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Booker Unveils Bill to Reform Farm System

Legislation would crack down on monopolistic practices, place a moratorium on large factory farms, create level playing field for family farmers, ranchers

December 16, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today unveiled legislation to revitalize independent family farm agriculture and ensure a level playing field for all farmers and ranchers. The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 would, among other things, strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of multi-national meatpackers and corporate integrators, place a moratorium on large industrial animal operations, sometimes referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements.

 

A handful of firms have come to dominate the processing of livestock and poultry. Many of these firms are vertically integrated, controlling successive stages of the food chain. These “integrators” contract with farmers to raise livestock or poultry for them. The integrators retain ownership of the animals, but the contract growers are forced to absorb the risks and the costs, often incurring large amounts of debt. At the same time, independent farmers and ranchers have been forced to sell into ever more concentrated marketplaces that allow dominant buyers to engage in predatory practices that artificially depress prices paid to farmers without passing along cost savings to consumers. Making things worse, U.S.D.A. currently allows beef and pork products that are shipped to the U.S. and processed or repackaged here to be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even when the animal was raised in another country. This allows multinational meatpackers to pass their imported meat off as American, further eroding fair competition and preventing shoppers from supporting local rural communities.

 

“Our independent family farmers and ranchers are continuing to be squeezed by large, multinational corporations that, because of their buying power and size, run roughshod over the marketplace. We need to fix the broken system – that means protecting family farmers and ranchers and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing,” said Senator Booker. “Large factory farms are harmful to rural communities, public health, and the environment and we must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system.”

 

“We’re proud to support this bill from Senator Booker that would stop new or expanding large factory farms and make it possible for independent family-scale producers to make a living raising animals the right way,” said Matthew Smith, New Jersey Director for Food & Water Action. “Small policy changes are not enough to reverse years of factory farm policy. It is time for a bold and sweeping solution like Senator Booker’s bill.”

 

"This legislation by Senator Booker has been a long time coming and may be the light at the end of the tunnel for family farmers,” said Mike Weaver, President, Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias. “Without changes such as this to the abusive contracts and other requirements of the huge multinational meatpackers and poultry integrators the extinction of the family farmer as we have known them is imminent. Americans had better wake up to the fact that the food they feed their families is being produced more and more by large corporations instead of family farmers. Family farmers care about the environment, the land, the animals they raise, and providing good wholesome food to America. Huge multi-national meatpackers and corporate integrators care about making money, period.”

 

"I have seen first-hand how hard it is to challenge the multinational corporations who control the meat industry,” said Mike Callicrate, Kansas Rancher. “Farmers and ranchers need a marketplace that compensates them fairly and Senator Booker's Farm System Reform Act is a big step in the right direction. Things like country of origin labeling on meat, updates to the Packers and Stockyards Act, and resources to get folks out of a system that is bankrupting them will make a big difference."

 

"Senator Booker's Farm System Reform Act pushes back on the concentration of animal production and the devastating impact that has had on our rural communities,” said Randy Dugger, Indiana Farmers Union Vice President. “Independent family farmers deserve an opportunity to be prosperous again. By providing fairness and transparency in the market, along with a significant investment to help those trapped in a broken system to get out, this bill can make a huge difference."

 

Large CAFOs produce enormous amounts of animal waste and other harmful pollution, which are directly linked to environmental and health problems for farming communities across the country. These factory farms create runoff pollution that can contaminate waterways and drinking water. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, large CAFOs produce as much as 1.4 billion tons of waste each year and are not required to maintain a treatment facility for livestock waste. The number of CAFOs have dramatically increased over the years and the steady growth makes rural communities vulnerable to environmental hazards and threaten the economic prosperity of family farms. The overuse of medically important antibiotics by large CAFOs has led to the generation and spread of dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria. Last month, the American Public Health Association urged federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs.

 

The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 would:

  • Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large CAFOs, and phase out by 2040 the largest CAFOs as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Hold corporate integrators responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs
  • Provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO
  • Strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers, including:
    • Prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers
    • Protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation
    • Create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices
  • Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand to dairy products
  • Prohibit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from labeling foreign imported meat products as “Product of USA”

A list of endorsing organizations for the Farm System Reform Act of 2019 can be found here.

 

For more information on the Farm System Reform Act of 2019, please see the section by section here and the full bill text here.

 

Background on Booker's work fighting for family farmers and ranchers:

 

As Mayor of Newark, Booker witnessed how our broken food system harmed local residents, as large sections of Newark were essentially "food deserts", where communities had no access to healthy foods. Upon joining the Senate and hearing from family farmers and ranchers from New Jersey and beyond, Booker saw how the same food system that was harming families in Newark was also hurting family farmers and ranchers around the country.

 

Booker is the author of legislation that he and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) recently reintroduced that would place an immediate and indefinite moratorium on acquisitions and mergers in the food and agriculture sector.

 

Booker has introduced legislation that would support stewardship practices on more than 100 million acres of farmland by investing tens of billions of dollars through existing voluntary USDA conservation programs to empower family farmers and ranchers to be part of the solution to climate change.

 

Booker introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to reform commodity checkoff programs. These programs have received criticism for a lack of transparency, apparent conflicts of interest, misuse of funding, and anticompetitive behavior, all of which harms the family farmers and ranchers who are forced to pay into these programs. Booker and Lee have introduced the bill each session of Congress since 2016.

 

Booker and Lee also introduced legislation to reform the EQIP program, which provides farmers and ranchers with federal cost-share grants to implement environmentally-beneficial conservation practices on working agricultural lands, in order to better prioritize taxpayer dollars to support the most effective farm conservation practices.

 

During the Farm Bill debate in the Senate last year, Booker introduced amendments to protect contract farmers from retaliation from the large, vertically-integrated agribusiness firms that will often punish the farmers if they speak to their Members of Congress or USDA officials, and to require the large integrators to provide more transparency in their payments to contract farmers. He also spoke about these issues on the Senate floor.

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