Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More on N1H1 (Swine Flu)

I had a few more thoughts this morning as I was reading this article on the swine flu outbreak and thinking about the comments from yesterdays post. As I said yesterday I thought it was only a matter of time before there was a connection made between confinement hog houses and the flu outbreak, regardless of whether or not the connection was real. And, I am not the least bit surprised to see that there are countries out there that have placed restrictions on American pork because of this outbreak.

High density corporate confinement agriculture is beginning to get a bit of a black eye around the world. All you have to do to realize this is take a look at all of the laws that are being put in place to change the way confinement farming is done. And, all of this is happening despite efforts of conventional agriculture groups to let the public know that their way is the best way for the livestock, the farmers, and the consumers.

But, there is one thing that is missing I believe. Sure the average consumer doesn't appreciate the smell and look of large confinement buildings. They don't like the thought of pigs being raised tightly packed together in pens. And, they are even willing to pass laws by a significant majority (sometimes) to restrict the use of crates and other things in farming.

What is missing though (I think) is the majority of people willing to pay a higher price for humanely or naturally raised pork. Until that happens they can pass all the laws they want and restrict confinement buildings in their areas, but confinement agriculture will not go away. And, each time there is an outbreak like this one (regardless if it is related to confinement buildings) the large confinement corporations will take the blame and pork prices will fall impacting farmers big and small.

At least those are my rambling thoughts this morning...

8 comments:

Blair said...

You're right about that! I visited a confined egg laying facility in California on an FFA field trip in high school. I was a little shocked at how the hens are so confined, hundreds of thousands to a shed. I'm not willing to pay for expensive free range (which I learned a little about the true use of "free range" facilities through Omnivore's Dilemna), so I just gave up buying chicken. Our ranch buys one 4-H pig a year, and that's more than enough pork for me, and I know that was raised in a good environment.

Another thing I've noticed, I don't know why, but chicken in smaller countries that wasn't raised in confinement is just head and shoulders above any chicken I could get here.

Yeoman said...

"What is missing though (I think) is the majority of people willing to pay a higher price for humanely or naturally raised pork. Until that happens they can pass all the laws they want and restrict confinement buildings in their areas, but confinement agriculture will not go away. And, each time there is an outbreak like this one (regardless if it is related to confinement buildings) the large confinement corporations will take the blame and pork prices will fall impacting farmers big and small."

Very, very true.

As an aspect of this, we might want to consider at what point our countries cherished belief that it serves everyone's best interest not to direct or restrain the development of industry ends up being incorrect.

We're so convinced about the Magic of the Marketplace we generally do not act to restrain industrial size. We don't even think about it. We're paying for that now, economically, as we allowed all the small neighborhood banks to become big statewide banks, then nationwide banks, then global banks. This sort of thing is supposed to be good for everyone, as it makes everything cheaper, we're told, and that aids us, as our only purpose is to consume.

Well, that's way off the mark in everything. Banking, and agriculture.

I suspect that people will support true family farming. But we'll have to have the guts to get our government to basically require it. Until then, those who operate on the principal of the pure marketplace, or on greed (the same being largely the same), will be able to continue to do so, and will do so.

Monica said...

Yeoman, the housing/banking crisis was largely caused by the Community Reinvestment Act that forced bankers to lend mortgages to risky homeowners for decades. Hardly a failure of the marketplace.

CAFOs are hardly a failure of the marketplace, either. They're a product of socialism: both ultra-cheap corn and soy produced by the subsidies, and Teddy' Roosevelt's inane Meat Inspection Act that makes small farmers subject to the dictates of a meatpacker and forces them out of business.

