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Forum Post: Food and Land at the Service of People: an Interview With Peter Rosset

Posted 5 years ago on Feb. 24, 2013, 5:06 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Food and Land at the Service of People: an Interview With Peter Rosset

Sunday, 24 February 2013 07:54 By Tory Field and Beverly Bell, Other Worlds | Interview


Agricultural economist Peter Rosset is with the Center for the Study of Rural Change in Mexico and the Land Research Action Network. He is also a member of the technical support team of Via Campesina. Beverly Bell talked with Peter Rosset in Havana in 2009; they updated the interview in 2012.

There are several fundamental pillars that are necessary to take control over food and agricultural systems. One is to force even reluctant or reactionary governments to regain control over their national borders from the flow of imported food. That means canceling free trade agreements and not signing WTO agreements. It means stopping the import either of incredibly cheap, subsidized food from agro-export countries which drives local producers out of business, or of food made ridiculously expensive by food speculation. Governments also need to support peasant and small-farmer agriculture as the fundamental source of food for national economies. Why not big farms or agribusiness? It’s more than proven in any country in the world that if agribusiness controls the majority of the land, there will not be enough food for people because agribusiness just doesn’t produce food for local people. What agribusiness does, be it the United States or Thailand, is produce exports.

Sometimes those exports are not even food for people but soybeans for animals, or ethanol, or biodiesel for automobiles in other part of the world.

On the other hand, the real vocation of the small farm, the family farm, the peasant farm, the indigenous farm, is producing food for the family, for the local economy, and for the national economy. All over the world, these farmers are underrepresented in control of land. So a second essential element to claim control over food and agricultural systems is for countries to place their bets on peasant and family agriculture. And that means land has to be taken away from agribusiness. That, in turn, means real agrarian reform, redistribution of land to people who are landless, who are poor, who want to earn a living with dignity by producing food for people. And that means rebuilding small and family agriculture by investing in it. That necessitates changing budget priorities so that, instead of government subsidies flowing to support the exports of agribusiness, they flow to small farms.

Yet a third pillar in reclaiming control of agriculture means changing how we produce food. Via Campesina and other social movements say that we can no longer afford to keep food prices tied to the cost of petroleum. We can’t keep using indiscriminate amounts of chemical fertilizer, tractors, mechanical harvesters, and pesticides. We need to engage in ecological agriculture that preserves soil fertility for future generations.

Fourthly, we need to defend the territories of indigenous peoples and peasant communities who haven’t yet lost their land. Part of the strategy must also be to gain new territories through land reform or land occupations.

A fifth element involves seeds. We can’t allow seeds to be patented and privatized by Monsanto and Syngenta and other corporations. We can’t allow them to be contaminated by GMOs. We need to support the free exchange of local, indigenous seeds, because those varieties are much more adapted to local environmental conditions and can form a much stronger basis for new national food systems. Sixth, we need to nationalize the food reserves that are in the hands of transnational corporations.

Part of the origin of the recent food crisis is that under neoliberal policies of the past 20 years, most countries sold off their food inventories that were in the hands of the public sector. World food reserves are now largely in the hands of private corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. This is a problem because when it comes to food reserves, the public sector and the private sector behave in exactly opposite ways. If there’s a food shortage, the public sector releases food from storage so that prices won’t rise so fast, or so people who can’t afford food can get it from public sources. But private traders and transnational corporations hoard and speculate. That is, they withhold food from the market in order to drive prices up even higher so that they can make a windfall profit, at the cost of some people not being able to eat.

But we can’t just renationalize food reserves in the hands of governments because we can’t trust governments. There has to be some kind of a co-management scheme where farmers and consumers, through their social movements and grassroots organizations, participate in owning and managing food reserves so that those reserves exist in every country – but at the service of people, not of private profit.

Via Campesina and allied social movements have all gathered together under the banner of food sovereignty. This is the collective banner of struggle to build counter-power to transnational corporations, to renationalize food systems, and to regain control over rural territories and the land. To make sure that land is used to support rural peoples. To support production, for local and national consumption, of healthier food, more affordable food, food that’s not speculated with, that’s not hoarded, that’s not contaminated with GMOs. To reclaim our food systems and protect our lands and territories.

Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/sites/default/files/documents/Harvesting%20Justice-Transforming%20Food%20Land%20Ag_0.pdf , and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

You gotta watch these cats real close. It's like the article in NYT on bamboo. It sounds like a good deal but, when you start looking at the organizations involved and the people that are involved, you run smack dab into WTO and the world bank, etc. and so on. Palatable land grabbing.

