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Federal regulators take a bite out of meat monopolies on November 10, 2023 at 10:30 am Business News | The Hill

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Big meatpackers must warn chicken growers about the risks of the deals they’re entering into, according to a new federal rule enacted Wednesday.

The rule is part of a package of reforms the Biden administration has framed as steps to bring transparency and competition back to the meat industry, Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.

The reforms, he said, take “critical steps in USDA’s competition and farmer fairness agenda.”

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Other pieces in the package would direct the federal government to buy meat produced in the U.S. and create a new office to fight monopolies in agriculture.

A final part of the rule directs seed companies to display common varietal names alongside brand names — a reform akin to the way buyers of pain relievers know that they can get the chemical “acetaminophen” in the form of Tylenol or cheaper generic alternatives. 

But for decades, independent farmers have complained about the effects of the rapid consolidation of the meat industry — something that the new USDA chicken rule aims to reverse.

In particular, that rule breathes new life into an old enforcement measure set up in the early 1900s to fight meatpacker monopolies: the Packers and Stockyards Act.

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Since a wave of government-backed consolidation in the 1990s, poultry purchasing and processing have been primarily controlled by a handful of enormous meatpackers including Tyson and Pilgrims.

Farmers’ groups have long argued that the rise in this industry’s concentrated — and in many regions monopolistic — power has gone alongside corruption, market manipulation and retaliation against farmers that push back.

On Wednesday, the USDA released a new rule targeting what it sees as the worst abuses of the chicken sector.

The chicken industry is a fitting first target for what the agency has framed as a broader push to roll back anticompetitive farming practices.

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For more than two decades, the agency has received complaints from chicken farmers who say that big meatpackers deceive them about the amount of money they would receive from deals — and then punish them with lower payments when they complain.

The opaque contracts left many growers in an impossible situation, according to the rule released Wednesday. 

Since a wave of government-approved consolidations began in the 1990s, farmers have generally not owned the chickens they raise. Instead, the meatpacking companies do, along with the feed and medicine that turns them from chicks into market-ready “broilers.”

To get these contracts, farmers often must go heavily into debt to build the massive, state-of-the-art “chicken houses” the industry requires — an expense that makes it impossible to walk away if the deal turns out to be worse than they had expected.

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These growers face a “gap between expected earnings” and what the company is actually willing to pay, the new rule argued. 

For decades, chicken farmers have complained that a wave of government-backed mergers in the 1990s tipped the balance of power in the industry decisively to the side of the meatpackers — leaving them in a position some have compared to that of medieval serfs, in a process that growers of other meat have called “chickenization.”

In the dry language of the rule, the USDA calls out this dynamic: Packers, it said, “exert high degrees of discretion that can and do adversely affect growers.”

In particular, these companies tend to present a rosy picture of future earnings just long enough to get farmers locked into big, expensive upgrades that leave them trapped, the USDA wrote.

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When farmers are debating whether to take on loans to expand their chicken houses, for example, poultry dealers “repeatedly and consistently omit vital information or make misleading statements, preventing growers from understanding the risks they are taking on,” the USDA wrote. 

The leading poultry trade group attacked the rule, which it said aimed to create a flood of frivolous litigation.

“Make no mistake, this isn’t about transparency,” said Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council (NCC).

“This rule was specifically designed to chum the water for lawsuits,” he said, adding that it would “dismantle a successful industry structure that has benefited farmers, chicken companies and ultimately consumers all around the world.”

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The NCC added that the timeline in the rule was too fast: Poultry packers “could have to retroactively amend 25,000 contracts in two months over three major federal holidays.”

But farmers’ groups praised the measure, though many said it didn’t go far enough.

“For far too long, monopolies across agriculture have put the squeeze on farmers and consumers,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union.

“Today’s finalized rule will require poultry companies to be more honest in their dealings with growers.”

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But a coalition of environmental groups argued that by restricting the rule to just the broiler chicken industry — leaving out eggs, milk, beef and pork — the USDA had caved to Big Meat.

