The Washington Monthly has an important article about recent efforts to help independent farmers who are increasingly victims of unscrupulous practices by large meat processors. The gist of the article is that the meat industry has become so consolidated with just a few large corporations that local farmers have no options in the marketplace. The article explains:
The practical result of all this consolidation is that while there are still many independent farmers, there are fewer and fewer processing companies to which farmers can sell. If a farmer doesn’t like the terms or price given by one company, he increasingly has nowhere else to go—and the companies know it. With the balance of power upended, the companies are now free to dictate increasingly outrageous terms to the farmers.
To make things worse, Washington D.C. has lacked the political will to make changes that would help the situation.
It's a long article but worth the time if you're interested in really understanding the dilemma of our current food system. It also highlights the urgent need for the growth of alternative markets like Co-ops, farmers' markets, and CSA's.