Sometimes You eat the Bear

Nearly ten years ago I first wrote about the growing threat of vertical integration and concentration in meatpacking. Smithfield, Cargill, IBP, etc. were buying up packing plants and industrial hog production facilities at a breathtaking pace. We spoke loudly and often about the need for the Justice Department to take on these mergers. We called on USDA to write rules that define the "unreasonable preferences" that the Packers and Stockyards Act prohibits and get busy enforcing them to prevent packers from discriminating against smaller volume family farm and ranch livestock producers.
Thousands of family farmers and ranchers from across America joined us in telling everyone that would listen that action was needed from USDA and Justice.  A lot of people - politicians, agency officials, commodity groups, etc. - told us nothing would ever come of it.  And for a long time, nothing did.

But then, in the 2008 farm bill, Congress required USDA write rules defining "unreasonable preference" to protect family farmers and ranchers against volume based price discrimination.  And last month the Department of Justice and 13 state Attorneys General filed suit to stop JBS, the Brazilian meatpacking conglomerate, from acquiring National Beef Packing.  That deal would have given JBS, Tyson and Cargill 85% of national beef slaughter (35% for JBS alone).

Those thousands of farmers and ranchers knew back then, and those that are left still know today, that sometimes the bear eats you... and sometimes you eat the bear.  Maybe, just maybe, the tables are turning.

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