St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 3
With pork deal, northern Missouri could become a province of China
Last week, when Smithfield Foods CEO Larry Pope told analysts that the giant meatpacking firm had agreed to be acquired by the Chinese firm Shuanghui International, he mentioned that talks had begun back in 2009.
That might have been nice to know back in 2011 when lobbyists for Smithfield's Premium Standard Farms unit were haranguing the Missouri Legislature. Premium Standard convinced the Legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon that they should grant the company the right to steamroll its neighbors in northern Missouri.
At issue were the odors coming from Premium Standard's 63 hog farms and nine giant CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) in seven counties. Some of the company's neighbors had won million-dollar judgments on claims that Premium Standard effectively had ruined their property.
The Legislature passed, and Mr. Nixon signed, a bill declaring Premium Standard's properties as "permanent nuisances." That meant that neighbors would get one shot at Premium Standard in court, not one shot every few years or so.
This limited the options for many small farmers and landowners. They might be able to sell their land, but they were unlikely to find buyers for their homes.
As Richard Oswald, a farmer in Langdon, Mo., and president of the Missouri Farmers Union, put it in an email, "When the General Assembly limited judgments against Big Pig for pollution and property degradation, we thought they gave our property rights away to Smithfield. As it turns out, they gave them to China."
Would it have made any difference? Probably not, though it would have been fun to watch rural conservatives twisting themselves into knots over giving away their constituents' property rights to the People's Republic. ...
By whatever name, Big Pig has kept large parts of northern Missouri afloat since coming to the state. In 2011, the University of Missouri Extension Service estimated that Premium Standard and Farmland Foods, another Smithfield unit, accounted for 5,200 direct and indirect jobs in Missouri.
Not only do the firms operate their own farms, they also contract with Missouri farmers for pigs and hog finishing and buy feed grains from Missouri growers. In all, Big Pig puts $1.1 billion a year into Missouri's economy.
This is what globalization means: A hog farmer in, say, Daviess County, Mo., could soon be growing hogs that will be butchered, flash-frozen, put in 40-foot freezer containers and shipped, at 20 degrees below zero, in what's known as the "cold chain" to a dinner table in China.
The carbon cost is enormous and it's a hugely inefficient way to provide food proteins. But China's burgeoning middle class wants to eat like westerners do. To meet demand, China not only needs to import pork from the United States, it needs the factory farm technology that U.S. firms have perfected.
From a geopolitical point of view, a nation is more likely to get along with a nation that feeds it and in which it is heavily invested. From a Missouri farmer's point of view, it's a good deal, too. Americans are eating less meat, but the rest of the world wants more. Demand for the corn that goes into hogs helps keep U.S. food prices high. And combined with the ethanol mandate for gasoline, it contributes to high prices for gasoline.
On the other hand, should China become as efficient at producing pork as it is, say, in producing electronics, it wouldn't be particularly good for Missouri farmers. Given China's spotty record of food safety, it wouldn't be particularly good for Missouri consumers, either.
These are among the considerations facing the federal government's multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investments, which will have to approve the Smithfield-Shuanghui deal. Who knew pork was a sensitive technology? Some pig.
St. Joseph News-Press, June 1
River traffic hints at potential
Two years after a devastating flood, it's heartening to see life on the Missouri River. Commercial and recreational enterprises are bringing welcome traffic.
The waterway was instrumental in settling this region and building St. Joseph. The potential for it to shape our future is just as great.
The St. Joseph Regional Port continues to grow, as both a lumber company and a transportation firm have brought new business to the facility. At this point, neither is using the river to move their product. However, the businesses are taking advantage of the port's excellent facilities for rail and truck traffic.
Importantly, the port is primed for when regular flows on the Missouri allow for steadier barge traffic.
Expansion of the Panama Canal also is expected to revive interest in river shipping, as opportunities increase for moving product via ship. State and national leaders are to be commended for working to make the Missouri River more reliable for businesses.
