Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Agriculture’s Bullied Market


The dominant myth about democracy in the United States is that all sides may air points of view, and that through debate truth and justice will win out over power. But under the present regime, it seems the might of capital makes right.

Take the example of Creekstone Farms, a small meat processor that markets high-quality beef here and abroad.

In a move to restore beef sales to Japan that were lost after a U.S. animal with mad cow disease was identified last December, Creekstone requested the right to test all its cattle before slaughter. But after an outcry from U.S. Premium Beef, one of the four major beef packers, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Agriculture Department announced it would continue to ban the comprehensive testing proposed by Creekstone.

The major packers argue that testing every animal would be unreasonably expensive and could give too many false-positive results, hurting the market for U.S. beef. The Agriculture Department asserts that the international scientific consensus is that “100 percent testing is not justified.”

The decision is hypocrisy for an agency that claims to promote sales of U.S. farm products. Creekstone is not demanding 100 percent testing of all U.S. beef. It only wants the right to test its own beef so it can sell to an established market in Japan using a standard higher than the minimum.

All it takes is some muscle flexing by the major packers, and independent producers are pushed out of a lucrative market.

The story echoes a previous experience. Europe does not allow meat from cattle given growth hormones, which are widely used in U.S. feedlots. When several states, including Texas and Minnesota, sought in the late 1980s to sell hormone-free beef to Europe, the Agriculture Department stopped them, saying this would call into question the safety and quality of American beef grown with hormones.

In both cases the effect for producers is the same. U.S. beef sales have not suffered from embargoes as much as they have from domestic prohibitions that serve the convenience and profits of the large corporations that market commodities and sell supplies to producers.

Beef producers aren’t the only ones pushed around by corporate might. Consider the case of genetically engineered wheat being developed by Monsanto. In survey after survey of both Canadian and U.S. producers, there is significant resistance to release of this herbicide-resistant crop. Europe and other export markets have said they will shun its import, just as they have restricted genetically modified corn and soybeans. And yet Monsanto, which earlier had sought both U.S. and Canadian approval, plows ahead to release the seed in America regardless of whether Canada approves.

In all of these cases we must question how the mantra of “sound science” is used to quash objections. Opponents of genetic manipulation, antibiotics in feed, hormones to boost milk production or cattle growth, and synthetic pesticides are often accused of being anti-science. But more often it seems money and corporate power dictate the technologies that dominate our food system, not impartial science.

In the past year, Americans have witnessed a massive campaign against country-of-origin labeling to protect large packers who indiscriminately blend imported and domestic ground beef. Now we behold rejection of the kind of cattle testing done in Japan and Europe because we don’t want to risk false-positive results or raise production costs. Japan tests all cattle, and Europe tests all animals older than 30 months.

It is time to recognize that the worship of profits over public safety and the common good should not dominate policy. Our nation insists on strict separation of church and state. We should likewise demand a clear separation between Big Food and the government, which is supposed to protect our health and environment — and our free marketplace.

JIM FRENCH, communications specialist for the Kansas Rural Center, farms and ranches in south-central Kansas. He wrote this essay for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”