[-] 0 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

I wouldnt support big massive bamboo farming. I dont support anything big pretty much.

Hillsborough county just forced the tax payers into 6.2 million in benefits for Bass Pro Shops to open one in Brandon. Total bs. I called into this right wing show to say three things:

  1. Government shouldnt be giving favors to things simply because they have money.
  2. More big shops will only hurt the little guy
  3. These corporations pay their people like shit, and corporate headquarters could give two shits about the workers that will be there- they will lay them off in a heartbeat.

Needless to say, the clown made a few nonpoints, and cut to commercial break.

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 5 years ago

Well, considering that they have slaughtered groups of people in some of the countries for the land to sell or lease to corps to begin with---it's disgusting.

Bass Pro headquarters are in Missouri, yes? That's where all the money goes. More $8 an hour jobs. Glad you called 'em on it. What show was it?

[-] 1 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

Im not sure, I was working today and it seemed every AM channel sucked, have no ideas what it was when I said screw it and left it alone.

But ya, they are in MZ. More low paying jobs and more people buying a bunch of foreign made shit that they dont need.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

GM Seeds and the Militarization of Food - and Everything Else

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 00:00 By Jon Letman, Truthout | Interview


Indian physicist and philosopher, activist and ecofeminist pioneer Vandana Shiva talks with Truthout in Hawaii about GMO, the militarization of agriculture, the politics of occupation and the primacy of biodiversity.

Foot soldiers in the battle against corporate globalization and the privatization of commons like land and water have long been aware of Indian physicist and philosopher Dr. Vandana Shiva. An ecofeminist pioneer, today she is best known as an outspoken opponent of the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) being developed by transnational biotechnology and chemical corporations like Monsanto and Dow.

Shiva disputes the notion that patenting genes and controlling the world's seeds, and thus much of its food supply, will better serve humanity. Biotech companies claim their genetically engineered (GE) crops are able to withstand threats from insects, disease, and man-made pesticides and herbicides while making a serious contribution to feeding an increasingly hungry world.

Such claims are straight-up fabrications - lies - according to Shiva. GMOs, she says, destroy the natural web of life, threaten biodiversity and the environment, and are a scourge for human health and society.

Raised by conservation-minded parents (her father was a forest conservator, her mother a farmer) in the foothills of the Himalayas, Shiva was at the heart of the original "tree hugger" Chipko movement. After earning a Ph.D. in "hidden variables and non-locality in quantum theory," Shiva branched out from science and academia to environmental activism and helping small farmers in India and around the world save seeds - a practice that puts her in direct conflict with biotech giants who insist their GE seeds are protected by patents.

It was at a biotechnology conference at which Shiva had been invited to speak that a representative from the chemical firm Ciba-Geigy (which later merged with other companies to become biotech giant Syngenta) told her that its goal was to control health and food by the turn of the 21st century.

"That’s the day I decided I was going to start saving seeds," Shiva says.

Since then Shiva has founded Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic farmers that offers an alternative vision of a GMO-free future.

As an author, activist and advocate for the protection of human and earth rights, and a globally respected philosopher famous for articulating the nature of complex human, scientific, ecological and ethical issues, Shiva has received numerous awards including the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, also called the "alternate Nobel Prize." In January, Shiva traveled from India to Hawaii at the invitation of Hawaii SEED, a coalition of grassroots groups that opposes GMOs and open-air testing conducted by "the big five" biotech firms (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, Dupont Pioneer and BASF) for which Hawaii has proven fertile testing ground. After addressing audiences at the University of Hawaii and for the opening day of the Hawaii state legislature's 2013 session, Shiva traveled to the island of Kauai, where she spoke before some 1,800 people on the same day as the 120th anniversary of the US military overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Asked later if she thought the timing was coincidental, she said, "I think it’s coincidental in the human scale but not in the cosmic scale. The universe," she said, "conspires in its own way to make things meet at the right moment."

The day after her talk, I caught up with Dr. Shiva on Kauai's north shore, not far from Hawaii's most productive taro fields. With the backdrop of a powerful winter swell rolling into Hanalei Bay, we talked about Hawaii's role as a testing site for both GMO crops and the military. We also discussed Hawaii's relationship with Asia, the increasing ferocity of storms and other violence, and the largely unspoken connection between GE crops, climate change, militarism and what she calls "a war against the earth." Excerpts from the interview follow. Jon Letman for Truthout: The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most heavily militarized places on the planet. They're also an epicenter for GMOs. Can you talk about the connection between military and GMO testing in these islands?

