Op-Ed, 498 words

Fighting the Foodopoly

Only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat.

Wenonah Hauter

My new book is called Foodopoly. It’s about the corporate control of every aspect of our food system, from how what we eat is labeled to the pesticides we’re exposed to.

We, the people, must reclaim our democracy. We must reestablish strong antitrust laws to begin the work of fixing our broken, corporate-controlled food system. Our food system should work for consumers and farmers, not big agricultural, processing, retail, and chemical conglomerates.

How has consolidation enabled Monsanto, Tyson, Nestle, Kraft, Cargill, McDonalds and other giant companies to write our food policy, and why is it about to get worse? For starters, consider the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in the landmark Citizens United case. It allows corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to buy the political system. This practice comes at the expense of citizens and democracy itself.

fww-foodopolyproof-hillary h

hillary h/Flickr

Foodopoly delves into the history of food and farm policy to explain how the food supply became so consolidated. For example, only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat, and only four retailers sell 50 percent of the groceries. Today, one out of every three dollars spent on groceries in the United States goes to Walmart.

The top 10 fast-food companies control 47 percent of all fast food sales. Together, these industries have commandeered local economies, and now it is clear that the era of family farmers and mom and pop stores has ended. What’s not as clear is the effect this has on our political system.

Make no mistake: When those companies enjoy near monopolies and vast market power — both domestically and globally thanks to crooked free trade agreements — their profits enable them to contribute large sums of money to groups that lobby Washington very effectively.

The food industry spent $40 million lobbying the federal government in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And the biotech industry has spent over half a billion dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures since 1999. Additionally, special interests spent $173.5 million lobbying on the 2008 Farm Bill.

Food & Water Watch, the non-profit organization I run, tries to fight back against the corporate control of our food system. Our organizational budget is about $12 million a year.

This summer, President Barack Obama will attempt to fast-track two trade deals — the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Both favor the interests of corporations and their financers over consumers.

These trade deals would increase export-oriented natural gas fracking, boost our food imports, undermine yet more domestic laws, and increase the corporate control of our natural resources. They will forever enshrine the very economic system that has led to an ever greater imbalance in income and wealth and increasingly frequent economic crises.

The changes needed to reform our food system and strengthen our democracy can only happen when the people demand better leadership. We need to address the political reasons our food system is so broken.

And we can’t just shop our way out of this problem.

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of Foodopoly: The Future of Food and Farming in America. Foodopoly.org
An earlier version of this article originally appeared at TripleCrisis.com.
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

  • Elizabeth W

    The food industry has a lot to answer for in terms of the health (huh!) of the American people. Somehow we have to return to being a nation that eats food which was farmed, not “food” that was manufactured.

  • Pingback: Tratados de Libre Comercio y el Control de lo que Comes | AnaMariaQuispe's Blog()

  • http://principledperspectives.blogspot.com/ Michael LaFerrara

    What does Ms. Hauter mean by “fight back against the corporate control of our food system?” She means to replace the “market power” of productive individuals working cooperatively, which derives from the voluntary choices of consumers, with political power, which is government force derived from a gun.

    The heroic, incredibly productive companies Hauter mentions produce and market an abundant variety of cheap, quality foods that consumers willingly buy. The interests of food producers and consumers do not conflict. Their interests conflict with those who want to violate their rights to freedom of production and trade, not to mention First Amendment rights–with government as the hired gun.

    Hauter imagines a “broken food system” to advance a statist agenda. Do we want a food crisis similar to the “increasingly frequent economic crises” that government control over money and banking already causes? If Hauter can do better, then let her produce and market food and show us how it’s done. That’s the moral workings of a free market. But, she should stay the hell out of our food pantry. We, the people, as individuals–not government bureaucrats and not her–have the right to decide what food to buy and from whom.