Agriculture production that is sustainable over the long-term relies on diverse crop rotations, increased use of perennial species, and the integration of livestock in pasture and range based systems.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has consistently worked to include provisions in the farm bill’s research and conservation titles (and in the rules and funding notices that follow) that support systems used by sustainable livestock, dairy, and poultry farmers. These include rotational grazing and other systems that integrate crop and forage production with animal production on the same farm. These systems help reduce the need for antibiotics and are good for the animals, farmers, and the environment.
NSAC will continue to advocate for increased discretionary funding and protection of mandatory farm bill funding for programs that particularly benefit sustainable livestock and poultry producers:
While many of these programs help farmers implement better practices and systems that benefit the animals, farmers, and the environment, they cannot address the inequities in the conventional livestock and poultry systems that exist today. Livestock and poultry producers receive a very small portion of the retail price of their products because just a handful of companies control the vast majority of the livestock production in the United States. NSAC has dedicated years of work to advocating on behalf of farmers that raise poultry and livestock for large multinational corporations. This includes working to address the depressed prices paid to farmers and reduced choice experienced by consumers today caused by consolidation in the livestock industry.
NSAC also works on livestock and poultry issues that impact the financial and physical health of farmers, rural communities, and consumers. These include the ability to have confidence in the labels that are placed on meat products and the ability to continue to have choice in the marketplace, both in the number of purchasers for farmers to sell to and for consumer in the grocery meat isle. We also support the reduced use of antibiotics, the overuse of which impacts farmer and consumer health. Antibiotic resistance developed in CAFO’s spreads to farmers and our sprawling highly centralized food system leading to threats to human health.
Many concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) operators give antibiotics to animals to make them grow faster and prevent diseases that are caused by the extreme crowding and other stresses on the animals. An estimated 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs produced in this country are used in animal agriculture for nontherapeutic and subtherapeutic purposes. This amount is estimated to be more than eight times the amount of drugs used to treat human illness. Many of these antibiotics are the same antibiotics used to treat diseases in humans. The use of these antibiotics and other antibiotics at subtheraputic levels in CAFOs contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance in disease-causing pathogens. The result is fewer effective antibiotics for medical doctors to use against human diseases.
NSAC works with Keep Antibiotics Working who is leading a grassroots campaign to win legislation that will phase out the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics as feed additives for animals.
Large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can cause significant environmental and public health threats. Not only do CAFOs contribute to antibiotic resistance through the excessive, nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed, but also CAFOs contribute to environmental degradation. They are known emitters of air pollutants – such as hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic chemicals – and are also a significant source of water pollutants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, pathogens, antibiotics, pesticides and heavy metals.
NSAC advocates for restrictions on farm bill conservation programs or other federal funding that support new or expanding CAFOs at the public expense by subsidizing the cost of CAFO infrastructure such as huge waste lagoons and waste effluent sprayfields. NSAC also advocates for proper enforcement of existing rules for CAFOs under the Clean Water Act, and the development of tougher federal regulations regarding their establishment and operation. Finally, NSAC works to advance agricultural policies and programs that help our member groups provide outreach, education and information to farmers, ranchers and the public about sustainable livestock and poultry production systems.
Recent NSAC Actions on CAFOs
To learn more about NSAC’s work on CAFOs, browse our blog posts.
As a result of rapid consolidation and vertical integration, livestock, poultry, and some commodity markets have reached a point where anti-competitive practices dominate to the detriment of farmers, ranchers, and consumers; NSAC seeks to reverse this trend.
Numerous economic studies in recent years have demonstrated the economic harm of current market structures and practices. In response, NSAC has called for greater enforcement of existing federal anti-trust laws in order to restore competition to livestock, poultry, and commodity markets to protect farmers, ranchers and consumers from the detrimental effects of consolidation. We have also called for reform of livestock markets to prevent just a few packers from exercising nearly unchecked power over farmers, which allows them to impose prices on farmers who have fewer and fewer markets in which to sell.
NSAC supports strong enforcement of our anti-trust laws by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, which share jurisdiction over food company mergers. The 2014 merger of Tyson Food, Inc. and Hillshire Brands Co. is an example of the type of merger that further restricts consumer choice in the grocery store while also giving farmers fewer markets in which to sell their products. Fewer markets means more power for the hand full of meat packers left, which allows them to impose the price they want to pay on farmers, eroding farm incomes and pushing rural communities further into poverty.
Recent NSAC actions on Competitive Markets
Resources & Analysis
Family farmers have little bargaining leverage when entering into livestock, poultry, and crop production production contracts because the vast majority of livestock processing and poultry production is controlled by a small handful of companies. When one party in a contract negotiation has all the power, the results can be unjust and economically burdensome. Economic and environmental risks are shifted to the farmer. Dispute resolution provisions favor the company. Large investments can be stranded (leading to bankruptcy) by premature termination of a contract without cause or by contracts that don’t guarantee delivery of animals.
These imbalances and economic losses negatively impact rural communities as well as farmers. This is why NSAC supports the issuance of common sense rules of the road for livestock and poultry contracting by the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration. Congress as part of the 2008 Farm Bill directed USDA to write rules that could be used to enforce key provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act. USDA issued proposed rules in 2010, and since that time, the big meat and poultry corporations have kept them bottled up via stealth legislative riders to the annual agriculture appropriations bills. NSAC opposes these riders an continues to work for their discontinuation.