Dr. Vandana Shiva: War and agriculture came together when the chemicals that were produced for chemical warfare lost their markets in war, and the industry organized itself to sell those chemicals as agrochemicals. Then, when gene splicing was worked out as a technique in public systems, the corporations realized here was something that would work wonderfully for them. Not only would they get to sell more chemicals, but now, by genetically modifying seed, they could for the first time say, "We are creators and inventors of plants," and redefine seed as an invention covered by patents and therefore collect rents and royalty. If every farmer, every year has to buy seed - which is the main reason for pushing GMOS - it's huge profits.

The techniques themselves are militarized, come from war, including the fact that the only way you can move a gene that doesn't belong to an organism and you have to cross the species barrier - which can't be crossed by reproduction - you can only do it by using a gene gun, which is war at the genetic level, or infecting a plant with cancer, which is biological warfare. So the war mentality is at the heart of the technology.

And then the industry that grew powerful and rich through wars (Monsanto and Dow Chemical both manufactured Agent Orange) is its final step of the militarized mindset, the militarized world coming together, is that imposing these toxins, the GMOs - an agriculture that nobody wants, food that nobody wants - can only go the next step by an absolute militarized society, where police states are created to police farmers.

JL: So military testing and GMO testing in Hawaii is . . .

VS: . . . is a continuum. It’s a continuum in terms of the personalities involved; it’s a continuum in the world view involved; and it’s a continuum in the implications.

JL: In Hawaii, what vulnerabilities, unknown or under-known, do you think the biotech companies and military have?

VS: I think the first vulnerability the seed companies and military have is they've violated every natural law. I became a physicist because I really believe the laws of nature are how we should live. The laws of nature I studied were the laws of quantum theory; the laws of ecology are laws of nature. Every violation of the laws of nature is a violation. Therefore the more we can point this out, the more people realize this is illegal from the perspective of nature, it's illegal from the measure of people. I really do believe the vulnerability comes from the fact that the [GMO] industry and the military have set their own rules as if there was no higher law. That is their vulnerability.

JL: Geographically, culturally, historically, Hawaii shares much with other Pacific islands, and yet it's very different because it is governed as an American state. What do you think Hawaii has to teach other island nations, and what can and should it learn from them?

VS: I think the most important thing Hawaii has to teach other island states is how, when the master takes over - the military is here; GMOs are here - how that is an occupation. And anytime anyone is told "We’ll bring you money; we'll bring you employment," when they bring you death and destruction; the intensity of the GMO seed production, as well as the intensity of the militarization of Hawaii, can teach.

Now, they can't make up what's the new empire, and they keep saying, "Oh, the center is shifting to Asia." And they keep talking about an Asia that is doing all the dirty work for the old empire. All the pollution, all the destruction of workers' rights, all the pollution of the rivers, the killing of our farmers. That's not Asia. Asia is diverse; it's pluralistic, and when you describe the Polynesian islands, it's a continuum from Asia. Christ, Buddha, Sikhism, every religion of the world started in Asia, but we butchered up Asia and said "it’s Middle East, Southeast, Far East, Indochina, South Asia . . ."

In this continuity from Asia to Polynesia to Hawaii is the other way of thinking about ourselves everywhere, including in Hawaii - that we are an interrelated part of a beautiful planet which organizes herself, and that is the Gaia theory.

I think these militarized borders and militarized takeovers, those who have practiced it for the last century think it's going to be the way of the next century. It's not going to be the way of the next century. The way of the next century has to be making peace with the earth.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

JL: Hawaii is so biologically rich, and we have so many rare plants. How can preserving Hawaii's native plants - the native biodiversity - how can that help ensure a healthier, more diverse agricultural crop community?

VS: We were repeatedly told diversity is a luxury - industrial monoculture, chemically fed and now genetically modified - is the way we get our food. Nothing could be a bigger lie. When food becomes a commodity, it goes where profits can be made, and if there are more profits in biofuel, that's where it will go. If there are more profits in animal feed, that's where it will go. So we have to reclaim our sources of food and our sources of food are biodiversity. The work I've done over the last 25 years with protecting biodiversity shows that the more intensive the biodiversity, the more food you’ll have and the less you have to hurt the earth.

There are no wars between the domesticated biodiversity and a wild biodiversity. If I grow a native plant as my food, I am encouraging native species to weave the web of life. There are that many butterflies; there are that many bees. There is that much more pollen available. And we’ve done studies that show that native rices support so many more species than the chemically-fed rice, where all soil organisms, all pollinators, all beneficial insects are killed.

Those chemicals that were designed to kill human beings and are designed to kill certain pests end up killing beneficial insects, destroying the web of pest-predator balances which then creates more insect pest attacks. You spray more; you get emergence of resistance, and you are on a chemical treadmill.

