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Tue Nov 13, 2012, 10:33 AM

How Big Pork Screws Small Towns


from Mother Jones:


How Big Pork Screws Small Towns

—By Tom Philpott
| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 3:08 AM PST


I've argued often that the food system functions like an economic sieve, draining away wealth. Imagine, say, a suburb served by a handful of fast-food chains plus a supermarket or Walmart or two. Profits from residents' food dollars go to distant shareholders; what's left behind are essentially low-skill, low-wage clerical jobs and mountains of generally low-quality, health-ruining food.

But the food system's secret scandal is that it's economically extractive in farming communities areas, too—and especially in the places where industrial agriculture is most established and intensive. I first learned about this surprising fact from the Minnesota-based community economics expert Ken Meter, specifially this 2001 study on a farm-heavy region of Minnesota. And now Food and Water Watch, working with the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, has come out with an excellent new report documenting the food industry's effect on several ag-intense regions, with the main spotlight on the hog-centric counties of Iowa, the nation's leading hog-producing state.

The structure of Iowa's hog farming went through a dramatic change starting in the early 1980s. As this FWW chart show, first, the number of hog farms in the state declined.



At the same time, the total number of hogs raised in the state nearly doubled.



Accordingly, the remaining hog farms scaled up dramatically, growing by a factor of nearly 11 between 1982 and 2007:



What caused this epochal change? According FWW's analysis, it was driven by the increasing consolidation of hog packing. Packers are the companies that buy hogs from farmers, slaughter them, and cut them into chops, bacon, and the like. In the 1980s, the meatpacking industry began what economists call a consolidation wave—big companies buying smaller companies and consolidating operations into bigger and bigger processing facilities. As the pork packers got bigger and bigger, they were able to use their market weight to force down the per-pound price they paid farmers for their hogs. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/11/industrial-scale-hog-farming-screws-small-towns



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