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A Win-Lose Proposition for Farmers and Consumers

From the website of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture:

Washington, DC – The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) this week released a proposal to address the critical economic situation of American dairy, pork, and poultry producers, while simultaneously providing much-needed nutritional assistance to Americans facing hunger due to job loss and other economic hardships.

People whose careers involve creating, fattening, transporting and slaughtering sentient nonhumans whose parts and secretions will then be used as food are having some financial difficulties.

Along with the rest of the country.

To "help these industries survive this economic downturn and gain a solid footing for the future,"  NASDA is proposing a "bold solution: a plan to take extra inventories off the market to reduce supply, all while providing vital nutritious, protein-rich foods to those who are unable to afford them, which is in more demand now than ever before."

Translation? First let's deconstruct:

  • The recession has caused a decrease in demand for animal products. I say stop right there, as Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Jonathan Safron Foer could be behind the decrease. We don't really know. We do know that a feature of a recession is that all sectors are affected in the same direction, and I don't see anyone proposing a bold solution for writers or editors.
  • What if consumers have genuinely been paying attention and have realized that animal products aren't that healthy, are an environmental disaster (the way most are produced) and not sustainable and are a blatant, direct signs of the largest and longest injustice in human history? What if Meatless Mondays and all of the messages about decreasing consumption of animal products have made a difference and consumers have spoken? What if this has nothing to do with the recession or less than one might think (nothing's a tough sell)? Why the rescue plan? The market has spoken; this is supposed to be capitalism, not corporate socialism.

But all of that aside, the bold solution is: Americans who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be the targeted consumers of the surplus (in addition to military food assistance programs in places like Afghanistan).

"By removing these excess products off the market, and placing them into
food assistance programs, we will quickly stabilize the prices for
these products, allowing the producers to break-even, or perhaps even
make a profit on their farms.  Simultaneously, our fellow citizens
struggling to put food on their table will find themselves with more
opportunities for healthy, protein-rich meals.”

So people with lower incomes, who already have higher incidences of
obesity and diabetes and already don't eat as well as people with
higher incomes, will be the intended consumers of exactly the type of
foods they don't need to be eating. And that's being done as a favor of
sorts, a gift to them by the benevolent NASDA.

Perhaps just as ironic is the mission of the NASDA, which includes "protection of animal and plant health, stewardship of our environment, and promoting the vitality of our rural communities."

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. jeannie #

    This is an exceptional example of how demand doesn’t dictate supply. When a surplus of meat (or any other product for that matter) is being pushed on the underprivileged and poor, they are not exactly voting with their dollars, are they? Some vegans propose that the system can be changed simply through more people buying vegan food. I see this “surplus strategy” as one of the many ways in which the reigning system (corporatism) undermines that approach and renders it ineffective as a single solution.

    There is a connection between today’s post and your post the other day on capitalism. Do you see it?

    December 5, 2009
  2. Mary #

    I do see it, jeannie, and I indeed used to be a vegan who thought that demand and supply would be the key. And though I don't think demand is unimportant, it's clear that we need an approach/approaches that go deeper and broader.

    I still don't think capitalism can be said to be the problem because that's not really what we have. If it were, supply and demand wouldn't be so easily derailed by programs like this one, that exploit both nonhuman and human animals.

    December 5, 2009
  3. jeannie #

    Here is my take on it (I hope you don’t mind if I expand on this topic). In terms of government, the U.S. does not have a democracy (I would call it a corporatocracy, a form of fascism). However, according to its definition, capitalism seems to be the economic system we still have in the U.S., only it has now arrived at its logical and predictable conclusion/demise – a failed model. Wouldn’t you say it’s on its last legs and dragging us all down with it? I humbly ask with sincere interest: what kind of economic system would you say we have, if not capitalism? What basic elements of capitalism would you say are missing now that we had before? It seems that all the main elements of capitalism are present today: profits-driven competition, growth, expansion, privately controlled production (maybe I’ve missed something?). One might be led to think that all the recent handouts to Wall Street (dubbed “socialism for the rich”) goes against the grain of capitalism. If that is true, then we never had capitalism, because handouts to the rich/corporations are nothing novel to American history: .

    Overproduction regardless of consumer needs or wants has become the norm in industry complexes. By the 1940’s producers here in the U.S. began to create “artificial needs” and have found creative ways to overproduce goods that we don’t need. Ever wonder why shirts don’t last as long as they used to and why laptops become outdated so quickly? I won’t even go into the wasteful overproduction of various industries such as the military, health care, pharmaceutical companies, and of course agriculture, where subsidies are nothing new. How about corn…in just about everything?

    As far as I know, the existence of capitalism does not rely on the dynamics (or balance) of supply and demand (the neo-classical economists, not our founding fathers, were the ones who dreamed up the delusional idea that demand dictates supply in capitalism’s “perfect market” – alas the “perfect market” never existed). In any case, the history of the U.S. government is rife with ways in which the supply was purposefully manipulated to dictate demand in order to turn profits (usually at the expense of the underprivileged or poor).

    However, all that said, I agree with you that capitalism is not the ultimate root of the problem. Exploitation is the root (and, as you know, exploitation is something that obviously can exist apart from capitalism and should be fought with or without capitalism). But the *core principles* of capitalism egregiously encourage, facilitate and justify acts of exploitation. Rampant exploitation will always exist wherever capitalism exists.

    Many mainstream U.S. political pundits/critics say that our capitalist system only needs to be tweaked and regulations should be established — as if the only thing this country requires is keeping the wealthiest capitalists in line and a return to “the good old days” when capitalism was a beneficial system to all. Seems to me, it was never a healthy system. Incidentally, I just recently finished reading “The Jungle,” a novel by Upton Sinclair that was written over a hundred years ago. Sinclair’s potent message about the “big business” of the meatpacking industry brings home the fact that exploitation has always been at the “heart” of capitalism.

    December 7, 2009
  4. Mary #

    I like this (and I voted for Nader 3 times):

    December 8, 2009
  5. As someone who used to be a die-hard "Ayn Randian capitalist" – I think I've seen both sides. And from where I stand now, I agree that "pure" capitalism never did exist at all!

    If it did, all the money that goes to animal research labs in the way of grants, and all the funds that go to support artificial "meat markets" would never have come out of taxpayer pockets.

    There are certain activists who believe that all vegans have to do, is "force" these industries out by purchasing alternative goods. But in reality, the corrupt system of bailouts and funding projects, just won't allow consumers to "vote" with dollars. Instead we encourage flunked enterprises to exist, (and prosper), in La-La Land.

    This "Meat the Need" project is just one of a long line of bailout money to animal ag. The ironic thing is, not only are we bailing them out due to lack of demand… But we're also subsidizing new hog barns and dairies to be built or to expand! You can't buy insurance-to-fail this cheap anywhere else but with Uncle Sam.

    As a vegan I'm saddened. As an American I'm outraged!

    And Mary, I agree too – If we were making a dent in people's thinking/buying habits – How would we even know? And another question is… Would they even let it be known? Don't ask/Don't tell?

    December 10, 2009
  6. No surprise here – just thought it was amusing enough to share… Pennsylvania dairies are urging their rescue funds be delivered by Dec.25th! Guess we might refrain from the title of "Uncle Sam" and call him "Uncle Santa" instead!

    December 11, 2009
  7. Well there goes $290 million to dairy "relief":
    USDA Announces New Dairy Economic Loss Assistance Payment Program to Provide Financial Relief to Struggling Dairy Producers

    December 17, 2009

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