These 10 companies control most of the brands that you buy, and determine what we'll all be having for dinner tonight.
The 138 people who sit on the boards of these companies all likely share the same educational, financial and social background. And like all multinational corporations, their decisions are driven by one thing- profit for shareholders. Consolidation continues across the food industry. Just four companies control over 85% of the meat production in the U.S., and two of them are foreign owned. Because of current meat labeling laws in the U.S., the average American eats 10 pounds of meat from a foreign nation every year and has no idea what country that meat came from. Three companies control most of the seeds and chemical fertilizers. Vast sections of farmland are now owned by investment firms and Wall Street. All the while, farmers are getting squeezed.
In the 1950's, the farmer received .50 cents on the retail food dollar. Today, he receives on average just .14 cents on the retail food dollar. The rest now goes to companies who have placed themselves in the middle, between the producer and the consumer.
The Full Story
Industrial farming is causing the fertility of the soil to blow and wash away, so more costly inputs are needed while polluting our waterways with hazardous chemicals. For every ton of corn a farmer pulls off the land, he loses one ton of topsoil - on average, four tons per acre. The UN has said that we have enough topsoil left for the next 60 years. That's 60 harvests. We've lost over one-third of the topsoil across the Midwest, and in some places, it's already gone.
The Farmer down on Wall Street.
Large investment firms and pension funds, including foreign investors, are now buying up vast tracts of American farmland, driving up prices and making it harder for young farmers to acquire land. Over one-third of recent farmland sales went to "non-operator" buyers, potentially creating another real estate bubble that could have devastating effects on the food supply.
It is important for all communities all around the world to reduce their dependence on food from far-away places and to develop their own local and regional food producing capacity because that builds food security, food sovereignty, and community resilience.
If a pepper can be grown cheaper in another country, multinational corporations will do that. The average wage for a farm worker in Mexico is $8.00 per day.
Produce Imported from Other Countries as a Percentage of the Produce Consumed in the US
Asparagus 95.6% Mostly from Peru
Bell Peppers 60.2%
Blueberries 57.2 %
Tomatoes 57.2 %
Grapes 50.0% Mostly from Chile
(Source: U.S.D.A. Economic Research Service)
Organic vegetable garden at Creekside Farm at Walnut Cove, Arden, NC
Dependence on food from foreign nations and far-away places is Risky Business
One hundred years ago a community could feed itself from local farms. Back then, it was all local, and it was all organic, and we didn't have the alarming rates of diabetes and heart disease that we have now. With the growth of the industrial food complex (and processed foods), we’ve all become completely disconnected from our food and where it comes from, and that’s happened by corporate design.
The CDC recently predicted that 40% of American children can expect type 2 diabetes their lifetime. For Children of color, it's 50%. That's half.
What you can do right now:
Vote with your dollars. Shop the farmers market, buy local and organic food when you can, and join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Ask you favorite restaurants and grocers to source more local food from local farmers.
Start a small garden in your own backyard. Get your neighbors involved and start a garden club. Take it a step further and start a local organization like Organic Growers School or the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (links below) to teach and promote local farmer sales. Create a local food guide.
Call or write food companies about your concerns and interest as a consumer in their farming and sourcing practices.
Contact your political representatives about Country of Origin labeling laws (COOL) as they relate to meat products. Tell them to enforce anti-trust laws to break up monopolies and stop the corporate take-over of our food system.
Know where your pension and retirement funds are being invested, and stop the foreign investment and Wall Street take-over of American farmland.
Just one story from the global food web
California's often drought-stricken Central Valley grows 80% of the world's almonds. Almond production requires a lot of water, and since each nut takes a gallon of water to produce, almonds account for more water use in California than what the entire populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco use in a year. Most of those almonds end up going to markets overseas as a ‘luxury item’. About two-thirds of California’s almond and pistachio crops are sent to foreign nations, using up our own over-tapped water resources in the process. Hancock Agricultural Investment Group, an investment company owned by the Canadian insurance and financial services giant Manulife Financial, owns at least 24,000 acres of almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, making it California’s second-largest nut grower. So all that water and profit actually ends up going to a foreign insurance company. A team led by US Geological Survey hydrologist Michelle Sneed discovered that a 1,200-square-mile area of the southern Central Valley had been sinking by as much as 11 inches per year because the water table had fallen from pumping massive quantities of water out of the underground aquifer. We’re depleting the aquifer in an unsustainable manner to feed to foreign nations a luxury item (almonds) so that another foreign nation can profit from it. That’s nuts, but it’s just another story in the global food web.