By Louisa McCune | Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2016 4:15 am
By Louisa McCune
Thank you for your important coverage of State Question 777. This type of highly charged policy proposal is often victim to rhetoric, so it’s essential that nonpartisan analysis prevail as voters are charged with legislating the issue at the ballot box.
The proposed amendment, which would forever change the way Oklahoma agriculture is governed by giving final say over farming and ranching matters to the courts, states: “The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.”
There is robust opposition in Oklahoma to SQ 777, a measure originally fabricated in Washington, D.C., by a “bill mill” known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Identical amendments have been passed in North Dakota and Missouri; another amendment is pending in Nebraska.
While supporters say that 777 is needed to protect family farmers and our rich agricultural heritage, the opposition says 777 actually furthers the destruction of the family farm by accelerating corporate concentration in the marketplace.
For example, foreign investors currently own 325,605 acres of Oklahoma agricultural land, 7,744 of that purchased in 2013 (the most recent year reporting). The largest hog producer in the United States is Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods with 887,000 sows, 45,000 of which are in located in Harper, Ellis, and Beaver counties. In 2015, Brazilian-owned JBS, the fourth-largest beef producer in the U.S., announced plans to spend $1.45 billion to purchase Cargill’s U.S. pork production unit (which includes Oklahoma farms).
It’s an economic reality that concentration in the meat protein industry has rendered the individual family farmer powerless in matters of price and practice.
To make matters worse, anti-competition issues in this industry have been only marginally addressed by the Department of Justice, and, as Sen. Grassley of Iowa said in a letter to the DOJ, “If the JBS-Cargill deal is finalized, the four largest pork processors will control roughly 71 percent of the processing capacity in the country.”
Economists consider market concentration between 50 to 100 percent an oligopoly or monopoly. In the world of agriculture, what does that look like? U.S. corporate concentration — the percentage controlled by the four largest companies in each industry — is staggering: beef, 83.5 percent; pork, 66 percent; chicken, 58.5 percent; soybeans, 93 percent; and corn, 80 percent. To this end, many critics of SQ 777 refer to it plainly as “corporate welfare” (and also, because all challenges brought under the amendment would wind up in a judge’s hands, “a lawyer’s relief fund”).
Oklahoma currently has 266 CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as factory or industrial farms). If SQ 777 passes, Oklahoma voters and legislators would lose their right to have the final say in how these incredibly powerful operations are governed — and not just in the immediate future, but 20, 50, or 100 years down the road.
Without the good sense and expertise of Oklahoma’s voting farmers and ranchers to guide the state’s oversight of these operations, our natural resources could fall prey to the very worst of environmental degradations.
This is a critical question that strikes at the very heart of who we are as Oklahomans.
It’s essential that we address this amendment thoughtfully, deliberately, and with a full appreciation for what is at stake. After all, forever is a long time.
McCune is a graduate of Enid High School’s class of ‘88.
Oklahoma Senior State Directorcarmstrong