Wenonah Hauter grew up on a family farm that her husband runs today as a Community Supported Agriculture Project (CSA), which is part of the growing local food movement. Yet, as one of the nation’s leading healthy-food advocates, Hauter believes that the local food movement is not enough to solve America’s food crisis and the public health debacle it has created. In Foodopoly, she takes aim at the real culprit: the control of food production by a handful of large corporations—backed by political clout—that prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store.
Blending history, reporting, and a deep understanding of American farming and food production, Foodopoly is the shocking and revealing account of the business behind the meat, vegetables, grains and milk that most Americans eat every day, including some of our favorite and most respected organic and health-conscious brands. Hauter also pulls the curtain back from the little-understood but vital realm of agricultural policy, showing how it has been hijacked by lobbyists, driving out independent farmers and food processors in favor of the likes of Cargill, Tyson, Kraft and ConAgra. Foodopoly demonstrates how the impacts ripple far and wide, from economic stagnation in rural communities at home to famines overseas. In the end, Hauter argues that solving this crisis will require a complete structural shift—a change that is about politics, not just personal choice.
Cowboys versus Meat Packers:
The Last Roundup
Commerce is entitled to a complete and efficient protection in all its legal rights, but the moment it presumes to control a country, or to substitute its fluctuating expedients for the high principles of natural justice that ought to lie at the root of every political system, it should be frowned on, and rebuked.
-James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat (1838)
The burly cowboy roping cattle on the western range, an American icon immortalized in western movies and country songs, has just about disappeared from the national landscape. Long marked by violence and lawlessness – from the range wars of the nineteenth century to the land-grabbing exploits of the western cattle empires – the U.S. cattle industry has been devastated in more recent decades by a type of economic violence. The titans of beef have eliminated the cowboy and created a system that pushes independent ranchers out of business, drives cattle of the range, and creates huge profits for some of the largest corporations in the country.
Mike Callicrate’s blog, No-Bull Food News, is an apt description of the outspoken opposition to big agribusinesses. The owner of Callicrate Cattle, his vocation is fighting for the independent cattle producer. Callicrate says he was “blacklisted” by the monopolistic beef packers because of his advocacy. In 1996, he was one of ten ranchers who filed a class-action lawsuit against IBP, the giant meatpacker that merged with Tyson, for its unfair, deceptive, and discriminatory cattle-buying practices. The case ended when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case against IBP. Callicrate continued to criticize the industry voraciously for its market power, including Farmland National Beef, which retaliated by refusing to purchase his cattle. Without a market for his cattle, he was forced to close down.
Callicrate, energetic and entrepreneurial, invented a widely used castration device that has provided the resources for him to circumvent the market power of the meat industry. Undeterred by being driven out of business, he invested a “few million” into remodeling an existing processing plant and opened Ranch Foods Direct. A local source of high-quality meat, the company primarily does business in Colorado Springs, where he distributes beef to more than a hundred restaurants.
Callicrate concedes that most ranchers do not have this option, because they have no way to slaughter and market their beef. Unless a rancher can sell a quarter or half of its beef to the consumer, it is hard to make a profit selling direct. Most consumers do not want to store this much beef and they are only interested in steaks and good-quality roasts, not all the pounds of hamburger that come from purchasing part of a cow.
To mitigate this problem Callicrate has been involved in developing and promoting mobile slaughter units that can be used on-site at farms. But he believes the only way that independent ranching can continue is if the government begins enforcing antitrust laws. He explains that ranchers face untold obstacles to making a living. Cattle used to be sold at a competitive live auction, where the big meat packers had to compete with smaller firms. Today there is no place for an independent rancher to take his herd to market and get a fair price.
Eric Schlosser, author of the best seller Fast Food Nation, has an apt description of the industry.
Over the last twenty years, about half a million ranchers sold off their cattle and quit the business. Many of the nation’s remaining eight hundred thousand ranchers are fairing poorly. They’re taking second jobs. They’re selling cattle at break-even prices or at a loss. The ranchers who are faring the worst run three to four hundred head of cattle, manage the ranch themselves, and live solely off the proceeds… Ranchers currently face a host of economic problems: rising land prices, stagnant beef prices, oversupplies of cattle, increased shipments of live cattle from Canada and Mexico, development pressures. (1)
Just how do cattle become burgers? Increasingly, the whole process – from farm to plate – is industrialized, beginning with the vial of semen that is used for artificial insemination. Production of semen is dominated by three corporations – World Wide Sires, Cooperative Resources International …
Copyright © 2012 by Wenonah Hauter. This excerpt originally appeared in Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, published by The New Press Reprinted here with permission.
If you care about the food you eat, you’ll want to find out more about Foodopoly.
REVIEWS OF FOODOPOLY
“…a meticulously researched tour de force…examines the pernicious effects of consolidation in every sector of the food industry.” Publishers Weekly
“A forceful argument about our dysfunctional food system.” Kirkus Reviews
“Hauter knows where the bodies are buried beneath the amber waves of grain. . . .By turns heartbreaking, infuriating, and inspiring, Foodopoly is required reading for anyone who wants to understand both the scale of the challenge in reclaiming our food system, and the urgency for doing so.”
— Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved
“In compelling prose, Hauter breaks down why the concentration of corporate power over food matters—and what we can do about it. Foodopoly is a vital book—essential reading for anyone who wants safe food and clean water.”
— Anna Lappé, founder of Food Mythbusters and author of Diet for a Hot Planet
“This may be the most important book on the politics of food ever written in the United States. . . . Hauter puts the blame for our food crisis squarely where it belongs:
on the political and agribusiness leaders who benefit from a corporate-dominated food system. Read this book and take action!”
— Maude Barlow, co-author of Blue Gold and author of Blue Covenant
“A shocking and powerful reminder of the distance between our image of the family farmer and the corporate agribusiness reality. Make sure you read it before dinner.”
— Bill Mckibben, author of Eaarth
“A compelling case. . . . Hauter is absolutely right that unless we break the stranglehold of corporate power with significant policy change, the food movement will continue to have only marginal success.”
— Michele Simon, public health lawyer and author of Appetite for Profit
“Food is life. Today, food and life are being hijacked by corporations—and our earth, our farmers, and our health are sacrificed for the sake of corporate profits. Foodopoly [is] a story we must hear in order to create food democracy and food freedom.”
— Dr. Vandana Shiva, author of Stolen Harvest