Decades of unchecked consolidation and captured regulation have created an industry in which any breakdown on the road from farm to market can threaten our ability to feed ourselves.
He describes how small-scale slaughterhouses, which have long coped with policies that favor larger processors, are seeing an overwhelming jump in business.
Small-scale slaughterhouse owners and industry observers say that most local plants and lockers throughout the South and Midwest are seeing coronavirus-related leaps in demand, stretching their capacity and workforces to their limits. For the most part, it’s a welcome change for businesses that for years have operated in an industry in which regulation and policy are consistently tilted to favor larger, more powerful meatpackers.
Ron explains that solving our current crisis in the agricultural industry requires meaningful antimonopoly enforcement. Fortunately, there are elected officials who have connected the dots between monopoly power and our food security, and are pushing for the kind of regulations that we need.
The real solution, Callicrate says, is to use the country’s antitrust laws to disassemble concentrated power in every corner of the industry. “We’ve got to break them up,” he says, both of the meatpacking titans and the equally powerful box stores and supermarkets. Policymakers must reduce processing line speeds that have made meatpacking work life-threatening, and dedicate public resources to rebuilding a diverse and resilient food system. “It’s going to be painful,” he says, “But we have to do it.”
The scope and severity of the COVID-related disruptions have created at least some push for deconcentration. Two senators, Republican Josh Hawley from Missouri and Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, last week asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate concentration and anti-competitive practices in the meatpacking industry. Were the FTC to find wrongdoing, the feds could try to break up Smithfield and the other vertically integrated processors. Any such result, however, would be years away.
If you like this, be sure to sign up for the monthly Hometown Advantage newsletter for our latest reporting and research.