In today’s unhealthy, unfair and broken corporate controlled industrial food system, more and more people want to know where their food comes from and how it’s produced. The biggest food companies on the planet are well aware of this fact and the shift towards local.
Farm to table and the new local food movement is being hijacked by Big Food. The world’s biggest food companies, including meat packers, processors and food distributors are carefully strategizing and planning on new ways to capture this growing market, intending to kill all possibilities of rebuilding healthy, locally based food systems that serve farmers, eaters, the environment, and livable communities. Small producers, lured by the siren call, are losing
everything they have – including federal grant money from USDA and other sources, believing the opportunity to connect to their local communities is real.
Since Ronald Reagan was President, antitrust law enforcement has been abandoned in favor of a globalized, no- rules food system. “It takes big companies to do business globally,” responded Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, when I asked him in 1999 why he didn’t enforce the Packers and Stockyards antitrust law. Captured government agencies refusing to enforce existing antitrust laws, failed litigation and legislative fixes have given Big Food the green light to continue their plundering and pillaging of the world’s farms and farmers.
Further concentrating the supply and distribution channels is crucial for Big Food to fully capture the global food system. It feels like a return to the time of the American Revolution when we rebelled against the abusive control of the British Empire and their East India Company partner.
Local producers are being pushed out of the new federally supported Farm to School programs by meat from big packers able to externalize costs, allowing them to sell below true costs of production. Some non-farmer owned further-processors of mostly commodity meat, struggling to survive in the predatory marketplace, are reprocessing and relabeling beef from these big meat packers including low grade imported meat, and stealing school lunch business from legitimate local producers. Schools, under budgetary pressures, are easily shifted away from higher cost, locally produced sources into these cheaper alternatives, which can now once again, without labeling, include additives like Pink Slime. Fake brands like JBS’s pleasant sounding Aspen Ridge or one of the infamous Koch Brother’s Seven X Ranch claim to be all the things consumers want, including locally sourced in the Colorado market.
From Chipotle to Whole Foods, Wall Street based companies continue to betray their promises to support local producers. Chipotle’s sourcing of beef from Australia is an affront to their “Food with Integrity” messaging. Their supplier of Australian beef, OSI, was caught recycling out-of- date chicken and packaging meat off the floor of their processing plant in China. Now that USDA has approved Chinese chicken imports, I wonder where Chipotle’s chicken will come from. There is no requirement to label meats by country of origin that are sold in the wholesale market. This needs to change.
Sysco, the world’s biggest food service company, is acting like their purchase of the second largest, U.S. Foods, has already been approved, but it hasn’t. For the first time since the Reagan administration, President Obama campaigned on a promise to restore fair markets in our farming and food system. He hasn’t.
If approved, Sysco’s power over both suppliers and customers will be unprecedented. Sysco will have Walmart-like buying power to dictate terms to the biggest companies on the planet, such as Cargill, JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson. And then, these powerful Sysco suppliers that cooperate rather than compete will exert even more downward pressure on already struggling and helpless farmers and ranchers around the world. Even the state-sponsored companies like Brazil’s JBS and China’s Smithfield will drop to their knees for Sysco as they currently do for Walmart. Sysco, eliminating the last local competitors with their predatory pricing, pretend labels and false claims to provide locally sourced products, will in turn force restaurant buyers to their knees and globally sourced, factory food onto their plates.
Since Reagan, the “de-reg” President, we’ve lost at least a million farmers; around 500,000, or over 42% of our ranchers; over 39,000 cattle feeding operations, including small farmer feeders; more than 90% of our hog farmers; over 80% of our dairymen; and most of our small meat and other food processors. Today, in the most concentrated, consolidated and monopolized marketplace in history, the largest companies in all three of our major meat categories are state- sponsored foreign-owned enterprises. We are unable to feed ourselves. Our valuable resources – from capital and labor to soil and water – are being extracted, our environment degraded, workers and animals abused, consumers exploited, rural communities gutted — and there is no Teddy Roosevelt in sight.