“USDA must do more to actually protect farmers from corporate abuse, beyond merely informing producers how exploitative the system is,” said Emily Miller, an attorney at Food and Water Watch.

To be sure, the USDA is doing more — and large meatpackers aren’t happy about it.

Other rules would require federal buyers to procure only pork and beef raised in the U.S. — a potential value of about a billion dollars to U.S. farmers.

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That is a measured step in a direction that American independent ranchers have agitated for since the Obama administration.

In the mid-2010s, the federal government dropped rules that had required that beef come with a label declaring where cows had been raised, butchered and processed — a step that ranchers had seen as essential to keep multinational meat corporations from undercutting with cheaper, imported beef.

When that rule changed, market prices and income for U.S. ranchers crashed, Bill Bullard of the independent ranchers organization R-CALF told The Hill.

Sarah Little, a spokesperson for the North American Meat Institute, said that the added profits ranchers might expect would come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

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“Segregation of cattle and hogs to those born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. will increase costs and will place the burden on school systems and the taxpayer at a time of great need,” she said.

The agency will also set up a chief competition officer to fight monopoly in the meat industry.

These steps are just the beginning: The USDA has proposed four new additions to Packers and Stockyards, including one that would make it easier for farmers to sue over discriminatory treatment.

But time is running out, said Angela Huffman of the progressive farmers trade group Farm Action, a timeline that she said Vilsack has fumbled before.

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If those rules aren’t finalized by May — the deadline outlined in the Congress Review Act — a future Republican president or majority could easily overturn them.

“This is the same travesty against competition that happened during the Obama administration on Secretary Vilsack’s watch,” Huffman said.

“The Biden administration should take heed: In the absence of swift action, history could easily repeat itself,” she added.

​Administration, Business, Equilibrium & Sustainability, News, Agriculture Department, usda Big meatpackers must warn chicken growers about the risks of the deals they’re entering into, according to a new federal rule enacted Wednesday. The rule is part of a package of reforms the Biden administration has framed as steps to bring transparency and competition back to the meat industry, Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom…  

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Exposing the Return Receipt Lifestyle of So-Called Influencers

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In recent years, the world of social media influencers has come under scrutiny for a practice known as “wardrobing” or the “return receipt lifestyle.” This phenomenon involves influencers purchasing high-end designer items, using them for content creation, and then returning them for a full refund. While this practice may seem harmless at first glance, it has significant implications for brands, consumers, and the influencers themselves.

The Scale of the Problem

The extent of this practice is difficult to quantify precisely, as many influencers are reluctant to admit to it. However, some studies and industry reports provide insight into the scale of the issue:

1. According to the National Retail Federation, wardrobing and similar forms of return fraud cost retailers an estimated $24 billion annually in the United States alone.

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2. A survey by Barclaycard found that nearly one in 10 UK shoppers (9%) admit to buying clothing only to wear once with the intent of returning it.

3. In the influencer space, it’s estimated that up to 30% of all clothing returns are related to social media-driven purchases, including those made by influencers for content creation.

Motivations and Pressures

Several factors contribute to this behavior among influencers:

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1. Financial constraints: Many influencers, especially those in the early stages of their careers, cannot afford to keep every designer item they feature.

2. Content demands: The pressure to constantly produce new content and showcase the latest trends drives influencers to seek ways to feature high-end items without the associated costs.

3. Social media expectations: The culture of social media often discourages repeating outfits, creating a need for a constantly refreshed wardrobe.

Impact on the Industry

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The return receipt lifestyle has far-reaching consequences:

1. For brands: While it provides free advertising, it also results in significant financial losses due to returned merchandise that may no longer be in pristine condition.

2. For consumers: It creates unrealistic expectations about influencers’ lifestyles and purchasing habits, potentially leading to financial strain as followers attempt to emulate their idols.

3. For influencers: Many struggle with the ethical implications of the practice, feeling trapped between industry norms and personal values.

