Maybe bigger doesn’t always mean better. But in the corporate agribusiness world, bigger means more power—more power over farmers, more power over consumers and more power over policymakers.
As already-big corporations become even more economically and politically powerful, they become less accountable to the public. That makes the work we do—to protect consumers from pesticides, GMOs and the widespread harm inflicted by factory farms on human health, animal welfare and the environment—that much harder.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress: Stop the Big Ag Merger Mania! Protect Family Farms, Consumers & the Environment.
Do you know where your food comes from?
Maybe you’ve seen the graphic maps of the food and agriculture industry by Phil Howard, a Michigan State University associate professor. Howard’s maps show how just a few companies control nearly all of the seeds, meat and organic brands.
We think we can support regenerative and organic farming, healthy food, clean water and a livable climate by voting with our forks. But it’s increasingly hard to spend a dollar on organic that doesn’t go to a company that owns dozens of organic brands—while making most of its money from products and practices that represent the worst of industrial agriculture.
Consolidation is rampant in the retail food sector, too. According to the latest Institute for Local Self-Reliance report: “In 43 metropolitan areas and 160 smaller markets, Walmart captures 50 percent or more of grocery sales . . . In 38 of these regions, Walmart’s share of the grocery market is 70 percent or more.”
‘Not worth the cost’
A University of Missouri study, “Power, Food and Agriculture: Implications for Farmers, Consumers and Communities,” sums up the impact of corporate consolidation on farmers, food workers, consumers and communities this way:
In the last 50 years, we have reorganized food and farming in the U.S. and across the world towards an industrialized system that reduces food—a physiological necessity that has important cultural and social meanings—to a commodity to be produced as cheaply as possible and sold to the highest bidder. Even the comparative wealthy (by world standards) farmers in the U.S., Canada and Europe end up as relatively powerless participants in food chains over which they have little or no control. Farmers face limited choices in which inputs to use, which crops or livestock to produce, and what markets to sell into. Meanwhile food and farm workers are some of the most food insecure in a country where one in eight households may not know where their next meal is coming from (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2016).
That a highly industrialized and capitalized food system can produce a great number of calories and still leave hungry people, many of them involved in the production of food, shows that the tradeoffs farmers, workers and the environment are making are not worth the cost to people, communities and the ecosystem in which we are embedded.
Today’s farmers sell into highly concentrated markets where the four firms that control almost the entire market have the power to push down the prices farmers receive for their crops and livestock.
In just the past two years, chemical and seed company acquisitions and mergers (Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and Syngenta-ChemChina) have left three companies to control two-thirds of the crop seed market, and nearly 70 percent of the agricultural chemical market. The four largest multinational corporations have gained control of 71 percent of the pork market, 85 percent of the beef market and 90 percent of the grain market.
What have those mergers done to farmer income? Farmers now get only 7.8 cents for every dollar we spend on food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, in recent years, slightly more than half of farm households have had negative farm income and median farm income for 2019 is forecast at -$1,449.
The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019 would initiate a much-needed strategic pause in food and agribusiness merger mania in order to assess the impact corporate consolidation has on farmers, workers, consumers and communities, and recommend improvements to antitrust enforcement.
Please ask Congress to support this important bill, to protect farmers, consumers and communities from the continued takeover of our food and farming system.