Unicameral Votes for Meatpackers over Family Farmers and Ranchers

On Feb 5, 2016, the Nebraska Unicameral voted for final passage of LB 176, legislation to rescind Nebraska’s statute prohibiting meatpacking corporations from owning hogs prior to slaughter. The bill will now be sent to the governor for his consideration.

Debate over the bill was halted when 34 senators voted in favor of invoking cloture and ending debate. The bill was passed on final reading by a vote of 34 to 14. Senators Davis, Bloomfield, Schnoor, Sullivan, Groene, Chambers, Brasch, Bolz, Cook, Crawford, Hansen, Howard, Morfeld, and Ken Haar stood in opposition to final passage of LB 176.

I am unable to describe how disappointing this vote is to me, and to the independent, family farm and ranch livestock producers that I know and have worked with. Corporate money spoke out on this issue and too many senators listened.

Meatpackers want to own hogs because that’s where the profit is. They’d rather someone else did all the work of raising the pigs, stood all the risk, and debt-financed the buildings.

The bill was a legislative solution in search of a problem. Make no mistake, this was about the bottom-line of meatpacking corporations. This bill offers nothing to family farmers and ranchers, creates no opportunities.

In fact, it does the opposite. It slams the door in the face of farmers and ranchers, especially young farmers trying to get started in livestock production. Instead it offers them the chance to become virtual serfs to meatpacking companies.

We applaud the determined efforts of a core group of senators who stood in opposition to the meatpacking corporations.

Senator Davis, Senator Bloomfield, Senator Schnoor, Senator Sullivan, Senator Groene, Senator Chambers, and Senator Ken Haar - these senators had the courage to stand up for farmers, ranchers, and small-town Nebraska. They were heroic in their efforts. Senator Davis, in particular, was a true champion for rural Nebraska and the family farms and ranches that are the backbone of our rural economy.

LB 176 is not about helping family farmers. It is not about jobs or rebuilding communities. If consolidation and vertical integration created jobs and healthy communities, rural Nebraska would be a paradise today. But in truth, this bill will result in fewer farmers, declining rural population, and shrinking small-town economic opportunities.

We believe in a bright future for rural Nebraska, with vibrant small towns surrounded by thriving family farms and ranches. But advancing the cynical vision of LB 176 will only serve to make achieving that future much more difficult.

Sadly, as bad as this bill is for current and future hog farmers, the matter is made even worse. This starts the clock ticking for a time when proponents of this legislation will seek to repeal the prohibition on packers owning cattle as well. Maybe it will be a year, or five years, before that happens. But the handwriting is on the wall now.

Feature image courtesy of  USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.