The recent egg recall shined a spotlight on how much of our food increasingly comes from a tiny group of big producers. But egg consolidation pales in comparison to what’s happening to pork. In the past 25 years, the number of U.S. hog farms has decreased by more than half, a trend that has been driven by hyper consolidation. We explore what this means for producers, prices and our palates.

Guests

  • Patty Lovera Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch
  • Phil Borgic Pork producer from Nokomis, IL; former president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association
  • Brian Buhr Professor of Agriculture Economics, University of Minnesota

Transcript

  • 13:24:53

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIf buying eggs or even a box of Fruit Loops is giving you pause in the grocery aisle lately, you're not alone. The recent nationwide recall of 500 million eggs focused a spotlight on the origins and oversight of our food supply. We learned quickly that a massive consolidation in the egg industry has led to just a handful of farms producing most of the eggs we eat. Well, remember the other white meat? The same rapid consolidation in eggs has been happening for more than two decades in the pork industry.

  • 13:25:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISince 1987, the median size of a hog farm went from 1200 hogs to 30,000. Two out of three hogs are now slaughtered by companies with familiar names, like Smithfield, Tyson Swift and Cargill. So what's behind these changes and what do they mean for producers, pork prices and ultimately the safety of our picky palettes? Joining us by telephone from Nokomis, Ill. is Phil Borgic. He is a pork producer and a former president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. Phil Borgic, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:00

    MR. PHIL BORGICI appreciate the opportunity.

  • 13:26:02

    NNAMDIIn our Washington studio is Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a non-profit food safety and advocacy organization. Patty Lovera, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:13

    MS. PATTY LOVERAHi. Thanks for having me.

  • 13:26:14

    NNAMDIAnd joining us by telephone from St. Paul, Minn. is Brian Buhr. He is Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Minnesota. Brian Buhr, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:26:26

    MR. BRIAN BUHROh, thank you for having me.

  • 13:26:27

    NNAMDIBrian, can you give us an idea of what's happened in the hog industry over the past two decades or so?

  • 13:26:31

    BUHRWell, if you go back a little ways, the hog industry was part of a diversified crop and livestock operation. Over time, what we've seen is specialization across all livestock species. So you had mentioned eggs, pork products, cattle farms have specialized, and primarily because of technical changes. I will point out, as you had mentioned, that in 1990, for example, just to put some perspective on it, there were about 300,000 pork operations in the country and about 54 million head of hogs. By 2010, that 300,000 had gone to 73,000 operations, so larger farms.

  • 13:27:12

    BUHRI think there's -- one point of clarification is people talk about the firms and their size. On a farm level, there aren't as many hogs on a site, on a particular place, as there is with a firm. So a company, or a hog operation, owns multiple sites across many geographic areas. So that concentration on a particular site isn't as large as you might think.

  • 13:27:36

    NNAMDIWhat's driving the consolidation in the industry, Brian?

  • 13:27:40

    BUHRWell, it's really technical change. There's been a lot of change in genetics of animals over time, in the nutrition of animals. And one of the big pieces is health management. So one of the perplexing issues in all of livestock is they're susceptible to diseases, flu, other types of respiratory diseases and so on. And one of the innovations that came along really about -- probably about 20 years ago now was multiple-site production. And what they did was, the traditional farms were furrow-to-finish operations so they had breeding herds that had baby pigs that then they grew out on that same farm into finished animals that were ready for market.

  • 13:28:39

    BUHRAnd over the last -- about 20 years ago, this innovation came along where if you kept that breeding herd separate, which is where a lot of your capital is invested, you can improve the health of those baby pigs when they were born. And that health, that quality of health, moved through their entire life. And what that did is really started to separate out and specialize hog production. So you now have farms that are primarily breeding farms, that have baby pigs. Those baby pigs are weaned and they go off to finishing farms and it really improved health. And that innovation really started to develop this larger scale operation because farms were investing in particular stages.

