Monday, May 1, 2017

AG investigates corporate farming practices

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and his office have launched a wide-ranging investigation aimed at protecting cattle ranchers, feeders and producers from harmful practices by large-scale, corporate farming operations. Balderas announced the investigation on Tuesday in Las Cruces. Balderas said the “multi-pronged” investigation will “review unfair and anti-competitive practices in the cattle industry that harm New Mexican families and our ranchers and cattle farmers,” who he described as the “backbone” of the state’s economy. “My office will investigate the actions of the mega meat-packing corporations in order to determine whether they broke the rules, and if they did, hold those parties fully accountable for their actions,” he said. According to the Attorney General’s Office, the cattle and calf industry is one of the top two commodities for cash receipts in New Mexico. Figures provided by the office show that in New Mexico, there are about 7,000 cattle farms and about 1.4 million dairy and beef cows, including an estimated 325,000 milk cows alone. Balderas said the struggles plaguing cattle ranchers in New Mexico are compounded when they’re also faced with unfair and anti-competitive practices by corporate farming entities, leading to the demise of more small cattle ranch operations. He said his office has recently become aware of such practices by “four mega meat-packing corporations that collectively process approximately 80 percent of all the beef slaughtered in the U.S.” “This issue is critical not only for the local businesses which it directly affects, but for all New Mexicans, and I am taking it very seriously,” he said. Lena Sanchez, a 19-year-old student at New Mexico State University who hails from a ranching family in Jicarilla Apache, also spoke during Balderas’s news conference. She welcomed a thorough investigation of corporate farming practices. “It’s becoming harder and harder, every year, to continue ranching,” Sanchez said. “I think this is an issue that affects all of New Mexico.” She added: “More and more, we’re seeing that agriculture producers and consumers are becoming farther and farther apart, and it is reducing the profit for producers and it’s also increasing costs for consumers.” Balderas urged all New Mexico ranchers who believe they have been harmed by corporate farming to come forward and bring their allegations to his office. “Right now, we’re starting very broad and we’re conducting enough outreach to make sure that we have the largest harmed parties class that we can secure,” he said. “I am committing my office’s resources and I will use the full force of its authority to challenge any entity that illegally or unfairly threatens our local farming and ranching communities, including the USDA or any other entity that acts without integrity,” he said. “My office will fight against federal overreach that hurts our family-owned farms and ranches, to ensure that this critical piece of our state’s identity is honored and protected for generations to come.” To contact the attorney general's Las Cruces office, call 575339-1120 or visit http://www.nmag.gov/. Carlos Andres López can be reached 575-541-5453, carlopez@lcsun-news.com or @carlopez_los on Twitter.

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