Some of the rules that have been attacked by these riders include:
Right to speak in public without fear of retaliation – A rule to protect farmers from retaliation if they speak out, including with members of Congress, or forming and joining grower associations to advocate on their own behalf. During a series of workshops focusing on agricultural contracting issues held in 2010 the issue of fear and retaliation was a repeated theme. Many farmers were afraid to speak at the workshops about the abuses they have suffered for fear of retaliation by integrators. Retaliation can take of the form of companies providing inferior or sick birds for the farmer to raise, the companies providing inferior feed, or the companies canceling a contract without cause.
Right to a Jury Trial – One tactic used by some poultry companies to make it more difficult for farmers to prevail in court when defending themselves against company abuses is to add a provision to their contracts that prohibits them from having a jury trial and allowing only judges to settle contract disputes. Juries are often more sympathetic than judges to farmers’ plights in dealing with powerful meatpackers and poultry companies.
Ensuring Fair and Transparent Contracts — A rule that requires livestock and poultry companies to provide sample contracts to USDA while still protecting their confidential business information. This transparency requirement will help inform the public and farmers about what kinds of contracts exist across the country. This helps farms better understand the contract being presented to them and be able to better identify a deceptive or fraudulent legal requirement.
Cracking Down on Manipulating Pay — A rule to require companies using a so-called “tournament system” to pay the same base pay to growers raising the same type or kind of animal. In theory, these “tournament systems” base a farmer’s pay upon how well their animals convert feed into weight while in the farmer’s care. However, in practice within the livestock sector, the tournament system is quite a misnomer, because the word “tournament” suggests a fair competition based on the skill and effort of the competitors.
But in the case of the poultry grower payment system, farmers are paid based on things that are completely out of their control. The two factors that determine the farmer’s feed-conversion success — chick quality and feed quality — are completely controlled by the poultry companies and out of the control of the farmer. Some noted economists have described this system of payment as not being a tournament at all, but rather a “rigged lottery.”
Reasonable Notice of Suspension of Birds — A rule that puts poultry companies on notice that they should be providing farmers with at least 90 days notice before suspending the delivery of birds to their farms. Farmers make large capital investments based on the expectation of receiving animals from the livestock or poultry company they have a contract with. A requirement for a minimal amount of notice for the suspension of deliveries is common sense.
Reasonable Standards for Showing Farmer Injury – A rule that clarifies that a farmer does not need to show a likelihood of an injury to competition to the entire livestock and poultry industry in order to show that they have been harmed by the anti-competitive, unfair, or deceptive practices of a livestock or poultry company. This closes a loophole that some bad court decisions have created forcing individual farmers to show a likelihood of an injury to competition in the entire industry in order to recover for the harms done to them individually.
This is a nonsensical standard in the context of the law, because if a farmer is able to demonstrate that they have been defrauded or actively deceived by the company that controls their contract or the marketing of their product, it makes no sense to also require them to demonstrate that that fraud has impacted the entire poultry or beef sector. This would be the same as saying that if someone’s house has been robbed that they would need to prove in court that that robbery has negatively impacted the entire city in which they lived.
Recent NSAC actions Contract Agriculture Reform
Resources & Analysis
The establishment of strong minimum standards for meat label claims for sustainable livestock production processes through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Process Verified Program (PVP) is central to protecting and promoting the value-added markets painstakingly built by small and mid-sized sustainable farmers and ranchers. USDA’s process verified claims have the ability to strengthen or extinguish the vitality of these expanding markets and the economic opportunities they offer to sustainable producers and the health and environmental benefits they offer to the consuming public.
NSAC has worked to uphold labeling standards for sustainable producers that have built the market for sustainable meat products, and has worked in particular to ensure the integrity of the “grass-fed” label claim. Over the last decade, actions by USDA-AMS and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) have put the grass-fed label at risk by allowing lesser claims in the marketplace to the detriment of sustainable producers and the consumer trust they have built. AMS withdrew its strong grass-fed label claim standard (that was created in 2008 with input from NSAC and other key stakeholders) in early 2016, and NSAC continues to monitor the transition of authority over this labeling claim from AMS to FSIS to ensure FSIS upholds and enforces a strong 100% grass-fed label standard, and does not mislead consumers by allowing lesser claims in the marketplace.
Recent NSAC Actions on Meat Label Standards
For more of NSAC’s actions on meat labeling standards, browse our blog posts.
NSAC believes that agriculture production that is sustainable in the long-term relies on diverse crop rotations, increased use of perennial species, and the integration of livestock in range and pasture-based systems.
Livestock production can be an important component of a sustainable agricultural system because it can provide an quality source of plant nutrients, be an income generator, and provide a an environmentally sound use of certain lands. Some farm land is just not suitable for crop production, but may be utilized sustainably for livestock production.
In order to expand sustainable livestock production, NSAC advocates for federal funding for sustainable livestock research through several programs including AFRI, SARE, and OREI. Examples of the type of research that is needed include, research on rotational grazing, grass based meat and dairy production, sound husbandry techniques, and the integration of livestock into existing cropping systems.
We also advocate for federal policies that increase market access and the availability of infrastructure to support sustainable livestock production, including access to local and regional processing capacity. They number of processing facilities has fallen precipitously in the last few decades as consolidation has concentrated most of the power in the livestock industry into the hands of a few multinational companies that are highly vertically integrated. The systems promoted by these companies often limit market access for sustainably raised livestock, and force unsustainable practices based on the use of off farm inputs on farmers raising the company owned animals. Farmers forced into this system do not own the animals and have no control over what the animals are fed or the conditions they are raised in.
Finally, NSAC advocates for federal policies that encourage sustainable livestock production through the judicious use of antibiotics and environmental responsibility.