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Quality vs. commodity in knowing where your food comes from

© iStock - Sergei Gnatiuk
Mike Moen

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(Minnesota News Connection) When was the last time you looked at a label when buying meat from the grocery store? Smaller farmers across the country hope Congress takes steps to ensure those products are backed by transparency under a fair market structure.

In the New Year, federal lawmakers will revive debate on the Farm Bill, with the recent version being extended to next September. Family farm advocates want to see more support for stronger enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which aims to weed out unfair or deceptive practices among larger companies within meat production. 

James Kanne, a semi-retired dairy farmer from southern Minnesota, said giving smaller producers a leg up helps everyone, including consumers. 

"Most of what our Farm Bill supports is commodity production, and what we've seen is that you aren't getting the quality of food," he said. 

The recently extended Farm Bill subsidizes only a handful of crops, prompting calls in the next version for more direct funding for specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, the USDA recently advanced efforts to update rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act, but advocates hope for more changes. 

Trade groups representing larger firms say this broader federal push could have unintended consequences for the market. 

Kanne added any arguments about protecting consumers from big market changes don't hold much weight, pointing to price hikes for meat during the pandemic. He echoed past concerns about potential price gouging among corporations. 

"And to say that it was good for consumers, no. They put the blame in a lot of places, but the blame came down to - they had the power to do it and they just didn't," Kanne continued.

The US Government Accountability Office cites other factors behind consumer price hikes, including transportation slowdowns after truck drivers became sick. The war in Ukraine was cited as another factor. 

As for the next Farm Bill, family farm advocates also want to see mandatory country-of-origin labeling of beef, as well as no direct loans for so-called factory farms.