Consumers feel Big Beef's squeeze, too


Thank you for covering the harm to Western ranchers from consolidation in the cattle industry (HCN, 3/21/11). It's worth adding that this trend has terrible consequences for consumers as well.

Since four corporations control 80 percent of the beef slaughtered in the U.S., in addition to paying ranchers poorly, those companies can charge consumers higher prices. Over the past decade, ground beef prices have increased by 24 percent. But most of that money ends up in the pockets of the big meatpackers, not with our local farmers and ranchers.

Food safety is another victim of consolidation. With fewer plants processing a lot more meat, the actions of one plant can impact consumers throughout the country. In late 2010, one California plant's lax standards resulted in the recall of a million pounds of E. coli-contaminated ground beef.

Consumers, ranchers, farmers and workers have the power to reverse the tide. But the solutions to the decades of bad farm policies that led to this consolidation are not on sale in the grocery store. We must pressure our elected officials to pass the rules proposed by the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration. Then we must demand that they continue to fund and support reforms and programs that make our food safe, sustainable and just. Our ranching and farming tradition in the West -- like our right to safe, healthy food -- is too important not to.

Sam Schabacker
Senior organizer, Food & Water Watch
San Francisco, California