The harm of pesticides doesn't stay on farms alone. The highest ocean pollution is coming from fertilizer runoff creating dead zones. All of those pesticides being sprayed on the seed farms of Monsanto and Syngenta and BASF are running down and killing the fish life because nature is integrated at every level - plant, insect, soils, marine.

JL: Can you clarify the connection between climate change and GMOs?

VS: GMOs are part of the package of industrial agriculture that is chemically intensive, loaded with toxins, loaded with pesticides. Now if you do an analysis of fossil fuel use, whether it is fossil fuel use for the making of chemical fertilizer or the fossil fuel used in transporting food - 90 percent of the food of the Hawaiian islands comes from outside -and then shipping these toxic GM seeds thousands of miles away, we are talking about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from an industrial model of farming.

In our work we have seen two things. One, the more biodiverse any system is, the more it can survive a drought, a flood, unseasonal rain, cyclones - so diversity is a cushion in times of climate change. But not just any old diversity, native diversity even more. Why does native diversity exist where it is? Because over millions of years it had the capacity to adapt. It had the capacity to change with change. I have watched farms using green revolution methods fail 100 percent with one drought. I have watched after the tsunami and the cyclones and the salt water came, only local species that were salt tolerant were able to bounce back. So native species are vital for climate adaptation, a connection that still needs to be made in a serious way.

JL: Around the world we see horrific violence by people against one another. Every week we seem to reach a new low. My question is simple: What is wrong with people today?

VS: I don’t think it's people who are the source of these cycles of violence. They're caught in them. It isn't that violence hasn't existed before our times - it has. But it was always localized. I think the violence in our times is global in scope - because the military and the economy are now globally organized, and they feed on each other, and the military has become the last economy.

Those wars in Iraq and Iran are not just wars; they are not just wars. They are about control over resources. They are about giving contracts. They are about opening up Iraq to the GMO seeds of Monsanto. There was an Iraqi Order 81 that [L. Paul] Bremer passed making it illegal for Iraqi farmers, who are the heart of the source of agriculture, the Mesopotamian Civilization: They could not use and save their own seeds. And in the big seed freedom report we have prepared - and anyone can download it from the Navdanya website - we have a contribution by a journalist who found out that Abu Ghraib, the jail from which all the scandals came, used to be the seed bank of Iraq, and Abu Ghraib the name came from one of their most precious wheat varieties. Now, a changing of a name that was a wheat variety, a place that held the biodiversity heritage of a civilization into a jail for torture, that mutation is what we must understand to understand the deepening violence.

We have had a gang rape of a girl in Delhi, which has hit the news all over and protests haven’t died. I am asking myself why is it getting more and more frequent and why is it becoming more brutal? It's a bit like climate change - it's not that we haven't had storms before, but the Katrinas and the Sandys are new in terms of their impact. We have had drought before, but the drought that is wiping out such a large bit of the corn and soy supply of the US and killing the animals is a new intensity. And it's that intensity and scale that is changing.

I think we need to ask today why are people who live peacefully side by side, killing each other? Why did the Arab Spring become the Arab Nightmare? I think there are a number of causes. That first trigger of the Arab Spring was a young man who wasn’t able to sell vegetables. Now, if you push people to such a corner there are only two things they can do: either rebel to change it and say I will get justice; I will have work, whether I am a Shia or Sunni, and we will stand side by side and we will sell vegetables. I will have work whether I am a Hindu or Muslim, and we will work together, or the system that has hijacked a Democracy and turned representative Democracy into "of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations," must win its votes on basis of divide: "You know the real threat is the immigrant; the real threat are those Christians; the real threat are those Hindus," and you create a ground for insecurity and hatred of a volatile nature.

There is actually a huge economy in selling arms and dividing people, and it needs people fighting each other.

I remember Syria before the way it's gone. There was a year of drought, and I'm just saying if those farmers had been given the kind of seeds that could survive the drought, they'd have been doing farming. They were displaced; they were angry; they were protesting. Before you knew it, they became sectarian protests; before you knew it, different sides started to arm, and American arms are everywhere. So I think it’s all of these convergences that are brutalizing, particularly the men, who are now just finding one place to find an identity: how to be the more vicious killer. We won't be able to reclaim our humanity through narrow identities. We can only reclaim it through a very broad universal human identity and even broader earth identity. That's why I talk of Earth Democracy.

