Labor leader calls for rebuilding cattle herd
The U.S. cattle herd needs to be rebuilt in order to help all workers in the meat sector and avoid an environmental calamity in Brazil, a key U.S. labor leader said Monday.
As beef prices have risen, Americans have shifted to poultry, the least unionized of the meat industries, Dennis Olson, a senior research associate and policy analyst for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said at a conference sponsored by the Open Markets Institute and Farm Action.
Olson participated in a panel discussion after Open Markets and Farm Action released a report in which they graded the Biden administration’s Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission and the Agriculture Department on their performance on competition issues.
Olson noted that about 71% of pork plants and 61% of beef plants are unionized while only about 31% of poultry processors are unionized. It is harder to organize poultry plants because they are in the South, he said.
“Poultry is our nemesis. It is dragging down labor standards across all three sectors,” Olson said. “We want ranchers to get a fair price for their cattle, we have to start rebuilding the herd in the United States.”
Olson noted that a farmer-labor alliance had helped President Franklin Roosevelt pass the New Deal, but he said that there are not enough farmers and laborers today to pass measures to change the food system.
Olson said that farm advocates should appeal to the climate movement by emphasizing the impact of increased Brazilian exports to the United States on destruction of the Brazilian rain forest.
“We need to convince the climate movement they need to get involved in this and get involved in sustainable agriculture production,” Olson said.
During the discussion, other panelists emphasized the importance of working together to achieve the panelists’ various goals.
John Boyd Jr. of the National Black Farmers Association said, “The most racist part of the country is rural America,” but it is necessary to bring people together again. One way, he said, is to “speak out against corporate America,” which is “price gouging.”
Carrie Balkcom of American Grassfed Association said that one positive from COVID-19 is that people are communicating on Zoom even across national boundaries.
Michael Gay, a grocer from Claxton, Ga., noted that independent grocers are now interested in competition issues. When big-box stores push out the competition, the market for local production goes down, he said. The food system looked efficient until the pandemic, Gay said. “We’ve shown that we are not quite as nimble in our food system as we thought we were,” he said.
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