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Industry Response

Some brands and retailers have begun to take action:

1. ASOS introduced an account-banning policy for repeat offenders of their returns policy.

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2. Certain luxury brands are implementing more stringent return policies or using technology to track items that have been worn.

3. Some retailers are exploring blockchain technology to create digital identities for luxury items, making it easier to track their usage and return history.

The Path Forward

As the influencer industry matures, there’s a growing call for transparency and authenticity. Many influencers are now openly discussing the realities of their profession, including financial struggles and the pressures they face.

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The return receipt lifestyle is symptomatic of broader issues within influencer culture and the fashion industry. Addressing it will require a multi-faceted approach involving influencers, brands, platforms, and consumers. As we move forward, the focus should be on creating a more sustainable and ethical influencer ecosystem that values genuine content over fleeting appearances.

By shedding light on these practices, we can encourage a more honest dialogue about influencer culture and work towards a model that benefits all stakeholders without relying on deceptive practices.

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Why 74% of Data Breaches Are an Inside Job

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In the world of cybersecurity, a startling statistic has emerged: 74% of data breaches involve a human element, according to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report. This means that nearly three out of four security incidents stem from actions or errors made by people within organizations, rather than sophisticated external hacking.

The human factor in data breaches includes:

1. Accidental exposure of sensitive information
2. Falling for phishing scams
3. Poor password practices
4. Insider threats

 

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The impact of these human-induced breaches is significant. IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023 reveals that the average cost of a data breach has reached an all-time high of $4.45 million. Even more alarming is the time it takes to detect and contain these breaches: on average, 277 days – 207 days to detect and an additional 70 days to contain.

To combat this prevalent threat, organizations must take a multi-faceted approach:

1. Comprehensive security awareness training
2. Simulated phishing exercises
3. Robust access controls
4. Continuous monitoring

While training and policies are crucial, technology also plays a vital role in mitigating human-induced risks. Integrated security platforms can provide real-time threat monitoring, automated anomaly detection, and unified visibility across the entire security ecosystem. By leveraging advanced AI and machine learning, these platforms can dramatically reduce detection times, potentially bringing the average 277-day window down to mere hours or even minutes.

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The 74% statistic is a wake-up call for organizations worldwide. It highlights the need for a holistic approach to cybersecurity that combines robust technology solutions with comprehensive employee training and awareness programs. In a world where every moment counts in preventing data loss and mitigating damage, addressing the human factor in cybersecurity is no longer optional – it’s imperative.

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Spending Like There’s No Tomorrow? Newsflash: There Is

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We’re living in a world where consumerism is king, and our spending habits are spiraling out of control. We’re constantly bombarded with messages telling us to buy, buy, buy – and we’re paying the price.

The Alarming Statistics:
  • The average American has over $38,000 in debt, excluding mortgages (Source: Northwestern Mutual)
  • Credit card debt has increased by 25% since 2020, with the average balance reaching $5,331 (Source: Experian)
  • 1 in 5 Americans have no savings at all, while 62% have less than $1,000 in savings (Source: Bankrate)

The Cycle of Debt:
We’re stuck in a vicious cycle of debt, with many relying on credit cards and loans to fund their lifestyles. But the consequences are dire:
  • 40% of Americans struggle to pay bills on time (Source: US Census Bureau)
  • 1 in 4 Americans have debt in collections (Source: Urban Institute)
The Impact on Mental Health:
The financial stress is taking a toll on our mental health:
  • 63% of Americans report financial stress as a major contributor to their mental health issues (Source: APA)
  • 45% of Americans feel anxious or depressed due to their financial situation (Source: NAMI)
Breaking the Cycle:
It’s time to take control of our finances and break free from the cycle of debt. Here are some strategies to get us started:
  • Create a budget and track expenses
  • Prioritize needs over wants
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Avoid credit cards and high-interest loans
Our spending habits are leading us down a dangerous path, one that can result in financial ruin and mental health struggles. It’s time to take a step back, reassess our priorities, and make a change. We owe it to ourselves to break free from the cycle of debt and build a brighter financial future.
Resources:
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC)
  • Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA)

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