The challenge is really reclaiming our humanity to be able to live in peace with each other.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Our Food System Is in Crisis Due to Technology Run Amok and Monopolizing Corporations

Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:51 By Wenonah Hauter, The New Press/ Book Excerpt | Book Excerpt


You may have seen the excellent documentary "Food, Inc." about the increasing consolidation of the farm and food industies into the hands of a few megacorporations.

"Foodopoly," by Wenonah Hauter, is a compelling new book that explores the implications of this trend that threatens the integrity of our food supply – and its deleterious impact on family farms. Monsanto, with its patented seeds and toxic herbicides, may be perceived as the evil empire when it comes to food, but it is just the tip of the iceberg, as Hauter details.

If we are what we eat, then we have much to worry about, Hauter persuasively details.

Support Truthout's mission. "Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America," (hardcover edition) is yours with a minimum donation to Truthout of $35 (which includes shipping and handling) or a monthly donation of $15.

The following excerpt is the introduction to "Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America,"

While the rhetoric in our nation is all about competition and the free market, public policy is geared toward enabling a small cabal of companies to control every aspect of our food system. Today, twenty food corporations produce most of the food eaten by Americans, even organic brands. Four large chains, including Walmart, control more than half of all grocery store sales. One company dominates the organic grocery industry, and one distribution company has a stranglehold on getting organic products into communities around the country.

Further, science has been allowed to run amok; the biotechnology industry has become so powerful that it can literally buy public policy. Scientists have been allowed to move forward without adequate regulation, and they are now manipulating the genomes of all living things - microorganisms, seeds, fish, and animals. This has enabled corporations to gain control over the basic building blocks of life, threatening the integrity of our global genetic commons and our collective food security. Biotechnology has moved into the world of science fiction, as scientists actually seek to create life-forms and commercialize them. Reining in and regulating the biotechnology industry is critical to reforming the dysfunctional food system. These structural flaws are often overlooked by the good-food movement, which focuses on creating an alternative model from the ground up that will eventually overtake the dysfunctional system. However, this approach raises the question: for whom and how many? A look at the most recent statistics on local food illustrates this point. A November 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, using 2008 data (the most recent available), found: "Despite increased production and consumer interest, locally grown food accounts for a small segment of U.S. agriculture. For local foods production to continue to grow, marketing channels and supply chain infrastructure must deepen." The study found that levels of direct marketing to consumers are highest in the Northeast, on the West Coast, and in a few isolated urban areas outside these regions. Direct marketing of local foods to consumers at farmers' markets and CSAs, along with local food sales to grocery stores and restaurants, generated $4.8 billion in sales in 2008. This figure is infinitesimal in comparison to the $1,229 trillion in overall sales from grocery stores, convenience stores, food service companies, and restaurants.

According to the USDA, only 5 percent of the farms selling into the local food marketplace are large farms (with over $250,000 in annual sales), but these large farms provided 93 percent of the "local foods" in supermarkets and restaurants. Eighty-one percent of farms selling local food are small, with under $50,000 in annual sales, and 14 percent of farms selling local foods are medium-sized, with $50,000 to $250,000 in sales. The small and mediumsized farms sell nearly three quarters of the direct-to-consumer local foods (both CSAs and farmers' markets) but only 7 percent of the local foods in supermarkets and restaurants. Although the 5,300 large farms averaged $772,000 in local food sales, small farms sold only $7,800 and medium-sized farms sold only $70,000 local foods on average. Of special significance is the finding that over half of all farms that sell locally are located near metropolitan counties, compared to only a third of all U.S. farms. This illustrates the difficulty that farmers who grow corn, soy, wheat, and other feed or cereal grains for commodity markets have in converting their farming operations to direct sales to consumers. These farmers sell crops that re-enter the food system as a component of another food - as a sweetener, an oil, a starch, or as feed for animals. The lack of a local market, a distribution network, or in many cases the infrastructure needed to harvest, aggregate, or process local foods is also a tremendous hindrance to creating an alternative food system.

Look at a map of the large agricultural middle of this nation to understand that the few remaining farmers who grow the millions of acres of corn and soybeans, fencerow to fencerow, do not live where they can sell directly to the consumer. Most farmers don't have nearby affluent urban areas to which to market their crops. They can't switch from commodities to vegetables and fruit even if they had a market, because they have invested in the equipment needed to plant and harvest corn and soy, not lettuce, broccoli, or tomatoes. Overly simplistic solutions are often put forward by some leaders in the good-food movement that take the focus away from the root causes of the food crisis - deregulation, consolidation, and control of the food supply by a few powerful companies. One of the most prevalent policy solutions put forward as a fix for the dysfunctional system is the elimination of farm subsidies. This silver bullet prescription implies that a few greedy farmers have engineered a farm policy that allows them to live high off the hog on government payments, while small farms languish with no support. Proponents of this response say that if we remove these misapplied subsidies to these few large farms, the system will right itself.

