Don’t let people fool you. This is REAL farm reform.

by Jenna Vanhorne

Why on God’s green Earth would people oppose the Farm Systems Reform Act? I struggle to come up with any valid reason. 

Editorials would have you believe that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wrote the bill, or point out that Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey, who actually did write the bill, is a vegan (gasp!), but they never seem to mention anything in the bill besides the limits on animal agriculture. 

I run a small cattle/dairy operation in Kidder County, N.D. I am one of the many rural farmers that has submitted comments to Sen. Booker on this bill. I believe if more people read exactly what is in the bill and how rural Americans suffer from our current agricultural system, they would better understand how the Farm Systems Reform Act would help rural communities like mine.

Here is the best part. If you look closely enough, the people submitting this bill are actually listening to rural America (for once).

Our food delivery system is a mess. We have four companies controlling 85 percent of our meat industry. The meat packers sell meat at high prices and pay producers less than the amount it takes to raise the cow. At the same time, our beef is higher quality than it has ever been. The same is true for the hog and poultry industries. 

Photo of Jenna Vanhorne for Farm Systems Reform post
Jenna Vanhorne

Factory farming’s business model is to treat farmers and rural communities like serfs. Packers tell the producers what to feed their animals, how to care for them, when to sell them and at what price. Producers don’t have the ability to market their products however they see fit. In return, farmers get all of the liability and the nearby communities are forced to face the environmental impact. 

Iowa’s hog and chicken farms produce as much liquid waste as the equivalent of 100 million people. Oftentimes state laws dictate that waste water does not have to be treated in any sort of water treatment facilities. Who really wants 1 million hens, 500,000 turkeys, or 20,000 dairy cows a mile away? Unfortunately, this is a reality many rural Americans face.

It’s not just the farmers; consumers also are having a rough time. Poll after poll confirms that Americans want to buy American-raised beef to support our ranching community. Yet it’s completely legal for meat packers not to tell consumers where their beef products come from. Something can be labeled “Product of the USA” if it was packaged or processed here. This means that, as of right now, foreign beef can be put in a different container on U.S. soil and now be labeled “Product of the USA”. Cheap foreign meat can be mixed with American beef and is used to flood markets and lower the price of cattle. 

Meanwhile, grocery stores across the country are being closed at an alarming rate, leaving only large chain stores that can squeeze out local businesses and competition. This is denying consumers a choice in their products they can access.

The Booker Farm Systems Reform Act would solve many of the problems here. Producers could more easily file complaints to the federal government for unfair practices that stifle competition. Large factory farms would be banned. Rural farmers would be able to opt out of contracts they deem unfair and then be compensated fairly to restructure their businesses. Rural communities would get $100 billion over 10 years to research and develop new economic models to bring in jobs for local food production, such as butcher shops and farmers’ markets. Consumers would get clear labeling for what countries their dairy, beef and pork come from, and only meats that were born, raised and slaughtered in the USA would be eligible for “Product of the USA” labeling.

N.D. Sen. John Hoeven has endorsed many of the different Ideas in this bill. In fact, he was a co-sponsor of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s 50-14 rule legislation, and he supported reform of the Packers and Stockyard Reform Act and Product of the USA rules. 

The Farm Systems Reform Act is a good piece of legislation (finally!) that provides the broad vision that rural America needs. In this drought, we need all the hope and solutions we can get.

@ 2021, Jenna Vanhorne

Jenna Vanhorne is a 5th generation farmer and business owner, chair of the Nonpartisan League (NPL) and a member of the Dakota Resource Counsel’s Agriculture Committee. She lives in Steele, N.D., on her family’s original 1885 homestead with her mother and two children. Her hobbies include gardening, singing and holding elected officials accountable.

Disclaimer: In general, IV Words does not support legislation or industries that encourage or enable growth of beef, pork or chicken production, which contribute significantly to global warming. At the same time, IV Words generally opposes corporate farming/ranching and any legislation that allows it to exist.

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