  • 13:29:03

    NNAMDIPatty Lovera, who are now the largest pork producers and how do the pig farmers who remain fit into how these big companies produce meat?

  • 13:29:12

    LOVERASo we struggle a little bit with who the biggest players are because we don't get a lot of information about that. But what we think, when we can go look at the industry, statistics say the biggest players are Smithfield, Tyson, a company that use to be called Swift, it's now called JBS Swift because they've merged with a Brazilian company, Cargill. Hormel is on that big list. And so, you know, in addition to the technical changes in the industry, the relationships between farmers and these companies have changed as well. And so with that loss of, you know, going from hundreds of thousands of hog farmers to, you know, 70,000, the way that they market their animals, the arrangements they have are different, too.

  • 13:30:01

    LOVERAAnd the economics are very different. And the economics really do pressure them to get bigger. And, you know, and we've lost a lot of folks who were, you know, independent, who would go to an auction and see who they could find to buy their hogs because those markets don't exist anymore. And many of them are doing prearranged, you know, contracts or simply growing hogs for a company that the company owns. So that's a dramatic change in how they're arranged as well.

  • 13:30:15

    NNAMDIPhil, you've been a pork producer in Illinois for more than 30 years. Tell us how your operation has changed since you began farming.

  • 13:30:24

    BORGICWell, I'm very much a product of those technological changes and improvements on how we take care of our animals and produce a product that the consumer wants. I'm a 54-year-old farmer so my dad, when I helped him back in the early '60s did have dairy, chickens, hogs and road crop. And so he had to understand and do the best job he could with all of those different enterprises. As we matured and then I came back in and helped him, we started making choices on which one of those enterprises we wanted to specialize in. And we ended up in the hog business. And every day now I specialize in trying to take care of my animals and producing a product, then, for the consumers of the United States and the world...

  • 13:31:20

    NNAMDIWhy did you...

  • 13:31:22

    BORGIC...along with a team I put together of veterinarians and staff here at the farm.

  • 13:31:26

    NNAMDITell us why you decided to specialize in raising hogs for just the first few weeks of their lives, rather than raising them until they're ready for market?

  • 13:31:37

    BORGICA lot of that was economics. I -- when my dad was involved, we did take them all the way to market. When I -- in the '90s, when I got back home from the University of Illinois, we took those pigs all the way to market. And then, because of market fluctuations and profitability in the late '90s, then I stopped finishing those animals for survival purposes for my business and my family and started just raising them for the first three weeks of their lives.

  • 13:32:04

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Phil Borgic. He's a pork producer from Nokomis, Ill. He's also former president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. Brian Buhr is a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Minnesota. Patty Lovera is assistant director of Food & Water Watch, that's a non-profit food safety and advocacy organization. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Did the egg recall make you think twice about the origin of the food on your plate? 800-433-8850. How much do you buy locally? You ask also go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there. Brian, are we seeing more pork farmers specializing their operations like Phil Borgic is?

  • 13:32:53

    BUHRYeah, we do. And just as I talked about, that's happening for a couple of reasons. One is that health issue and the ability to focus. The other piece, as we look at farms now and we've increased in, certainly, acreage for the crop farming, many farms, if you look at USDA's agricultural statistics, have both on-farm and off-farm jobs for income purposes. And so what that specialization allows you to do is get a hold of that technology that's coming from other, you know, other places, whether it's processors or other producers, and because you're contracting more specialized, you can focus on that and it becomes an income generator and it becomes supplement to your other farming activities.

  • 13:33:50

    BUHRSo there's really a mix of a lot of different factors that are moving this, both from the personal decisions to, you know, invest in, for example, crop land, which is expensive, versus expanding a hog operation, but it still allows people to participate. And, you know, along those lines, in this part of the -- this neck of the country, in Iowa, Minnesota and so on, most of the contracts and the specialization occurs producer to producer. In our states, it's illegal for packers to own livestock in many of the Midwestern states and so we often find producers who are doing either the specialty furrowing, for example, that may contract with other producers to finish out animals. So it's very much a producer to producer interaction as well. And then they will have contracts with packers to deliver market hogs like we've done for, you know, for 50 or 60 years.