Unfortunately, the good-food movement has been taken in by an oversimplified and distorted analysis of farm data. It is based on a misinterpretation of misleading U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that greatly exaggerate the number of full-time family farm operations. A close look at the USDA's Census of Agriculture shows that one third of the 2.2 million entities counted as farms by the agency have sales of under $1,000 and almost two thirds earn under $10,000 a year. These small business ventures are counted even though they are far from being full-time farming operations. In most cases these are rural residences, not farms, and the owners are retired or have significant off-farm income. They have a part-time agriculture-based business as part of their rural lifestyle - anything from having a vineyard to growing flowers or mushrooms. Counting these small ventures as farms not only skews the statistics on the number of farms in the United States; it also makes it appear that only a small percentage receive government payments. In reality, we have under a million full-time farms left, and almost all of them, small and large, receive government subsidies. This is not to say that the subsidy system is good policy. Rather that it is a symptom of a broken food production system, not the cause of the problems. If we penalize farmers for policies that the powerful grain traders, food processors, and meat industry have lobbied for, we will never create a sustainable food system. We need midsize farming operations to survive and to be transitioned into a sustainable food system.

Midsize family farmers have an average income of $19,277 - a figure that includes a government subsidy. The cost of seeds, fertilizers, fuel, and other inputs is continuing to rise as these industries become more monopolized. Most farmers are scratching by, trying to hold on to their land and eke out a living. We are losing these farms at a rapid rate, resulting in the consolidation of smaller farms into huge corporate-run industrial operations with full-time managers and contract labor. Telling these farmers that all they have to do once the subsidies are taken away is grow vegetables for the local farmers' market is not a real solution for them or their communities. Rural communities are seeing the wealth and the profit from agriculture sucked into the bottom lines of the largest food corporations in the world.

Economically viable farms are the lifeblood of rural areas. Their earnings generate an economic multiplier effect when supplies are bought locally, and the money stays within the community. The loss of nearly 1.4 million cattle, hog, and dairy farms over the past thirty years has drained not only the economic base from America's rural communities, but their vitality. These areas have become impoverished and abandoned, and the only hopes for jobs are from extractive industries such as hydraulic fracturing or from building and staffing prisons.

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.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Our Food Is Being Hijacked by Monopolizing Corporations

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 00:00 By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview


If you are opposed to the Walmarting, Monsantoing, and Archers Daniel Midlanding of the food supply, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, presents a meticulously researched argument for a massive restructuring of a system that allows a few companies to determine what we eat, from the farm to the dinner plate.

Even many products called natural are less than meets the eye, aimed at increasing profits but not necessarily delivering on healthy sustenance.

Support Truthout's mission. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (hardcover edition) is yours with a minimum donation to Truthout of $35 (which includes shipping and handling) or a monthly donation of $15.

Truthout talked with Wenonah Hauter about her exposé on how the food industry is becoming a dangerous monopoly of corporate interests.

Mark Karlin: One of the fascinating points you detail in your book is how the "natural foods" marketplace has: 1) become dominated by a few big chain stores (of course "Whole Foods" leads the pack) and distributors; and 2) many of the items that they sell are no more natural than a conventional chain supermarket, just more expensive. Can you elaborate on that?

Wenonah Hauter: Over the past 20 years, Whole Foods Market has acquired its competition, including Wellspring Grocery, Bread of Life, Bread & Circus, Food for Thought, Fresh Fields, Wild Oats Markets and others. Today the chain dominates the market because it has no national competitor. Over the past five years its gross sales have increased by half (47 percent) to $11.7 billion, and its net profit quadrupled to $465.6 million. One of the ways it has achieved this profitability is by selling conventional foods under the false illusion that they are better than products sold at a regular grocery store. Consumers falsely conclude that these products have been screened and are better, and they are willing to pay a higher price. The distribution of organic foods is also extremely concentrated. A little-known company, United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) now controls the distribution of organic and natural products. Publically traded, the company has a contract with Whole Foods and it is the major source of these products for the remaining independent natural food stores. This relationship has resulted in increasingly high prices for these foods. Small manufacturers are dependent on contracts with UNFI to get their products to market and conversely, small retailers often have to pay a premium price for products because of their dependence on this major distributor. Over the past five years, UNFI's net sales increased by more than half (55.6 percent) $5.2. billion. Its net profit margin increased by 88 percent to $91 million.

