A safe and secure food supply is essential to a free society
The United States was always able to feed itself. Except for a few non-essentials like coffee, tea and bananas, we were self-sufficient.
The British government, along with their corporate partner, the East India Company, saw unlimited potential to extract wealth through the American colonies. Our Founding Fathers, willing to fight for our freedom and sovereignty, risked their lives and the lives of many citizens, to save us from the servitude of the British Crown and East India Company plutocracy.
Foodopoly Lecture at Colorado College
Wenonah Hauter informs us in her timely book, Foodopoly, that the U.S. is now a net food importer on a value basis. She also pulls back the curtain exposing the cartel of companies that now control America’s food supply – known as Big Food. How could this have happened in America?
Forty years ago, I graduated from Colorado State University. The curriculum taught that the U.S., with its vast resources, technology, and smart young leaders, would not only be feeding ourselves, but we would be feeding the world. Finance professors told students, “Don’t be afraid to borrow money (lots of it) – leverage is the key to success in the expanding and exciting field of agriculture.”
Hopeful and energetic students weren’t prepared for anything other than a fair, open, and competitive marketplace. There were laws to keep markets fair and competitive. Suggesting that one company or even a small group of companies could control our food supply was inconceivable. Food was considered too important to allow anyone too much control over it. After all, farmers were scattered across America, producing all kinds of food in various ways and selling into local markets. The export market was too big and exciting to even contemplate.
President Reagan sends America back to The Jungle
“They [big corporations] own not merely the labor of society, they have bought the governments; and everywhere they use their raped and stolen power to entrench themselves in their privileges, to dig wider and deeper the channels through which the river of profits flows to them!”
– The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 1906
In his first inaugural address on January 20, 1981, President Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Americans cheered Reagan’s message of self-government and individual freedom over liberalism’s so-called trust in bureaucracy. The stage was set for a new kind of government, but not one of the American people, but a government of, by, and for multinational corporations. Antitrust laws and rules against abusive market power were abandoned. The way was cleared for corporations to dictate in their new no-rules Robber Baron economy, much like the one described by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 book, The Jungle.
– The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 1906
In 1978, from my cattle operation in Northwest Kansas, I could sell my finished cattle to as many as twenty meat packers. Today, the number is zero. Since 1996, when we filed the antitrust case against the world’s largest beef packer, IBP (In 2002, Tyson purchased IBP), over 39,000 cattle feeding operations have closed. Nearly half our ranchers have been forced out of business.
The U.S. cow herd number is the smallest in over 70 years at the same time as overall beef demand has continued to grow. Over 90% of our hog farmers and over 85% of our dairy farmers are gone. Thousands of independent meat packers and food processors have closed their shops, with vital infrastructures abandoned and/or destroyed.
The Kings of Big Food rule
Our nation’s biggest beef packer and poultry company is JBS, a Brazilian (state-sponsored) corporation. JBS is number two in pork after acquiring Cargill’s pork division. The largest pork company is still Smithfield, now owned by the Chinese. According to Forbes, family members of Walmart (the world’s biggest retailer) control $149 billion in wealth, about as much as 40% of Americans. Walmart now has the power to dictate terms to the world’s biggest food companies, forcing prices and wages lower to helpless farmers and workers around the world. Walmart and other big box retailers, big food service companies like Sysco, and food management firms like Sodexo hold unprecedented market power and control over distribution; far greater today than during Upton Sinclair’s 1906 Robber Baron era.
Playing the Fool’s Game
Information resulting from the IBP lawsuit revealed that even before Reagan became president the big packers had already agreed to cooperate rather than compete. So around the time (1978) I was busily building a new feedyard near St. Francis, Kansas, the big packers were already working together to manipulate prices, reduce competition and concentrate and consolidate the markets – digging “wider and deeper the channels through which the river of profits flowed to them.”
Monopoly – The enemy of capitalism and democracy
After eight years of fighting our way to the court room, the jury awarded the cattlemen $1.28 billion in the Tyson/IBP lawsuit. Almost before we boarded the plane home, the Reagan appointed judge, insulting both the jury and cattlemen, reversed the jury verdict. The judge then ordered us to pay $80,000 to Tyson for their court costs.
The de-reg-minded-John-Roberts-led Supreme Court refused to hear the cattlemen’s case, preferring to hear the Anna Nicole Smith family feud case, forsaking any hope of getting the much needed injunctive relief that would have led to restoring competition to livestock markets. Legal scholars argued it was the most important case concerning livestock producers in the last 100 years. The court’s refusal to hear the case gave the green light to the big meat packers to increase their plunder and pillage of the largest sector of American agriculture.