  • 13:34:28

    NNAMDIPatty, first you and then Phil, can you tell us about the pros and cons, in your view, of these contractual relationships that hog farmers are signing with the big pork processors, like Smithfield, Tyson and others? First you, Patty Lovera.

  • 13:34:41

    LOVERAWell, we've talked to producers of hogs and also chickens. The poultry industry is almost entirely based on this model of, you know, a contract with a company. And, you know, what they say is what gives some guaranty, you know, you know that on X date you will sell your animals to this company. But the list of risks and downsides is what we hear more about from a lot of producers and it's about what they're giving up. You know, they're giving up the option to have any other offer.

  • 13:35:06

    LOVERAAnd often, you know, in some parts of the country, for example, when Smithfield, a few years ago, merged with a large company called Premium Standard Farms, producers in North Carolina went from two options to sell their hogs to one. So you might as well go get a contract with Smithfield unless you want to ship your animals halfway across the country to a slaughter house in the Midwest.

  • 13:35:24

    LOVERAAnd so that doesn't put you in a great negotiating position. And what we've seen a lot, and there's a lot of policymaking that could fix this, is that these contracts can be unfair because the farmers aren't in a position to negotiate a great contract. You put a lot of debt into the equation. You go build barns to their specifications, but the contract may not be for as long as your debt is going to take to pay off. You know, your -- there's a lot of liabilities for the waste management, and that debt and things like that, that that contract may not cover for you. So there's a lot of concerns about the imbalance in power in these scenarios when we have a tiny number of slaughter house options for producers and producers with no other way to get their animals to consumers.

  • 13:36:01

    NNAMDIPhil Borgic, it's my understanding that your brother chose to go the contract route with a big producer, but you have chosen an independent route. Could you talk about the pros and cons, in your view, of the contractual relationships?

  • 13:36:18

    BORGICWell, there's many choices today in the pork industry to -- that allows us independent and contract producers to make choices, you know, what best suits our operation. For myself, I was raising some corn, soybeans of my own to where I could value add that by owning my own pigs. Where my brother lived on a very small farm, acreage wise, and so he was going to have to purchase his feed for his animals anyway. And so for him, it made much more sense to contract in with another producer. The contracts with the packers and myself, I have contracted with other farmers, allows us to reduce a rift and to specialize in, you know, the type of production I like. I have seven contracts that producers, primarily grain farmers, take my pigs and raise them on out to market weight. And then, I also have two family farms and -- that raise my pigs to market weight. So I do a little bit of both.

  • 13:37:28

    NNAMDIHere is Nick in Germantown, Md. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:37:35

    NICKHi. I was actually wondering what was the primary decision on the honing in on the particular type of pig that is most widely used in the industry? I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 13:37:50

    NNAMDIWait a minute. Allow me to make sure that Brian and Phil and Patty all get your question. Brian, do you understand the question?

  • 13:37:58

    BUHRI think so. He's asking what led to that predominant pig that's used in the industry. Is that about right?

  • 13:38:02

    NNAMDIIs that about right, Nick?

  • 13:38:03

    NICKYeah.

  • 13:38:03

    NNAMDIOkay. Good.

  • 13:38:04

    NICKYeah, I grew up...

  • 13:38:05

    NNAMDINick...

  • 13:38:05

    NICK...on a family farm. We always raised a diverse array of pigs, chickens and cows as well. And I just know that judging by the quality and also the type of meat that you get from the pigs, they're coming from a single type of pig.

  • 13:38:27

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Brian. Brian Buhr.

  • 13:38:28

    BUHRI'll comment about that first. You know, the main drive of that was consumer preferences. And if we go back to the '70s and '80s, and this was a big change in the industry, was the move towards leaner meats. And it came out of some of the studies on health issues and so on for pork products. And what happened during that period was we started to look at trying to find those leaner genetics with better, higher quality meat. And part of that went along with, you know, demands for processed food products. And part of that is getting a meat quality that can be processed into a way that provides those products.

