This election year we’re taking a close look at the power of big money to influence our farm and food system. We’ll shine a spotlight on farm communities where corporate-backed policy initiatives are sparking battles throughout the country. We asked Rhonda Perry, a Missouri farmer, organizer and ally, to share with us how corporate power and big money have taken over the political process in order to diminish the rights of Missouri’s independent cattle ranchers.
What’s happening right now in Missouri isn’t just an issue for Missouri cattle producers—these attempts to take away the rights of independent farmers, and increase the power of corporations and their shareholders, are happening in states across the country.
Thank you to Rhonda for sharing her thoughts in the guest post below.
Rhonda Perry is a livestock & grain farmer from Howard County, MO, and Program Director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a statewide farm and rural organization that has been supporting Missouri’s independent livestock producers since 1985.
April 25, 2016, brought a stunning victory for Missouri’s independent cattle farmers over corporate agriculture, with the defeat of the proposed Missouri beef checkoff. Missouri Rural Crisis Center led the “Vote NO” campaign and thousands of family farmers said loud and clear that they do not support paying any additional beef checkoffs.
Read more about this win on their site and learn more about the campaign to defeat this flawed proposal below.
A New Tax on Missouri Farmers and Ranchers Hijacks Democracy
Missouri’s independent cattle farmers are in a fight. And it’s a big fight.
We are fighting the creation of a new Missouri beef checkoff program. Checkoff programs are mandatory fees collected from producers of a particular commodity, supposedly for the purpose of promotion, research and education. The reality is that these programs have become totally unaccountable to the independent family farmers who pay millions of dollars a year into them.
In the case of the beef checkoff, Missouri cattle producers already pay over $2 million every year into the federal beef checkoff program. In Missouri, corporate lobbyists and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association are trying to create a new state beef checkoff tax that doubles the checkoff fees paid by Missouri producers – to over $4 million annually. A cool $3 million of this would go to the Missouri Beef Industry Council, which claims to be a private entity that is not obligated under state law to disclose documents to producers on how our money is spent.
“But there’s something even bigger at stake: We are truly fighting for our democracy.”
One thing is for sure—cattle farmers have not gotten our money’s worth so far. Since 1985, when Congress passed the current beef checkoff, per capita beef consumption has dropped by 32% and Missouri has lost 40% of our beef producers. This program has not been a success, and now they want a 200% raise.
Aside from their poor track record, we oppose mandatory checkoffs because they fuel the industrialization and corporate takeover of the livestock industry.
We don’t want our money supporting this agenda. But there’s something even bigger at stake: We are truly fighting for our democracy.
We have a deep and fundamental disagreement with supporters of checkoffs about how our democracy is supposed to work and what type of agriculture we are going to have in our country. Do we want agriculture that is controlled by family farmers and consumers or by corporate lobbyists and foreign meatpacking companies? Do we want a food system that benefits the vast majority of producers and consumers or one that benefits monopolistic corporations at our expense?
The front groups and public relations firms that say they represent farmers and our communities actually promote policies that benefit the multinational meatpacking industry—an industry so hugely concentrated that it exerts excessive control over our markets and the price we get for our cattle.
The vast majority of federal beef check-off dollars end up in the coffers of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), making up more than 80% of NCBA’s funding. The NCBA consistently supports positions that favor meatpackers at the expense of independent cattle producers. The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association (MCA) is their state affiliate.
“Do we want agriculture that is controlled by family farmers and consumers or by corporate lobbyists and foreign meatpacking companies?”
Most recently, the NCBA successfully lobbied Congress to get rid of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), which allowed U.S. consumers to choose U.S. beef over foreign imported beef. The MCA, meanwhile, successfully lobbied our state legislature to pass a law that allows foreign corporations to own Missouri farmland. Now up to 289,000 acres of our farmland can be owned by foreign corporations. Both NCBA and MCA have repeatedly lobbied for corporate-backed multinational trade agreements that increase beef imports from foreign countries and strip protections for U.S. markets from imported beef.
The process the Missouri Department of Ag (MDA) is using for the “vote” on this new checkoff represents the epitome of corporate power and its impact on the democratic process. Here are a few examples:
- Just to be eligible to register to vote in the referendum, producers must provide 3 years of their cattle sales numbers to the MDA, with no guarantee that this information will not be made public.
- MDA refused to do a public rulemaking process. Instead, they made up the rules as they went. In fact, they changed the definition of “beef producer” to include corporate shareholders, giving each shareholder the same right to vote as Missouri’s cattle farmers. These shareholders may have never even set foot on a Missouri cattle farm.
- MDA refuses to give cattle producers a secret ballot so we are forced to sign our name on the ballot right next to our vote.
- MDA says there is no need to have an open, public vote count; instead, they will just enter your vote in a government database right next to your name and the other confidential business information you had to give them in order to be able to participate in the “democratic process”.
This is government at its worst, acting in total disregard of our legal, democratic and Constitutional rights as Missouri cattle producers. This isn’t just an issue for Missouri cattle producers; these kinds of proposals are happening in states all over the country.
Supporters of this new beef tax view beef producers who don’t agree with them as the enemy. They seem to have forgotten that it’s Missouri’s independent beef producers who are the backbone of our industry, not P.R. firms and bureaucrats.
It’s up to us to oppose the corporate takeover of our farms, food and democracy.Visit the Missouri Rural Crisis Center site