 pigs a year, all of which are sold locally or to niche pork companies. Petersen refuses to market his hogs directly to commodity pork packers.
“What is being done to farming and ranching, and really, all of rural America today, is inexcusable and unacceptable,” Petersen said.
According to John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs, who attended the workshop, standing up to industry and stopping the headlong rush toward concentration and vertical integration in livestock production and packing is a “long row to hoe, but crucial to revitalizing family farms and ranches across much of rural America.”
Crabtree said the Center for Rural Affairs has and will continue to urge USDA to hold their ground and end the volume-based, “sweetheart” deals that packers routinely give to the nation’s largest hog and cattle producers.
“USDA has written a strong rule that will improve enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and challenge the price discrimination against family farmers and ranchers that has driven tens of thousands of them out of the livestock business,” said Crabtree.
According to R-CALF USA, a strong supporter of changes in the livestock industry, the issue is about bringing free market enterprise back to the livestock industry.
— Beef packer concentration is constraining the U.S. cattle industry, causing it to shrink and preventing it from keeping pace with increased domestic beef consumption: U.S. cattle operations declined 40 percent since 1980, with over 500,000 operations exiting the industry since that time. even in the face of growth in U.S. beef consumption (consumption outpaced production from 1996-2009).
— Four packers control over 80 percent of the fed cattle market, which is a radical increase from the 36 percent they controlled in 1980. Concentration of the market outlets for fed cattle and boxed beef have surpassed levels known to elicit noncompetitive behavior and result in adverse economic performance:
— Four packers control over 50 percent of the cow/bull market, which is a radical increase from the 10 percent they controlled in 1980.
— Concentration of the market outlets for fed cattle and boxed beef have surpassed levels known to elicit noncompetitive behavior and result in adverse economic performance:
— Four packers control over 50 percent of the cow/bull market, which is a radical increase from the 10 percent they controlled in 1980.
— The size of the U.S. cow herd is now the smallest since the 1950s.
— Contrary to claims that increased productivity offsets the need for more cattle operations and more cattle, U.S. beef production remained relatively stagnant during the past 14 years
—Four packers control over 80 percent of the fed cattle market, which is a radical increase from the 36 percent they controlled in 1980.
— Concentration in the feeder cattle market is increasing and the exodus of independent feedlots already has reduced the number of competitive bidders for feeder cattle:
— Feedlots with capacities under 1,000 head have been reduced by 30,000 just since 1996.
— The four largest feedlot companies: JBS-owned Fiver Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding, Cactus Feeders, Cargill-owned Cargill Cattle Feeders, and Friona Industries, market about 20 percent of all fed cattle, though the actual selling price and terms for these cattle is not definitively known.
The proposed rule would:
— Provide further definition to practices that are unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive, including outlining actions that are retaliatory in nature, efforts that would limit a producer’s legal rights, or representations that would be fraudulent or misleading.
— Reiterate USDA’s position that a producer need not overcome unnecessary obstacles and have to always prove a harm to competition when they have suffered a violation under the Act.
— Define undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.
— Establish new protections for producers required to provide expensive capital upgrades to their growing facilities, including protections to ensure producers have the opportunity to recoup 80 percent of the cost of a required capital investment.
“A lot of attention has been drawn to this workshop based on the recent disputes on the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed rule,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson.
“GIPSA has put forth the revisions as called for by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill,” said Johnson. “The rules reinforce the existing Packers and Stockyards Act and amount to a Farmer and Rancher Bill of Rights.”
While the GIPSA proposed rule was a major point of contention, Johnson said the focus of the workshop was on overall concentration in the livestock marketplace. “U.S. family famers and ranchers must be allowed the right to access a fair marketplace,” said Johnson.
He said NFU has been working for decades to ensure that the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 protects farmers, ranchers and growers as was intended by Congress.
“I hope the USDA and DOJ will take the information gathered at this workshop in order to protect producers and the future of agriculture in the United States,” Johnson said.
But members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) had a different point of view and is concern about the unintended consequences of the proposed rule.
Robbie LeValley, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association; a cattle producer; and a co-owner of Homestead Meats, a family owned company marketing beef locally, is worried that the proposed rule could have a negative impact on her family business.
“Our innovation and our willingness to do direct marketing has basically now labeled us a packer and under the proposed rule, as I read it, now limits our marketing options – meaning not being able to sell to other packers,” she said. “While some say that is not the intent of the rule, the vagueness of the language makes it very possible.”
According to NPPC President Sam Carney, a producer from Adair, Iowa, the GIPSA rule, as written, would limit his ability to sell hogs.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “The markets work, and we don’t need the government trying to ‘fix’ it. The GIPSA rule is overly broad and very vague. It would inject uncertainty into the market, stifle innovation and lead to less not more competition in the livestock industry.”