  • 13:39:00

    BUHRAnd so it becomes kind of a competition among different animals. And so that -- as you were talk being growing up, I grew up on a farm as well and we had these diverse genetics. But what happened is, that takes consistency out of the consumer's mind and then also it doesn't allow you to build in these traits that you want to have in the industry, that becomes kind of competitive that those traits that are in most demand fit that market. And I'll just comment that's what's interesting, I think, is, you know, these markets are always in flux. So we -- you went from a very diversified herd of animals to more specialized products across the industries.

  • 13:39:52

    BUHRAnd now, we've seen the immergence of some of the heritage breeds, for example, the Berkshires, the Hampshire's, that were the traditional breeds coming out because they do have different meat quality characteristics. So the industry tends to be very responsive to those sorts of consumer demands and we see that coming through genetics as well.

  • 13:39:52

    NNAMDIPatty Lovera?

  • 13:39:55

    LOVERAIt's a great question. And in this...

  • 13:39:56

    NNAMDIBecause today sometimes people say pork is too lean.

  • 13:40:00

    LOVERARight. And we hear that a lot from folks. And then they go, you know, if they're able to find a local producer that's doing a heritage breed or something else, people get so excited 'cause of the contrast, I think, sometimes. I mean, it's a really important that question that we deal with kind of across the food supply. We did a lot of talking about this recently with this egg recall because we have a lot of kind of illusion of choice, I think.

  • 13:40:20

    LOVERAWe hear a lot about consumers chose this and this market looks like this because, you know, consumers voted with their dollars. We don’t really have a lot of options to vote for. We have a lot of brands and we have a lot of marketing, but, you know, often they're owned by the same company. So when we have, you know, 67 percent of the hogs in the country being slaughtered by four companies, you know, chances are in any one grocery store you go to, maybe one or two of those companies brought you that pork.

  • 13:40:42

    NNAMDIIn the egg...

  • 13:40:42

    LOVERAThat's not a lot of options for you to vote for.

  • 13:40:44

    NNAMDIIn the egg recall, we learned quickly that federal inspection of most mega producers is pretty limited. Is it any better in the pork industry?

  • 13:40:54

    LOVERAWell, the USDA is in charge of meat and poultry safety and that safety inspection starts at the slaughterhouse. So beyond that, there are programs to, you know, try to prevent diseases. There's a lot of guidance and research about disease prevention, but we've also seen a lot of trying to play catch-up as we change this industry. We put more and more animals in one place. We just heard about how there's less diversity in their genetics and a lot of scientists are worried that that loss of diversity puts them at risk for disease.

  • 13:41:21

    LOVERAThis is a different industry than it was 20 or 30 years ago so we have meat inspection that's at the slaughterhouse to see that that's being done in a way that's supposed to minimize risk. We don't necessarily have that same level of oversight over these large operations.

  • 13:41:34

    NNAMDIGot to take short break. Nick, thank you very much for your call. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on consolidation in the hog industry and what it means for what ends up on your plate or coming out of your pocket. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. Do you worry about where your meat or your pork, in this particular case, comes from? 800-433-8850 or go to our website kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or an e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:42

    NNAMDIWe're talking about the hog industry and consolidation in it with Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a non-profit food safety and advocacy organization. Phil Borgic is a pork producer from Nokomis, Illinois. He's also former president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. And Brian Buhr is a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Minnesota.

  • 13:44:07

    NNAMDIThe question that I think is on a lot of peoples' minds -- I'll start with you, Brian Buhr. How realistic is it that a situation could occur in pork that recently happened in the egg industry? Can a defect in one hog operation jeopardize a significant segment of the marketplace? Starting with you, Brian Buhr.

