DUMP THE PORK TAX!
by Joanne Kennedy
Part One of a Three-Part Exploration of Taxes and Corruption
What, you might ask, is the pork tax and why do I, a Los Angeles native living in New York City, care about it? During my visit to the Des Moines, Iowa Catholic Worker this summer, I caught up with some friends who are deeply impassioned activists for the family farmers of the heartland. I asked, What is the pork tax and why should it be dumped? And I was captivated by their story, which follows below. It's not as splashy as dumping tea in Boston Harbor, but it is about taxation without representation.
More than thirty years ago, hog farmers in the US agreed to pay a small fee on their live hog sales. As recently as 1986, it was voluntary and it was "a nickel per head." This was begun in order to help finance the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), which, in turn, was supposed to use these funds to promote pork consumption.
In 1986, the NPPC convinced Congress tomake that so-called "pork check-off" fee mandatory. It is interesting to note that the NPPC calls it a checkoff because it's supposed to be a beneficial investment for the farmers -- you know, some thing they want to check-off on happily. But the family farmers consider it a tax. Today, the tax amdunts to $0.45 on every $100 received. (An average hog weighs about 250 pounds and the market price is roughly $0.50 per pound.) It may not seem like much, but this tax raises nearly one million dollars a week, ninety percent of which goes on to the NPPC.
In recent years, there have been-changes. People buying pork in the grocery store are paying thirty percent more than they were in 1986. But, the price a faimer receives for a hog has remained mostly stagnant since 1975; between 40 and 60 cents per pound on average.
So while everyone might know what "the other white meat" is, that advertising campaign, funded by the NPPC with this tax money, has not helped family farmers. Also, NPPC money spent on "environmental services" and "production research" has been geared toward the corporate hog industry, which, as you.probably can guess, is also bad news for family farmers.
Since 1986, when the tax became mandatory, more than 250,000 family hog farms have gone out of business -- that's three out of four. Would you feel ashamed if you ran a group to promote an industry and lost 75% of your constituents? Apparently the NPPC is not concerned. In an article in The New York Times on June 11, 2001, the NPPC president, said apparently without shame, that.the family.farmers "basically couldn't make the changes they had to make to stay in business." The NPPC, we will discover, is only actually supportive of one segment of pork producers -- the big boys.
Now, corporate hog factories are definitely a scourge upon the land. I'll mention just a few of the big problems they cause. First, there is the manure. And over there is the manure. And way over there, too. Hogs produce three times as much raw feces and urine as humans. Imagine 30,000 hogs on only five acres of land -- that's an awful lot of waste with no place to go. Usually, operators build "lagoons" for colledion and storage, but the lagoons often leak or overflow and nearby water sources get contaminated. In some cases they spray the waste onto crops as fertilizer, but this only accounts for a small portion of the total.
Then there is the stench. Again, the sheer number of animals in a factory hog confinement makes the problem enormous. The smell will make you retch, because the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are dangerously high. Some counties have kept the hog factories out of their areas by using a nuisance claim, because they constitute an actual health risk to humans.
Inside the buildings, the hogs are packed in so closely they must have their tails cut so that other pigs won't chew them off. As it is, they chew on each other's ears. It sounds like a scene from Brave New World, but some operators require their workers to wear special mylar garb to protect the hogs from bacteria, and they employ the constant use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics. That means not enough antibiotics to actually cure anything, but just enough to keep the hogs superficially "healthy." The antibiotics are then passed along in manure -- if sprayed onto crops, they might contribute to the creation of drug-resistant "super bacteria." Naturally, these types of operations, which are sometimes "farrow to finish" (meaning artificial insemination up to sale for slaughter), are considered more efficient, allowing the corporation to sell hogs for less money while making profit. If the large-scale hog factories are not required to repay the community and the public for the costs that they impose, then they enjoy an artificial advantage against smaller farmers.
For more information, contact the Campaign for Family Farms, 2001 Forest Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311.
TOMORROW -- Family Farms Respond, But Government Seems Corrupt, Biased in Favor of the Big Boys
This article originally appeared in the Catholic Worker newspaper and is reprinted here with the permission of that venerable and upstanding periodical.
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