Monopolies endanger food supply, ecosystem

A comprehensive report released by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch outlines the crisis state of the country’s food system, including detailed analysis on the severe damage levied on society by unchecked corporate monopolies dominating the system. 

The report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Food System that Works For All,” offers a corrective policy blueprint that includes sweeping federal legislation and an overhaul of the country’s farm safety net.

It features a number of case studies from across the country featuring family farmers, ranchers and food hubs that have enacted safe, healthy, sustainable and profitable business models.

The report outlines the alarming degree of corporate consolidation in the food industry and its impact on consumers and small farms. For example: 

  • 83 percent of all beef is produced by just four processing companies;
  • 65 percent of consumer grocery market share is held by just four retailers; and 
  • 67 percent of crop seed market share is held by just four corporations. 

These and other conditions have had a devastating effect on consumer choice and costs, and small farm income and stability.

For several decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms.

Small, diversified farms that raise animals alongside other crops have always used manure as fertilizer without polluting water. The difference with factory farms is scale. They produce so much waste in one place that it must be applied to land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it as fertilizer.

“The COVID pandemic laid bare many of the systemic crises in our food system today, all of which are exacerbated by unchecked corporate consolidation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.

“But there is a clear path forward. Small, diversified family farms are already raising healthy, sustainable food for their local communities,” said Hauter. “ We need bold action from the federal government to help rebuild our regional food infrastructure — our small slaughterhouses, grain mills and grocery cooperatives — to support the growth of more independent, sustainable farms.” 

The report recommends a number of robust policy prescriptions that would help to move the country to a safer, healthier and more sustainable food future by addressing the unchecked power of mega-corporations and creating systems to adequately sustain small farms and ranches. Among these prescriptions are: 

  • Federal legislation like the Farm System Reform Act, which would ban new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and phase out the most egregious factory farm operations by 2040; 
  • Reinstating federal supply management programs for commodities, including price floors;
  • Enacting through legislation a moratorium on corporate mergers in the food system; and
  • Redirecting public agriculture funding to encourage and support organic and regenerative farming practices. 

“Factory farms pollute the environment and our drinking water, ravage rural communities, and harm the welfare of animals—while increasing corporate control over our food,” said Lisa McCormick, a New Jersey environmentalist. “Factory farming is an unsustainable method of raising food animals that concentrates large numbers of animals into confined spaces. Factory farms are not compatible with a safe and wholesome food supply. It’s time to ban them.”

President Joe Biden recently signed an Executive Order to address the rampant the growing corporate consolidation in the food system across the U.S. economy, with several directives aimed squarely at the food and farming sector.

Biden’s order calls on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce our nation’s antitrust laws and challenge previous mega-mergers that have left many segments of our economy in the hands of a small number of powerful companies.

It also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take specific measures to protect American farmers, including replacing the Trump administration’s weak rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act with ones that make it easier for farmers to bring forth cases of abuse suffered by the hands of powerful meat processors.

“These are important first steps in addressing the stranglehold that corporations have on our farmers, food workers and eaters,” said McCormick. “President Biden is cracking down on monopolistic practices, but American must also invest in a more resilient food system and place a moratorium on large factory farms.”

“Strengthening food production and distribution systems is key to fighting hunger and entails helping tackle diseases wherever they emerge in humans, animals, plants or the environment,” said McCormick. “However, food production influences ecosystems and biodiversity, with spillover effects that have a wide-ranging impact.”

“Our food systems are contributing to, and affected by, extreme weather events as associated with climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss,” said McCormick. “Responding to these challenges requires a systems-based approach that addresses the range and complexities in a holistic and sustainable manner.”

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