One St. Joseph man has found another way to get traffic out on the river. Larry Christy founded Missouri River Rafting to give guided tours. Customers also can rent canoes for their own perusal of the river.
Mr. Christy's venture opens up a portal for people to access the Mighty Mo in a way few have done in modern times. The more people are exposed to the river, the more they admire its natural beauty and see its value to the region.
Barges make an efficient mode to transport products, especially agricultural goods. Grain and supplies moved on the river use less fuel and reduce wear and tear on highways. These benefits are part of why Congressman Sam Graves is trying to get the river between Sioux City, Iowa, and Kansas City declared a Marine Highway. The designation would open up access to funding for infrastructure upgrades.
We agree with a Missouri Department of Transportation official who said, "Our water resources right now in our state are one of our most underutilized methods of transportation."
And while commercial use is important, the river also is a natural resource. Traffic flow must be balanced with needs to protect wildlife and natural formations.
There's room for all of us on the Missouri River. Let's make the most of it.
Washington Missourian, May 31
Accountability by all
Much too often we do not hold our elected officials accountable in their voting records. Citizens also have a responsibility in accountability — that is, they need to be active participants in citizenship by paying attention to what is going on and by voting. Too often citizens are not accountable when they fail to vote, especially on the local and state levels.
The media could do a better job of tracking votes by our elected officials. We are thinking chiefly about our state and federal members of legislative bodies. It is the media's responsibility to inform citizens of how their representatives voted on bills. We could do a better job. For small weeklies who do not belong to the Associated Press or some other reporting service, it's difficult. One reason The Missourian joined the Associated Press more than 50 years ago was to have a source for news in the state capitol.
It was good to learn that the Washington Area Highway and Transportation Committee plans to invite area lawmakers to a meeting to express their concern over the legislature's failure to pass a transportation bill that would permit voters to cast ballots on a sales tax increase for transportation. There was support from several of the area legislators but not 100 percent. The Washington Civic Industrial Corporation also has invited area lawmakers to a meeting so that group can express its interest in economic development legislation. It probably is that organizations such as these, too small to hire a lobbyist, have not been forceful enough in expressing their interests and concerns.
We need to know the voting records of the people we send to Jefferson City and Washington, D.C. In too many instances, people we elect have their own agendas and do not vote in the best interests of the majority of the people they represent.
Some elected officials do conduct surveys to determine the positions of their constituents on major issues. Many do not.
We need to be more accountable ourselves in meeting our responsibilities as involved citizens by letting our elected officials know where we stand. It is encouraging to see two Washington groups living up to their responsibilities by trying to schedule meetings with elected officials to inform them of their interests, needs and priorities.
The Joplin Globe, May 31
Protect public's right to know
In the past weeks, we all learned that the Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records of more than 100 Associated Press reporters and monitored Fox News reporter James Rosen's personal email and cellphone records.
In the AP case, the telephone records revealed communications with confidential sources across many of AP's newsgathering activities, including communications with members of Congress from the House of Representatives press gallery.
What do these kind of tactics mean to you? It means that the reporters you trust can no longer guarantee a source that their interviews are confidential. The government, by these actions, puts itself in the position to scare away newspaper sources. It disables a free press.
A federal shield law is sorely needed in the United States. And, finally, there could be a bipartisan reaction to the Department of Justice's actions.
Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and John Conyers, D-Mich., in the House and Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in the Senate have introduced the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 (H.R. 1962 and S. 987), which would protect the public's right to know by protecting journalists' confidential sources.
It would prohibit federal prosecutors, criminal defendants and civil litigants from subpoenaing information from journalists unless they convince a federal judge that the need for the information outweighs the public interest in the free flow of information.
We will be writing Rep. Billy Long, Sen. Roy Blunt and Sen. Claire McCaskill and urging them to support reasonable law to protect journalists from being compelled to testify about confidential sources.
Please contact your representative or senator and ask him or her to get behind the Free Flow of Information Act.