The Accountability of Big Meat
By Sherri Dugger
When Dodge Ram aired its two-minute “God Made a Farmer” commercial during the 2013 Super Bowl, I, like thousands of others, applauded the commercial’s focus on our nation’s unsung workers: the family farmer.
At that time, my husband and I had just purchased a small plot of land in rural Indiana, and we were working every weekend to restore the home so that we could one day move in. By day, I was a professional magazine editor with several publications under my care. One of those publications focused on farms and local food systems. Although I assigned and edited stories about agriculture every month, I didn’t see what the commercial missed. It’s something I am positive most viewers didn’t understand, either.
Much of what we eat in America has nothing to do with what we saw on the television screen that day. The industrial agriculture system in America today is dominated by four corporations, which account for the production of billions of animals in intensive confinement “factory farm” operations each year. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, four companies produce 84 percent of our beef; four companies produce 64 percent of our pork, and three companies produce nearly half the chicken.
Since moving to the country and building out our own small farm, as well as entering into farm advocacy work, I have learned a great deal about America's food systems. My learning curve is ongoing. I more fully understand the importance of labels—what they say and what they don’t say. I am clear on how industrial agriculture operations work. The family farmer running a confined animal feeding operation does not own the animals he or she raises. These farmers have no say over the feed and the medicines given to the animals, nor can they determine the price they will be paid for their products. If these farmers object to the terms of their contracts with corporate agribusinesses or want to sue for being mistreated, they likely won’t win. Our country’s current administration recently sided with corporate interests to make sure of that.
And that only covers some of how industrial agriculture negatively impacts quality of life for America’s farm owners. These mass production systems also deeply impact animal welfare, the health of our environment, the livelihoods and safety of hired farm workers, and the vitality of America’s rural communities. It also affects the quality of the meat you eat.
When my husband and I moved to the country, we chose to do so with several goals in mind. Whatever we would do on our small farm, we would do so with the health and well-being of the land, the animals, ourselves, our neighbors, and our new community in mind. We feel a responsibility to each.
Our nation’s industrial food system also must be held accountable. We need legislation to not only protect the integrity of the food produced in Indiana, but to also encourage the stewardship of the land, so that it may be available for use by future generations.
A recent bill, HR 3599, introduced by Rep Steve King (R-IA), would bar states from passing laws that would affect agriculture. This bill would nullify or put at risk:
- Laws such as California’s Proposition 2, which was approved by voters in 2008 to ban extreme confinement cages and crates for laying hens, pigs, and veal;
- State laws in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island to protect food animals from intensive confinement;
- Laws on horse slaughter and the sale of horse meat in California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Tennessee;
- Bans on the sale of foie gras produced by cruel force-feeding practices, bans on shark fin commerce in Delaware, Maryland, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.
King’s bill could bulldoze hundreds of regulations like these.
Laws such as these are deeply important to each state and must remain in place. I believe it is the right of each state—and its citizens—to decide which laws should be passed. Rep. King’s bill will hinder states from setting their own policies—an act that goes against the very foundation upon which our U.S. government was established.
Indiana—and all states in the nation—must retain the ability to pass laws and enforce standards on how our food is raised. If, like me, you care about the source of your food, about the welfare of animals, and the sustainability of your state, join me in urging federal representatives to vote NO on HR 3599.