Cory Booker Just Picked a Fight With Giant Meatpackers

And gave Biden a chance to prove he’s serious about confronting market power.


Tom Philpott, Mother Jones

Jul 15, 2021


On July 13, for the second time in less than two years, Sen. Cory Booker (D.-N.J.) floated a bill that challenges the business model of a powerful, corporate-dominated industry: meat.


When Booker first proposed the Farm System Reform Act in December 2019, the Republican Party owned the White House and both chambers of Congress. The GOP draws the great bulk of the meat sector’s campaign contributions and its members have been known to embrace unchecked carnivory as a culture war issue. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that the bill gained no traction.


But things have since changed.


Now the Democrats control the executive and legislative branches, Senate dysfunction notwithstanding, and have shown an increasing appetite to rein in the corporations that wield monopoly-like power. Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that would do just that, specifically name-checking the meat industry as a target. “Four large meat-packing companies dominate over 80% of the beef market and, over the last five years, farmers’ share of the price of beef has dropped by more than a quarter—from 51.5% to 37.3%—while the price of beef has risen,” the order’s fact sheet complained.


Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic displayed both the industry’s disregard for worker safety and its massive concentration: In April 2020, a COVID outbreak at a single Iowa hog-slaughter facility run by Tyson temporarily shuttered 4 percent of US pork capacity, causing supply disruptions.


The Booker bill would shake the foundations of the handful of companies that slaughter and pack the bulk of the meat that supplies supermarkets, restaurants, and fast-food outlets. Their supply of animals comes from factory-scale facilities known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), which concentrate vast amounts of manure that generate the potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide and often pollute water and foul air for surrounding communities. The Farm System Reform Act would place an immediate moratorium on new large-scale CAFOs, and halt the expansion of existing CAFOs over a certain size. And it would fund a voluntary buyout program for CAFO owners who want to exit the business.


Such a moratorium would throw a wrench into an industry geared to perpetual expansion...


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