  • 13:44:26

    BUHRWell, that's, you know, back to that first question of where -- you know, how these hogs are distributed in the landscape. So one of the things in the egg laying industry is that there is much more density of egg production in fewer farms. And with pork production, partly due to environmental regulations on how much land needs to be available, those sites are much more dispersed. So again, even though a company owns a large number of hogs -- for example, take Smithfield. Those hogs are distributed between North Carolina, Iowa, Missouri, into Nebraska and other states.

  • 13:44:58

    BUHRAnd so on any given site, you don't have nearly that level of dispersion potential. And I think we have to keep in mind that, you know -- suppose, if you sort of do a logical experiment here, we have these consolidations. So when you do have an event, it does become a distribution issue, that more are affected. But if you were to spread that out -- you know, so we process approximately 120 million head of hogs a year that go through our production systems. If you spread those out across the landscape, you would likely still have some of those food biological contamination issues.

  • 13:45:32

    BUHRAnd you would still have the same incident, but it wouldn't be -- and prevalence of it, but you wouldn't see nearly the direct impact of it. So it's kind of the news making piece to it that makes that bigger. And then, I'll just point out that, for example, Minnesota, we deal with issues on a smaller scale basis. But, you know, the pork industry has done -- among industries, I think there's less than a .2 percent prevalence or something like that of salmonella in pork products with production practices and so on. And we don't tend to see those types of breaks there as much.

  • 13:46:05

    NNAMDIPhil Borgic?

  • 13:46:08

    BORGICYes. Well, along with the, you know, state and national regulations -- like my particular farm, I have two veterinarians that share the responsibility on making sure that, you know, we use our drugs and antibiotics properly and that we are producing a safe product and that they, you know, are delivered to the harvesting facilities in, you know, healthy shape.

  • 13:46:38

    NNAMDIPatty Lovera?

  • 13:46:40

    LOVERAWell, I mean, one of the pieces in terms of, you know, the distribution issue of a consolidated system, putting a risk out there, I mean, that bottleneck also happens at the slaughterhouse. And so we have fewer slaughterhouses and they're bigger. And so we're taking -- you know, maybe we're taking pigs from a lot of places, but they're running through, you know, a relatively small number of places that process them into our food. So that's yet another piece of this consolidation and that's really, you know, we think there's a food safety issue.

  • 13:47:06

    LOVERAWe've seen they're in lots of different foods, ranging from peanut butter to spinach to eggs, when you have very consolidated processing, you can take an isolated problem and spread it out over the whole country. That's true cost of food supply, and then it also changes these economics about, you know, who's left in farming who can get their -- their products to the market, because most consumers don't go buy a pig. They go buy a, you know, a processed meat product. You need that middle step.

  • 13:47:27

    NNAMDIWhich brings -- which brings me to this, that you implied or referred to earlier. Is the pork industry set up similarly to the egg industry, where the big producers send pork to smaller companies that then sell the pork under a wide variety of labels?

  • 13:47:44

    LOVERAYou know, we spend more time actually look -- when you talk about whose -- which meat is changing hands, we see a lot of that in the beef industry. But what we do know is that, you know, most people aren’t going to the grocery store and necessarily seeing pork labeled with Cargill. They're seeing one of three, or four, or five labels that Cargill sells. You know, the same thing is restaurants or things like that. You don't necessarily get that information about which big meat packer it came from, but chances are it came from them because they're running, you know, most of the market.

  • 13:48:11

    LOVERAAnd so there's, like, differences in all of these industries, but the common denominator for consumers is that we often have more labels than we actually have suppliers.

  • 13:48:20

    BORGICThe one thing I would like to...

  • 13:48:23

    NNAMDIThis is Phil Borgic.

  • 13:48:25

    BORGICYeah. That is those industries also are using a lot of their own testing because they have, you know, product liability concerns of their own and wanting to make sure that they are sending out a safe product. And they not only test it at the, you know, harvesting facility, but then test it then further down the chain. And in a lot of our facilities today, we also have foreign testers there because we export -- 25 percent of our pork goes to other countries. And so there may be a, you know, a technician from Japan or from Russia in those facilities also testing, besides our own government USDA.