Live cattle prices have recently again plummeted, costing cattle feeders a historic loss of over $500 per head while retail beef prices remain basically unchanged. Today’s price collapse for cattle feeders represents what eight cent hogs did to pig farmers in 1998. Ninety percent of our nation’s pig farmers, nearly all of them family farmers, went out of business while retail pork prices were basically unaffected – once again, without a word from government law enforcers.
Our Big Food controlled Congress recently voted to repeal Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) so importers can sell meat to unknowing consumers. Meanwhile, Big Food’s own USDA is announcing plans to further increase imports of low quality, cheap beef and pork from South American regions known to be infected with “Hoof and Mouth” or “Mad Cow” disease, making wider and deeper the channels of trade, controlled particularly by JBS and other multinational corporations. Additional announcements include more beef from “Hoof and Mouth”-infected areas of Africa and cheap chicken from China.
Local food to the rescue? – Maybe not
Discerning consumers seeking to support higher quality, healthier local food from farmers they can know and trust are having a difficult time figuring out what’s real. The Real Food Challenge, an organization uniting students for just and sustainable food, is fighting to eliminate industrially produced food from school menus. They define real food as food that is produced locally, in ways that are ecologically sound, fair, and humane for both people and animals.
The Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department wasn’t the only place Reagan gutted critical government oversite. Along with other government agencies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was neutered, becoming an obedient lapdog to corporate giants like Walmart and Monsanto. After years of looking the other way at clearly anti-competitive mergers, the FTC recently said no to the number one food service company, Sysco, buying the number two food service company, U.S. Foods. Extortion schemes, kickbacks, and widespread predatory pricing continue unchecked.
Consumers are easily deceived as the corporate wolves wrap themselves in pictures of small family farms, hiding their corporate agenda behind images of farmers and small businesses. They mislead with slogans like USDA’s “Know your farmer, know your food” and Chipotle’s “Food with integrity”. Big Food’s well healed advocates like Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers constantly morph new lobbying organizations with nice sounding names like the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. They even go so far as to advocate for constitutional changes that threaten our sovereignty and security, benefiting foreign governments and corporations over the interests of U.S. citizens. A so-called “Right to Farm” measure passed in Missouri last year giving China and their pork company, Smithfield, special privileges over the state’s family farmers and rural communities. A similar measure will soon be on the ballot in Oklahoma.
The fool’s game continues today in the local food movement. The more pressure we apply for change, the more resistance we face. Until the predators in the marketplace are brought under control, and until USDA goes to work for the people, little hope exists for new entrants in the “new” local food movement.
Then we washed the shit off the meat.
Now the consumer eats the shit off the meat.
– David Carney, USDA Meat Inspector from Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U. S. Meat Industry by Gail A. Eisnitz, 1997″
The October 2015 Consumer Reports found that out of our 300 packages of ground beef from grocery stores across the country. almost all showed fecal contamination.
“On May 15, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing “at the seat of Government of the United States a Department of Agriculture.” Two and one-half years later, in what was to be his last annual message to the Congress, Lincoln said: “The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people’s Department, in which they feel more directly concerned that in any other. I commend it to the continued attention and fostering care of Congress.”
– Lincoln’s Agricultural Legacy,
by Wayne D. Rasmussen
President Lincoln strongly warned of corporate power. His desire for USDA to develop the “full capacity of the soil” has been betrayed. Instead of building healthy soils, and producing good food from thriving rural communities, USDA has aided in turning agriculture into a mining operation for extracting natural and human resources. With USDA’s permission, today’s industrial agriculture squanders precious water for corporate profits, replaces animal husbandry with animal science, and stewardship with destruction. Small producers and processors, known for safe and wholesome food, are being intimidated, harassed, and suffocated under costly USDA regulations and useless paperwork. Meanwhile the biggest food corporations continue on, unregulated, to sicken us with their dirty and fake food from wherever it can be found the cheapest, while polluting the environment and mistreating humans and animals. The “great and vital interest” of the people has been hijacked!
A healthier, more just and responsible farming and food system is possible
Words like regenerative, restorative, responsible and community come to mind when I think about what’s needed today. A co-opted word like sustainable doesn’t work anymore – who would want to sustain this badly broken and corrupt food system?
For a better agricultural economy and food system to evolve, we must breakup the concentrated power of Big Food. Instead of the five year Farm Bill, we need a permanent Food Bill that involves all eaters, especially farming families and agricultural and processing workers, setting truly good food and ag policy. Our land grant colleges need taxpayer support, rather than sending them begging from and selling out to big agribusiness.
Ironically, today’s corporate controlled government IS the problem. To defeat this abusive freedom sucking power we must first stop supporting it with our money. Supporting local producers and locally owned businesses, rather than Wall Street and multinational corporate interests, will begin the rebuilding of new local economies. To support what is in our own common and long term self-interest, we must see a significant shift from rampant price shopping consumerism back to responsible consumption and good citizenship. So, as American citizens, can we at least begin the journey back to freedom by growing our own food?