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When Big Ag Gobbles Up Small Ag Is There Any Hope for Real Reform?

When Big Ag Gobbles Up Small Ag Is There Any Hope for Real Reform Pacific Standard


To think that Niman farmers will be able to maintain these meaningful connections under Perdue stretches plausibility to the breaking point. Yet theNew York Times brief report on the Niman purchase does just this. It suggests that the Perdue acquisition is evidence that Big Ag is finally embracing the gentler logic of small-scale, alternative agriculture. On the topic of animal welfare, it quoted (without offering a counterpoint) Jim Perdue as saying, “I think [Niman] can bring us a lot of new ideas.”

Please. Perdue’s entire corporate history is one of rejecting Niman’s new ideas. As Niman supporters have long noted, Perdue is a soulless machine programmed to accomplish one goal: Maximize production with minimal inputs—inputs such as unnecessary welfare measures. To think that Niman is some kind of Trojan Horse that will sneak in and wage war on Perdue’s top priority is, again, wishful thinking at best.

“The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed,” the Wall Street Journal reported of the acquisition. Well, of course they weren’t disclosed. Niman farmers—not to mention Niman animals—have (almost certainly) been contractually set up to be hammered down by the singular logic of industrial production. “I can’t equate humane with Perdue,” wrote one commentator on Niman’s Facebook page. And this is exactly right.

As students of industrial agriculture have long noted, corporations such as Perdue exploit the most vulnerable as a matter of basic business procedure. Consult books such as Christopher Leonard’s the Meat Racket or Ted Genoways’ the Chain and you’ll get a sober and detailed look into the underlying mechanisms that outsource the risks and insecurities of raising farm animals to farmers who, in turn, have no choice but to treat animals and the environment with less regard. Niman worked hard to avoid this race to the bottom; Perdue will require it.

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So the answer is that there is no hope for new reform without new regulations.

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