  • 13:49:09

    NNAMDIThere are a lot of callers who would like to get into this conversation. We'll go with Paul in Washington D.C. first. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:49:18

    PAULHey, thanks so much for the interesting show, Kojo. I just wanted to make a brief comment that, you know, not only has the pig industry become very consolidated, as you all have noted in recent decades, but as that's happened, it seems like the treatment of the pigs in that industry has also become increasingly harsh and inhumane. And I'm reminded of a Washington Post (word?) from this past Sunday's outlook section where the writer predicted that future generations would look back in horror at the ways in which we routinely abused not only pigs, but other farm animals as well in our area -- in our era.

  • 13:49:52

    PAULAnd the example that that writer used in the Post was about the fact that it's now common for breeding pigs in the U.S. to be confined in these cages that are barely larger than their own bodies. They're not even able to turn around for months on end. And of course, if this type of immobilization were forced on dogs, for example, the perpetrators would probably be charged with criminal cruelty. But because the victims are farm animals rather than dogs, we look the other way.

  • 13:50:15

    PAULAnd my hope is that with shows like yours, Kojo, people will realize that many of the problems with animal agribusiness, not only in the pork industry, but in the egg industry as well and others, that these are problems that aren't really about just a couple rotten eggs in the industry, but rather that we have some seriously wrong standard industry practices that are just, quite frankly, really rotten.

  • 13:50:36

    NNAMDIBrian Buhr, what's the evidence of the relationship between consolidation and treatment of animals in the hog industry?

  • 13:50:43

    BUHRWell, the caller's observation is, you know, that as we move to larger scale production systems, we did put -- move into gestation crates is what he's referring to. That sows were housed in gestation crates. And the reason for that was if you went back 30 years and you had sows outdoors, sows and pigs form social orders and there is fighting within the pigs. Sows will lay down on baby pigs.

  • 13:51:07

    BUHRAnd so one of the solutions -- and in fact, I was growing up in the '70s, they were widely used as well as a way to prevent that type of harm to pigs and keep them away from each other and keep them safe and from harm's way. What's interesting is, so it's moved as we got larger and larger, that system remained in place. And kind of back to this flux of the market, you know, production companies, in fact, if you mention Smithfield, for example, has come up several times, and others have implemented programs and are looking more at pen-based housing, group housing, moving away from those types of systems, recognizing that there may be alternative approaches to, you know, accomplishing healthy, safe, quality hogs.

  • 13:51:46

    BUHRThere's -- it's kind of a fascinating area because there are several research people that I've worked with at universities looking at, you know, the behavioral aspect of sows and how they interact and how they can design barns to fit with that sort of social hierarchy that pigs have. And so, you know, as we go through these processes, you know, it is that case where you move down a direction that competes at one point. And then, you look at, well, you know, do we need -- and we do need to be -- in fact, I think the pork producers have a program, and Phil may be able to -- I think it's called We care, that's about trying to improve the welfare of pigs. And so the objective is always to try and keep the safe, you know, the welfare of the animals in mind. And that adjustment is occurring.

  • 13:52:26

    NNAMDIPhil Borgic, how does that program work and what assurances can it give to consumers and others that pigs are being treated in a more humane manner?

  • 13:52:38

    BORGICWell, I actually have an assessment done at my hog operation to verify to others that I am taking care of my animals in the best possible way. And I've dedicated my life to take care of my pigs and sows each day better than I did the day before. Because I've been involved in this industry so long, I, you know, started with sows and pigs that were outdoors and to where those animals here in central Illinois, you know, were exposed to sub-zero weather and 95 to 100 degree weather. And as we've adopted these technologies, we're able then to shelter those animals from the harsh weather here in the United States.

  • 13:53:31

    BORGICAnd then, what the individual stalls allows me to do here on my farm, is each individual sow every day gets the proper amount of nutrition that that particular animal needs, versus, you know, a system then that is not able to provide that individual care.

