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System Reform Act needs approval

System Reform Act needs approval

OPINION  The United Food and Commercial Workers, the union for 250,000 meatpacking and food-processing workers, is applauding the introduction of the Farm System Reform Act, introduced in Congress this week by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and U.S. Rep. Rohit Khanna, D-17-California. Joining the union in supporting the legislation is Family Farm Action, a national advocacy group, calling the bill an important step to empower America’s workers and farmers while transforming the power, policy and financial structures that underpin the U.S. meat- and dairy-production systems.

The union praised the legislation for strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act, which will directly address corporate control. It will put workers and farmers in the driver’s seat of the country’s food system. Among other urgently needed reforms, the Farm System Reform Act requires greater price transparency and production accountability for meatpackers. It also abolishes abusive corporate practices like undue preference and certain tournament payment systems.

America’s meatpacking workers have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, and know firsthand the need to strengthen and improve our country’s food-supply chain. For too long giant corporations have used their power to suppress worker wages, increase food prices at the grocery store and block consumer protections. This bill takes action to rein in food-industry monopolies. It will put consumers and workers first with new mandatory country-of-origin-labeling requirements for beef, pork and dairy products. As America’s largest union for frontline food workers, we’re proud to support the bill. We urge Congress to quickly approve it and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

“Large multinational meatpackers, because of their buying power and size, are putting our food system at risk and harming everyone along the supply chain,” Booker said. “We need to fix the broken system. That means giving family farmers and ranchers a fair shot, and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing. We must immediately begin to transition to a more-sustainable and humane system. An important first step is ending our reliance on huge factory farms, and investing in a system that focuses on resilient and regenerative production.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont-Burlington, said, “In my home state of Vermont and across the country, small farms are critical to our economies, our communities and to maintaining the rural way of life. And yet it has become harder and harder for the family farmer to get by, and the pandemic only exacerbated the strain and crushing challenges farmers are facing today. Our farming economy today is not working for the majority of Americans. It’s not working for the family farmer struggling to get by. It’s not working for the environment and it’s not working for our rural communities. This rigged system, however, is working for huge conglomerates and the meatpacking industry who are raking in massive profits. It’s time the federal government had the backs of our family farmers instead of doing favors for corporate agriculture monopolies.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts-Cambridge, said, “For years giant multinational corporations have been crushing competition in the agricultural sector and seizing key markets while regulators have looked the other way. And the COVID-19 crisis has made it even easier for ‘Big Ag’ to get even bigger and gobble up small farms – leaving farmers out in the cold and consumers facing higher costs and fewer choices. This bill is necessary to end the vice grip that ‘Big Ag’ has over our farm economy – and to give our farmers, workers and consumers real bargaining power in our farm and food systems.”

Khanna said, “No longer can Congress sit idle while large multinational meatpackers threaten everyone else along the supply chain. Farmers are going broke, livestock and poultry face inhumane conditions, meatpacking workers face risk of injury and consumers cannot trust that the system will provide food in a crisis. Now is the time for bold action. That’s why I have introduced the Farm System Reform Act in Congress along with Sen. Booker.”

Joe Maxwell, Family Farm Action president and fourth-generation Missouri farmer, said, “The Farm System Reform Act tackles the root of our food-system issues – consolidated corporate power. By shifting federal support away from production models that only benefit corporate agriculture firms, the Farm System Reform Act places power in the hands of farmers and workers. Now is the moment to work together and build a better food system.”

In place of the current consolidated system, the Farm System Reform Act would facilitate the growth of a sustainable and resilient food system that prioritizes fairness, economic opportunity and safety for American workers, producers and consumers. Toward that end it would reinstate country-of-origin labeling on meat and extend it to dairy products. By helping producers shift to more-sustainable practices and phasing out concentrated animal operations that benefit from unfair business practices, it would create opportunities for thousands of current and prospective independent producers. It would protect workers from unsafe working environments.

The Farm System Reform Act follows a sweeping White House Executive Order issued recently that aims to increase competition across the U.S. economy by directing more than a dozen federal agencies to undertake 72 actions. Included among those actions are several directives benefiting workers and farmers, most notably an investigation into the effect of concentration in the retail-food industry, investments in local and regional meat-processing capabilities, and directives to protect worker mobility.

Marc Perrone is the president of United Food and Commercial Workers International. Visit www.ufcw.org for more information.

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