Mark Karlin: We have this great national myth of the family farmer putting food on our table. What's happened to the family farmer as the consumer food industry continues to shift to a few behemoth corporations?

Wenonah Hauter: Ever since the Reagan Administration pulled federal anti-trust cops off their beat, the federal government has been allowing giant mergers between competitors. As a result, massive consolidation has taken place in the food industry, giving the meatpackers, grain companies, food processing conglomerates and the grocery industry unprecedented economic power. These companies stand as a bottleneck between fewer than a million farmers and more than 300 million consumers. They lower the prices that farmers receive and increase the prices that consumers pay, keeping more of the profits for themselves.

Meanwhile, the cost of seeds, fertilizers, fuel and other inputs is continuing to rise as these industries also become more monopolized. Most farmers are scratching by, trying to hold on to their land and eke out a living. We are losing small and midsize farms at a rapid rate, resulting in the consolidation of smaller farms into larger corporate-style industrial operations with full-time managers and contract labor.

Mark Karlin: You have a chapter on "Walmarting the Food Chain." How does Walmart represent the evolution of the food industry in terms of the tail wagging the dog: giant food companies increasingly monopolizing consumer choice?

Wenonah Hauter: No single company has more impact on what and how food is manufactured than Walmart. Today, over half of Walmart's business comes from grocery sales and one out of every three dollars spent on groceries in the US goes to the chain. Walmart is so big that it has unprecedented power in the food industry. It demands volume, because it sells an incredible amount of each food product - much more than a small or medium-sized company could ever supply. For instance, Walmart buys one billion pounds of beef each year.

For a company obsessed with increasing efficiencies in its supply chain, it makes more sense for it to have an arrangement with a giant meatpacker. But, even these big suppliers of food products from Tyson to Kraft must bow to the will of their largest customer - Walmart. These companies must comply with Walmart's demands. And the company's logistics and distribution model is all about sucking money out of the supply chain. The logistical operations are run through shifting costs and responsibilities to its suppliers who must adopt Walmart's data-sharing programs and manage their own inventory, even on store shelves. The company even exercises control over the design of products, from ingredients to packaging. And contracts with Walmart are nonnegotiable.

Mark Karlin: Perhaps the most ominous section of your book is "Corporate Control of the Gene Pool: The Theft of Life." Truthout has extensively covered genetically engineered foods, seeds and animals. Now, when food becomes genetically modified, the companies patent it. Are we creeping toward a time when big agriculture will literally own the patents on the food that we eat and therefore food itself?

Wenonah Hauter: Corporations have gained a frightening amount of control over food by manipulating the genetics of life-forms ranging from bacteria and seeds, to fish and animals. They have literally gained control over the basic building blocks of life, threatening the integrity of the gene pool and our collective food security. Today, because biotechnology is essentially unregulated, it is moving far into the realm of science fiction as scientists actually seek to create life. It's time to put a stop to this irresponsible pursuit of science for profit.

Mark Karlin: On pages 234-235 of your book, you have a big graphic of Monsanto's acquisitions. Is Monsanto the key Pac-man of the food industry, with its attempt to force patented seeds on growers around the world among other monopolizing business strategies?

Wenonah Hauter: Monsanto is a ruthless and despicable company that cynically pontificates about feeding the world, while its core business is about controlling the gene pool. Its long-term strategy is to force farmers across the world to pay for both patented seeds and co-branded chemicals.

Mark Karlin: Why does the corporate food industry love to sell us endless quantities of junk food?

Wenonah Hauter: It's all about profit. Ninety percent of Americans' food budget is spent on processed food, which is where the big food processing conglomerates like PepsiCo, Nestle and Kraft make their money. The industry has worked with food scientists to develop foods using fat, sugar and salt that affect brain chemistry and are literally addicting, making people continually crave junk food. The ingredients that give junk food their taste and texture are relatively cheap. These sweeteners, oils and chemicals are big business - derived by the giant multinationals like Archer Daniels Midland from corn, soy, cottonseed and sunflower seeds.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Mark Karlin: In discussing corporate ownership of the milk product and distribution system, you mention a fascinating detail. The spot pricing for cheddar cheese on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is what the federal government uses to determine government milk price formulas. How is the spot pricing manipulated?

Wenonah Hauter: The prices dairy farmers receive for their milk are actually based not on what it costs to produce but on an arcane formula that is tied to the speculative agricultural commodities markets. This makes fluid milk prices especially vulnerable to manipulation by commodities traders. The federal government's milk price formula is based on the spot price for cheddar cheese on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Spot prices are the price a company would pay to actually buy a shipment of cheese at any given instant (hence spot). But these prices are closely related to the commodity futures prices, where Wall Street banks and agribusinesses can essentially bet on what the prices for corn, wheat or cheddar cheese will be in six months or a year (hence futures).

