Monday, October 22, 2007

More on meat

The way I see it, we can have our meat two ways. We can buy from a small producer who saddles up his horses to go check on his herd:

or we can consume anonymous meat from a feedlot:

Photo from Cathy Dowd's flickr stream of a feedlot in Dodge City, KS

Now that the Farm Bill is up for debate in the Senate, it would seem that there is an opportunity for everyone who eats to decide which of those two production methods should prevail.

Or is there?

A little while ago, I posted some comments the above-pictured rancher had regarding changes to the meat inspection laws pending in the Farm Bill. Here's some follow-up from the same rancher. Clearly, he doesn't regard the renewal of this legislation as anything but background noise:

The (regulation regarding) proximity to state borders occurred to me the first time -- that's where we are, after all, 10 miles from the New Mexico line (in Arizona). We don't enroll in ag. support programs and we're relying entirely on our own means to transport our stock and meat to customers. There are a couple of items here: you mention needing to cross state lines because of distance to USDA slaughterhouses; that's live animal transport?; you propose that the Farm Bill is the fastest way to fix the laws; and that the meat distribution system is broken.
Hmmh: if there IS a meat distribution system in this country, we're not in it. Do I have to buy a ticket? We pay our own gas, we buy tires by the truckful, and we wear out vehicles at an alarming rate. But we don't need Federal help. As to USDA slaughterhouses: I think I mentioned that we don't need one. The State of Arizona has its own sanitary laws and undertakes the obligation to maintain a healthy food supply; we are inspected and validated by them, but only within State jurisdiction. New Mexico does the same, ditto California; it's a nuisance if you happen to live on the line like we do, but it's not insurmountable, and the reason for it is to allow each state to do its job. We don't need to find a USDA slaughterhouse.
What puzzles me is why people think the Farm Bill will fix the laws...? The Farm Bill does nothing except subsidize agriculture; it has nothing to do with law -- except possibly in the sense that large corporations who benefit enormously by their eligibility for Farm Bill subsidies also exert a lot of influence on lawmakers. I'm willing to hold my nose, but the only way I see to fix the Farm Bill is to get rid of 98% of it.

I find this all very vexing. On the one hand, it seems obvious that the best way to support small farmers and ranchers is to buy what they produce directly from them - not by picking up your phone and calling your Congressman, who, in any event, is probably either indifferent or on the take from the agribusiness lobby. On the other hand, we all go to grocery stores and most of us don't live on farms or ranches. Which means that if we realize that we're out of milk at 10pm, we might just nip out to the corner store to pick up a quart, even if it happens not to be from say, Strauss Family Creamery. So much as it would be great if all the distortions the Farm Bill creates were to disappear, it is much more likely that it's not going anywhere. As long we can't drop the bomb on the Farm Bill, the pragmatic thing to do is to try to wring as favorable an outcome out of the debate as possible so that grocery stores aren't packed to the gills with processed food manufactured with subsidized commodity corn. Right? Or not?

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