You can try passing all the laws you want to "restrict industrial size". Let me know how that works out for you. :) For one thing, Big Ag (i.e. the farm lobby) is too politically connected. They are the only ones with enough lobbying power to craft loopholes that will keep them in business and restrict their local competition. They are also the only ones with the economy of scale to absorb the regulatory costs. Thus is goes with NAIS, HR 875, and everything else. More government regulations aren't going to work. This needs to be driven from the consumer up. It's not going to happen overnight, but it's already happening. The fact is that there are many people (not yet the majority) willing to adjust their purchases accordingly. In any case, both pastured pork and beef are not that much more expensive in our area. We're lucky to live in a place that has a few slaughterhouses. Some regions of the country aren't that lucky and that's one of the big problems. If there's no USDA approved slaughterhouse nearby, it's all over for you. As I wrote about here: http://www.fa-rm.org/blog/2008/12/safety.html

and here: http://www.fa-rm.org/blog/2008/12/abolishing-usda-inspection-laws.html

What we need is a *truly* free market to put small farmers back in business -- not the mixed economy that we have.

Rich said...

If the majority of pork was being raised on pasture; the media, politicians, and activists would be pointing the finger at those farmers in the same way they are currently blaming CAFOs.

A few years ago during the Bird Flu hysteria in Asia, farmers raising chickens (and pigs) using 'traditional' methods of farming were targeted as the reason for the emergence of the bird flu in places like Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Why not blame densely populated cities and cramped public transportation systems for the spread of Swine Flu? It seems to me that 'confined human facilities' would be as unhealthy to the human race as CAFOs are to livestock.

Art Blomquist said...

Monica, you just made Yeoman's point. Your point about a "free" market is on the money. There is no free market when it is controlled politicaly, by huge agri business.

Strike a blow for true freedom. Grow a pig. A lot easier said for those of us that live in a rural environment I suppose. I am heartened by Vancouver, B.C.'s city government now allowing backyard chickens. Come on People, Chicken power!

vbg.

Yeoman said...

"Monica, you just made Yeoman's point. Your point about a "free" market is on the money. There is no free market when it is controlled politicaly, by huge agri business."

Exactly correct.

In our current environment, human beings compete with corporations that are persons in the eyes of the law. That is a government sponsored program essentially subsidizing the size of operations through specialized governmental protection.

Put another way, there'd be no Con Agras, or Walmarts, if they were not corporations, and thereby the recipients of specialized treatment in the eyes of the law. Could Walmart survive if it was the Wall family, a collection of individuals, each individually taxed, etc.? I doubt it.

On the difficulty of change, I don't doubt it to be very difficult. But I also suspect that it's folly to expect change from the ground up. Even with the impressive movement towards more concern over agricultural products, the percentage of American residents who both have those concerns and act on them is minute in the extreme. The population of people just barely getting by and who buys whatever they can afford probably grossly exceeds that number.

On the banking crisis, the current trend is to blame the CRA, and that is an element of it, but only an element. The CRA did not create the banking consolidation. The current crisis wholly omits small locally run banks, and most state chartered banks. On National Banks are involved. That's no accident. The bigger entities, which traded mortgages and fiscal commodities, are the ones in real trouble. The Conservative response is to blame the CRA (and I am pretty conservative), but that was mearly an element of it, and a very minor one. The major element was the ability to sell mortgages and quickly dump them, something that depended on scale.

Finally, it's easy to say this system can't be changed. But it is not a natural system. It can be changed, but it would be hard to. Corporations have not always existed, and large ones are a modern creation. Control over their activities was much greater even 30 years ago. Corporate ownership of farm land is very recent. The only reason that these things do not change is because there isn't much attention focused on them.

Finally, and on corporations once again, I'm often amazed that we accept this complete legal fiction as natural. We do this to such an extent that we believe its a necessary part of the free enterprise system. On some things, it is. But to a larger degree, modern corporations are a radical departure from the system of a free economy, and not a natural system at all, but wholly a government created one. We need only tolerate that system where we want to, or where necessary. But we do not have to accept it anywhere else.

Yeoman said...

"Put another way, there'd be no Con Agras, or Walmarts, if they were not corporations, and thereby the recipients of specialized treatment in the eyes of the law. Could Walmart survive if it was the Wall family, a collection of individuals, each individually taxed, etc.? I doubt it."

And to add to that, each legally liable for their actions?

The fact that corporations absolve, for the most part, their shareholders from liability is an advantage of such an extent, its impossible to overestimate its impacts.

Dave said...

Ethan,

Today's post sounds a lot like the thoughts that kept rambling through my head most of yesterday.

Thanks for putting it out there for others to read!

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