Opinion Articles: Bust the Trust to Take Back Control of Our Food

The following are opinion articles about issues related to ‘corporate control’ of the food system and potential anti-trust action by federal officials within the agriculture sector. We share them in the hope of inspiring constructive dialog and debate. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the administrators of Beginningfarmers.org.

By Siena Chrisman; whyhunger.org

Part I (Excerpt), reported March 10, 2010

There are 2 million farmers and 300 million consumers in the US. Standing in the middle are a handful of corporations who control just about everything that happens to our food between the farm and our plate — how much it costs, how it’s grown, where it comes from, what’s in it, and who sells it. Most of what probably matters to you about why food isn’t healthier, safer, tastier, or all around better is affected by that narrow bottleneck of power between producers and consumers.

Standard economics holds that if the top four companies in any industry control over 50% of the market, that industry is no longer freely competitive. Right now, the top four companies control 85% of the nation’s beef, 70% of pork, and 60% of the nation’s poultry. Three corporations process over 70% of the nation’s soy. Just one company controls 40% of our milk supply, and Monsanto holds patents on 80% of corn seed. Our food system has become one of the least competitive sectors of the marketplace.

Fair markets are supposed to be protected by federal antitrust laws, which prohibit corporations from anticompetitive behavior such as collusion, excessive mergers, and predatory conduct like price-fixing. In reality, last year’s near-collapse of the world financial markets made it clear that federal laws don’t always work to curb corporate power. Indeed, the world food crisis, in the headlines just before the financial crisis hit, spotlighted the level of concentrated power of the world’s biggest agribusinesses: in the winter of 2007/2008, the same period that saw lengthening lines at food pantries, tough times for farmers, and populist rebellions around the world protesting skyrocketing food prices, the world’s three largest grain producers reported profit increases ranging from 67% to 86%.

Part II (Excerpt), reported March 12, 2010

Last night in Ankeny, Iowa, just north of Des Moines, a standing-room-only crowd of over 250 people called on the Justice Department and USDA to “bust up big ag!” and put the needs of people before corporations.  Today is the official listening session where the government agencies will hear from all interested parties on the issue of corporate concentration in the food system — particularly, this round addresses “Issues of Concern to Farmers” — but the scheduled panels today are heavy on business and light on actual farmers. Several local groups organized Thursday’s town hall as a venue for farmers to voice their real concerns.

The evening began with a panel of independent farmers from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri addressing concentration in seeds, dairy, and livestock; a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; and good food advocates talking about consumer issues (I had the great privilege to be one of those last speakers).

And then the floor was open to public comments. About 50 people spoke, almost all of them farmers. They told heartbreaking stories: The 29th anniversary of one man’s parents was a farm foreclosure. “The American Dream has turned into the American nightmare” for a southern Iowa dairy farmer, whose milk prices have been so low he can’t afford his feed costs. The 15-year-old son of a fifth generation dairy farmer wants to become the sixth generation, but if things don’t change in the next six months, they’re not going to have a farm.

(More coverage of the event by Reuters) AND (View a video of the event)

To read the full articles go to: http://whyhunger.org/programs/3-newsflash/1010-bust-the-trust-to-take-back-control-of-our-food.html

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