Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Invisible Black Hand

A new study by the USDA shows that factory farms have almost completely swallowed independent family farms in Pennsylvania. In discussing the implications, PittsburghLive writer Thomas Alan Linzey does an excellent job of explaining how agribusiness operates:

First, a handful of agribusiness corporations pioneer the factory farm production system, overloading the market with a glut of cheap meat. Second, resulting basement-level hog prices undermine independent family livestock farmers struggling to survive. Third, those family farmers then search for an economic lifeline, which the corporation provides in the form of "take it or leave it" factory farm production contracts. Those contracts...include provisions that enable the corporation to terminate the contract at its discretion while conferring all environmental liability onto the farmer.

Faced with this devil's choice of "going corporate" or going bankrupt, farm families that want to stay in farming are forced to swallow hard while giving away the farm. Once-independent family farmers are then not only economically transformed into mere production cogs in a giant machine, they're actually harnessed to put other independent family farmers out of business.

If we were talking about independent strip clubs or casinos, these tactics would be clearly seen as typical of organized crime. But when government plays the role of enforcer in a criminal conspiracy, the most outrageous forms of blackmail and coercion automatically attain the awful grandeur of "market forces."

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