By Rick Claypool, Public Citizen
Big agricultural corporations exert their near-monopoly power to force small farmers into precarious, unfair working conditions. Tyson, for example, has allegedly retaliated against a farmer who resisted the companies’ demands to install expensive equipment. A recent documentary, Under Contract, sheds light on the plight of these farmers.
Now Obama administration rules that would have empowered small farmers to challenge Big Meat’s unfair practices have been unceremoniously slaughtered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Rural farmers who voted for President Trump had expressed cautious optimism about the prospect of Trump supporting the protections, which were issued by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration, a sub-agency of USDA.
“Around this issue, a lot of us are thinking they might have a friend,” Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, told Politico shortly after President Trump’s election.
“He claimed he’s going to stand up for the little guy, that’s why the farmers came out and voted for him and got him into office,” Mike Weaver, a Trump voter, poultry farmer and advocate with the Organization for Competitive Markets, told The Guardian. “These multinational corporations have had way too much power over farming for too long.”
Earlier this year, the president of the National Beef Cattlemen’s Association stated his organization’s opposition bluntly: “[U]ltimately this rule should be killed and American cattle producers should be free to market our beef without the threat of government-sanctioned frivolous lawsuits.” The association is a top political spender in the livestock industry; 80 percent of the industry’s 2016 election spending supported Republicans.
Hardly a disaster, the rule would have revised outdated legal guidelines that make it nearly impossible for small farmers to fight unfair treatment from the corporations they supply.
Weaver expressed his disappointment to Bloomberg News. “Rural America came out and supported the president, and if it weren’t for us, he wouldn’t be where he is now. What they did was wrong, and it shouldn’t have happened that way.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, directly criticized the administration’s decision. “They’re just pandering to big corporations. They don’t care about family farms … This is an example of a swamp being refilled.”
Despite President Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric against corrupt elites and rigged systems and high-profile clashes with Fortune 500 CEOs, the president cannot hide what he truly is: a corporatist president serving the billionaire class.