US agriculture and immigration tied in a knot

Whew! Good thing I'm not testing my blood pressure today ... this bit of tripe has sent it through the roof, I'm sure. I know I said I wasn't going to wade into the immigration debate, but here you have it being used as a straw man by one of the most rapacious industries on earth: American "agribusiness". Choice quotes:

"What makes food so cheap in the United States is because we do things efficiently and if you wiped out that efficiency by creating an unnecessary labor shortage, it essentially will foist a high food price on to consumers," said [Dave] Ray, spokesman for the American Meat Institute, which represents beef and pork companies.

I beg to differ: what makes food so cheap in the US is the use of virtual slave labor on factory farms and industrial packing plants, coupled with horrific treatment of the animals and the environment. Massive Federal subsidies to the largest corporations involved don't hurt the bottom line, either. They're partially right when they claim these are jobs Americans won't take: who wants to stand knee deep in gore all day for $5/hr.(or less, in some cases, as they pay by the piece)? What American would work in these conditions, sans medical insurance, sans safety rules, minus anything at all that considers him or her as more than a "labor unit"?

Answer: No sane American citizen would take a job like that. However, illegal migrants, who frequently live in tent cities or shared apartments (one two bedroom apartment locally was found to have 20 male illegal Mexican immigrants as occupants - and no running water, as they never bothered to pay the water bill), and simply send most of the money made back home to support their wives and children, are more than happy to be making far more than they could back home, in similar conditions.

"What we've seen with the mobility of labor, particularly from Mexico, has enabled that industry to stay in the United States," Chris Hurt, agricultural economist at Purdue University, said of meat processing. "It's entirely possible that if labor had not been mobile that parts of the industry would have to moved to other countries like Mexico."

Labor mobility in this case seems to be a one way street - try moving to Mexico and getting a job without any government documents (i.e. "illegally") and without speaking a word of Spanish. And many plant have moved, especially in the vegetable and fruit areas. The only thing keeping the meat packing industry here is really the bureaucratic inefficiency of moving living livestock across international borders, not "mobile labor". There's a certain causal logic at work here: if you can't efficiently make your product over the border, with the consequent lower labor costs, then bring the cheap labor here. We already import nearly everything else from the Third World, why not import the people?

The real lunacy here: every one of these plants has USDA inspectors on site - these are Federal employees. And to my knowledge, not one of them has been busted for violating the existing laws on employing illegal immigrants. Not one.

So how do we solve this? Number one: enforce the existing labor laws. Stringently. Number 2, kill farm subsidies. All of them. Number 3, level the playing field by making all foreign food products imported into the US pay the same price for USDA inspection as domestic produce.

Will this make the price of food in US supermarkets rise? Yep. But it'll also put alot more Americans to work, make the food supply safer by a longshot, and at least give the small producer a fighting chance at survival.

Reuters - Agribusiness is warning Americans that the $12 trillion U.S. economy could be forced to go on an expensive diet if immigrant workers are restricted.

(link) [Yahoo! News: Top Stories]

23:00 /Agriculture | 0 comments | permanent link