But while there are many traders for oil, gold, corn or wheat, there are very few participants in the cheese market. About a half dozen firms with about 40 total brokers make all the trades on the cheddar exchange, which covers 80 percent of all cheese sold in the United States. The cheddar trading desk is only open for half an hour each week.

When only a few traders (mostly representing big dairy company interests) effectively control the majority of cheese sales, the potential for mischief is very high. Since there are few players, it is easy for even one or two participants to manipulate the price of cheddar cheese on the futures markets by hoarding or dumping cheddar cheese futures.

This is not a hypothetical problem. Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is the largest milk handler in the country. It buys milk from dairy farms and delivers it to milk processing companies that make cheese and ice cream and butter and pasteurized milk. If it also manipulates the cheese futures market, it is effectively able to lower the prices it would pay to farmers. In 2008, DFA (which once described itself as "a company that happens to be an agricultural cooperative") and two of its former executives were fined $12 million for attempting to manipulate the price of fluid milk through cheddar cheese purchases at the CME.

Mark Karlin: What happens to the small dairy farmer in a system such as this as far as price determination for milk?

Wenonah Hauter: We've lost 52,000 dairy farms over the last decade because dairy farmers are not even making the cost of production. Very little of the money that is paid by consumers for milk ends up in the hands of farmers. The growing spread between what consumers pay and what farmers receive is captured by the dairy processors and retailers that dominate the industry. Most dairy farmers market their milk through corporate-style cooperatives that allow producers to pool the product and participate in the pricing set by the federal dairy marketing order that was first established in 1937. These cooperatives determine how to distribute the milk payments and they discriminate against smaller dairy operators by giving price premiums to the largest producers. Dairy farmers are very vulnerable because of the alliance between these cooperatives and the milk processing and manufacturing industry. Dean Foods, the largest milk processor in the country, and the four top dairy cooperatives control 80 percent of all fluid milk sales.

Mark Karlin: Dare I ask, what are the most salient points Truthout readers should take away from your chapter, "Poisoning People?"

Wenonah Hauter: Be careful if you eat meat. We should be outraged about the way that animals are raised in confined feeding operations, being fed antibiotics, and then are slaughtered in meat processing plants that run at the speed of light. Since Bill Clinton allowed deregulation of inspection in the mid-1990's, the situation has been getting worse with growing numbers of recalls of meat products. Ground meat products are especially dangerous because the process of grinding meat in centralized locations and shipping it long distances invites contamination. An example of the kind of problems we are seeing was Cargill's giant recall of 36 million pounds of turkey products because of a strain of bacteria called Salmonella Heidelberg that sickened 76 consumers and caused one death. It's also important to note that Salmonella Heidelberg is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is more proof that we need to end the use of antibiotics in livestock production.

Now the poultry industry is pushing to further deregulate inspection so that they can increase slaughter line speeds to 200 birds per minute. The only way that the industry prevents more food poisoning from poultry is by using chemical washes to kill the bacteria. But, I doubt if Americans want to eat sanitized fecal matter even if the bacteria has been rendered harmless by tri-sodium phosphate or chlorine washes.

Mark Karlin: Of those who are aware of the perils to our food supply that big agriculture represents, I think it's safe to say that many are dismayed but feel helpless to create public policy that will ameliorate the circumstances. The final part of your book is entitled, "Building the Political Power to Challenge the Foodopoly." Do you have some closing tips on how to achieve this goal?

Wenonah Hauter: Breaking the foodopoly and fixing the dysfunctional food system requires far-reaching legislative and regulatory changes that are part of a larger strategy for restoring our democracy. Food activists must engage with other progressives in building the political power to reform and restructure public policy. This means overcoming the deep apathy and cynicism that discourage people from becoming involved in the political system. Our movement must deepen and expand our strategy for moving people into political action by organizing across the country in each state and in a majority of congressional districts. We must organize and mobilize people around the issues that affect people's lives because most people come to politics via their interest in an issue - based on perceived self-interest. We see this beginning to happen with issues like the labeling of genetically engineered food, which is driving large numbers of people into political action. And food activists are joining with other progressive movements.

For instance, we can take heart from the growing movement to challenge the undue influence of money on elections and public policy. Momentum is building for passage of a 28th constitutional amendment to overturn the latest assault on fair elections, the US Supreme Court's 2010 ruling on Citizens United.

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