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Disastrous Policy Has Laid Economic Waste To Rural America

On April 23, Bloomberg News reported that U.S and Canadian hog producers had begun to euthanize, (shoot) approximately 200,000 hogs (with more likely to follow) that they would not be able to market owing to the current shut-down of slaughter plants due to the current coronavirus pandemic.

With no place to hold the animals and no alternative method to process them, the producers had no other recourse than to destroy and compost them. Hog farmers are now forced to join dairy farmers as they dump milk, egg producers as they destroy eggs and fruit and vegetable producers plowing under ripe but otherwise viable crops for lack of the processing capacity necessary to bring this essential food production to a hungry and totally dependent world.

This is the heretofore unforeseen but logically predictable outcome of several decades of the much celebrated national “cheap food” policy created by our nation’s post-war politicians and the overarching greed of obscenely wealthy U.S. investors. Current equally short-sighted political successors to those pioneer scoundrels who sowed the wind will now get to wring their hands and witness America’s consumers and farmers reap the disastrous whirlwind of their predecessors’ mindless avarice.

So, who were the architects and beneficiaries of this policy atrocity? The investing class, (America’s much-vaunted “One Percent”) and, of course, their amply rewarded Congressional and Presidential lackeys from both the U.S. political Left and Right.

For decades this short-sighted, disastrous national policy has laid economic waste to rural America’s economy, small towns, family farms and agricultural infrastructure that were once the marvel and envy of the world. It was this self-serving, idiotic money-grubbing that fostered the scourge of globalism and the wholesale consolidation of U.S. agricultural production and processing capacity to reap the worshiped idol of the “economies of scale” which, along with the equally predictable pandemic, (never a matter of if, but when) that have dropped this developing horror at the world’s feet.

One facet of the cheap food policy was replacing numerous small, dispersed livestock slaughter facilities, scattered within the areas where the animals were raised with enormous regional factories capable of killing multiple thousands of head per day. To do this hundreds of employees were crowded into these plants under hot, humid and odoriferous working conditions, making already unsavory and unappealing work even more so. The overall management focus was always ruthless financial efficiency with little or no thought of the toll on employees: wages were absolutely minimal and employee health and safety issues always given short shift to corporate and stockholder profit.

When these plants could no longer be staffed by docile local people, foreign labor (estimates run as high as 85 to 90% illegal) were brought in to do the work at often less than prevailing minimum wage. Working long shifts for money the heavily stressed workers desperately needed to send back to their families, they were forced to seek minimal housing, usually substandard and densely crowded. Created was an immoral system just one small step above chattel slavery. This management pattern was repeated throughout the rest of the U.S. food processing industry. All this depended on the deliberate blind eye of government at all levels; local, state and federal, judicial, legislative and executive. Created was a recipe for pandemic that Lucifer himself would be hard pressed to improve on: the rest is now history. However, fear not; the One Percent and our politicians will slip through unscathed — they always do.

And what is the totality of this evolving horror? History demonstrates pandemic usually brings with it an equally terrifying, destructive, ugly sibling: famine. The effect on the world’s food security is uncertain, but it won’t be good: hunger will be common and starvation of the most impoverished populations a near certainty. This killing of hogs, destruction of vast quantities of milk, eggs, produce and other necessary foodstuffs, one fears, is just the tip of a looming iceberg of economic and human destruction that has the potential to haunt the history of mankind for decades if not centuries to come.

Nate Wilson is a retired farmer from Sinclairville.

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