  • 13:53:52

    NNAMDIHere is Helen in Glen Echo, Md. And Paul, thank you for your call. Helen, go ahead, please.

  • 13:53:57

    HELENYes. I sat on the line because I didn't want you to think I'm rude. But you're talking about what I was concerned about, which is humane care of these animals that are said to be quite intelligent. And you still haven't talked about, I guess, the industry of slaughter and how that's going...

  • 13:54:16

    NNAMDISlaughterhouse practices. What do we know about that in the hog industry, Patty Lovera?

  • 13:54:21

    LOVERAWell, I mean, a lot of this boils down to whether we're talking about the actual farms where they're raised or the slaughterhouses where they're processed. A lot of this boils down to numbers. And so lots of the techniques we just hear about, whether it's, you know, crates versus, you know, feeding systems or whatever, a lot of this is all being done to facilitate having bigger numbers in one place. And that's really the biggest difference between kind of the farm -- the picture of the farm that they put on the package, you know, which is our image and what they want us to be thinking about, and one of a lot -- you know, a lot of Heritage breed and direct marketing are still coming, from versus, you know, facilities where we're talking about a thousand pigs in one building, and six of those buildings in one place.

  • 13:54:57

    LOVERAAnd the same thing carries through the whole line. When we lost slaughterhouses, those slaughterhouses got bigger, they run faster. And there's been a lot of concern over the years that they're too big or too fast to do everything they need to do. And you need to do that very early and very carefully in the process to make sure those animals are unconscious so you can humanely slaughter them. And there's been a lot of exposes and, you know, investigations over the years of whether we're really doing that well and it's a key area we need USDA to pay attention to.

  • 13:55:24

    NNAMDINot only USDA, Brian Buhr, but the contractual relationship have so changed the marketplace, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice are taking notice. They've held several hearings this year on how to regulate the balance of power between farmers and processors. Both you and Patty have attended those hearings. Brian, what's happening at them and what changes do you expect to come out of them?

  • 13:55:50

    BUHRWell, the main concern the hearings are geared around, competition issues, and the concern is that as we consolidate industries, we get fewer buyers that may exert power on producers or retailers in that case. And so it's really testimony about, you know, any evidence of effects of that. What are the rules of contracts and integration, for example, in production and there is a -- there is a piece to this that, you know, the rise of contracting and so on came out of, you know.

  • 13:56:21

    BUHRPhil had talked about this a little bit, that producers were looking for ways to reduce risk, to improve access to technology, to try and, you know, come together and develop these larger, you know, more efficient production systems. And as you move to that larger and larger scale, of course you get concerns about this integration. And that's kind of the focus of these, as well as -- you know, it's even broader than that, seed companies, patent issues in seeds, issues with consolidation grain industries and types of grains.

  • 13:56:50

    BUHRAnd as to what comes out of them, I don't think it's quite clear yet what the outcome will be. The hearings are still going on. I think there's one in Washington yet later in the month. And then, you know, but one of the things in the -- in the industry right now is the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration issued a new rule on contracting that's open for discussion and public comment now. So there are some potential changes coming there related to issues of contracting and integration and so on.

  • 13:57:17

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Brian Buhr is a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Minnesota. Thank you for joining us, Brian Buhr.

  • 13:57:27

    BUHRThank you very much for having me.

  • 13:57:28

    NNAMDIPhil Borgic is a pork producer from Nokomis, Illinois. He's also former president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. Phil Borgic, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:39

    BORGICSure. And I'd be happy to join you at any other time.

  • 13:57:41

    NNAMDIWe'll probably be looking at this again in the future. Stay tuned. Patty Lovera is assistant director of Food & Water Watch, which is a non-profit food safety and advocacy organization. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:52

    LOVERAThanks for having me.

  • 13:57:53

    NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Diane Vogel, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. The engineers today, Andrew Chadwick and Margo Kelley. Dorie Anisman has been on the phones. Beginning this week, or beginning a few weeks ago, you can also get free transcripts at our website kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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