Tag Archives: Food system

Make a Resilient, Localized Food System Part of the Next Stimulus

CounterPunch – May 25, 2020 – Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

From wasted food, to the exploitation of farmworkers, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it painfully clear that this country’s food system must be changed. Politicians must pass further stimulus legislation that includes policy to reform our inflexible, consolidated food system to prepare for future crises.

Consider the many problems in the meat industry. Workers ill with COVID caused temporary  processing facility closures, putting our nation’s meat supply in jeopardy.  President Trump forced meatpacking plants to re-open by executive order, yet, further disruptions are likely. Roughly half of those plant workers are immigrants, living at or below the poverty line, forced to return to work, they are still at risk of getting sick.

Because these plants could not shift production to the retail market when restaurants, schools, and hotels closed, product could not move. These supply chain bottlenecks caused farmer prices to fall, even as processor profits rose.

And cattle ranchers were not the only farmers affected, dairy farmers were told to dump milk, and hog and poultry producers, to euthanize their animals and vegetable growers were forced to plow their crops under. Desperately needed food is wasted while grocery costs rise allowing retailers to cash in on supply chain breakdowns.

Before the pandemic hit, close to three million farmworkers who labor on some of the larger operations in this country already struggled.  Most lived in poverty, earning between $15,000 to $18,000 a year and around 75% of farmworkers lacked legal status and lived in fear of deportation.

Now, farmworkers face the risk contracting COVID-19. In California’s Monterey county, around 40% of the people who have contracted the virus are those people who labor in the fields. USDA’s response? Instead of improving working conditions for farmworkers, the USDA  wants to pay them less.

USDA has allocated $16 billion in direct payments to farmers, as well as creating the ‘farm to families box’ program – where suppliers, with larger operations having a seeming advantage, sell their produce to the government for distribution at food banks.  Both initiatives are band-aids, with direct payments mirroring past trade deal mitigation payments, wherein larger operations and multinational agribusiness firms such as JBS  are at the front of the line. This, as farm bankruptcies hit an eight-year high.

To really address the failures of the food system – and to position ourselves to adequately face the next crisis, we must reform our food system, ensure fair farm prices, empower agricultural workers and invest in rural infrastructure.

Farmworkers, in addition to citizenship, must be allowed to organize without fear of reprisal from their employer.  Currently, only California guarantees this right because the National Labor Relations Act excludes rural workers from the right to unionize. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act includes citizenship for farmworkers, still, efforts should go further by allowing workers the right to organize.

Farmworkers should also have the chance to become farmers. Since 2008, through the Farm Service Agency’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) over $162 billion has been provided to former farmworkers, including women, veterans and Native Americans, to promote small-scale agriculture. Doubling, or tripling the resources dedicated to this program, could help create a more localized food system and put more farmers on the land.

All farmers, need fair markets and fair prices. The government must, as it has in the past, establish reserves for grains, as well as other products.  Counter-cyclical government loans – a part of previous Farm Bills – would allow farmers to sell their produce either on the market, or into the reserves, with their decision based on a floor price that farmers, processors, and retailers would negotiate. Reserves would improve prices for farmers, prevent food shortages and stabilize consumer prices.

Smaller local processing facilities – for beef, dairy, as well as fruits and vegetables – would strengthen markets and make the supply chain more flexible. This should include more brick and mortar facilities, as well as mobile facilities that can travel from farm to farm, giving farmers multiple options for sales and consumers more options on how they buy.

Rural areas are in desperate need of improved communications and transportation infrastructure. The Post Office provides rural residents affordable access to the rest of the world and its viability must be ensured. Similarly, broadband internet access must be made available to everyone. And if farmers are to move their product, significant resources need to be spent on improving roads, dams, bridges and railroads.

The effects of the COV-19 pandemic have shown that large processors cannot meet the challenges of a crisis. A less consolidated food system that is more flexible, and supportive of farmers and workers will be better able to meet future challenges. Upcoming stimulus plans must address these problems in our food system now and for the long term. If they do, we might be ready for the next challenge.

Jim Goodman is an emeritus organic dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin .

Anthony Pahnke is the Vice President of the Family Farm Defenders and Assistant Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University.

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Busting the Food Monopolies

Counterpunch – May 30, 2019 –  ANTHONY PAHNKE – JIM GOODMAN

Photograph Source: lyzadanger Derivative work: Diliff – CC BY-SA 2.0

The problems are clear – overall, farm incomes in 2018 reached a 12-year low. As 2019 unfolds, a positive turnaround is uncertain. In Wisconsin, farm bankruptcies continue, and the ongoing trade dispute with the Chinese government led by the Trump administration continues to pull down grain prices.

Food industry monopolists are behind the dismal economic reality of rural America.

According to data compiled by the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2012, the four largest food and agriculture companies controlled 82 percent of the beef packing industry, 85 percent of soybean processing and 63 percent of pork. Market concentration drives up the prices that farmers pay for inputs, such as seeds, and forces them to accept lower prices due to the lack of any pretense of a competitive marketplace.

Farmworkers – according to some estimates numbering approximately three million – are forced to work for next to nothing as the landowners that employ them receive prices that are well below the cost of production. The inequity of the market that oppresses farmers and farmworkers does not benefit consumers either. According to Food and Water Watch, the prices that consumers pay at the grocery store have remained steady as those who produce our food struggle to make ends meet.

Not everyone in the food industry is hurting. In 2018, Brazilian agribusiness giant JBS, the world’s leading beef and pork processor, Land O’Lakes, a major player in dairy processing and seeds, grain marketer Cargill and the meat processor and marketer, Tyson, all increased their profits over the 2017 fiscal year.

Many of these same actors have been accused of breaking antitrust laws. Recently, Tyson, Cargill, and JBS have been accused of fixing prices to increase profit margins at the expense of farmers and ranchers. In another settlement, Tyson agreed to an out of court payment to food system workers for wage theft. Land O’Lakes, has also settled out of court for fixing prices on eggs and milk, while Dean Foods, paid dairy farmers millions just a few years ago for price fixing.

The economy is rigged and Washington has done nothing outside of the $12 billion “farmer aid package” that was issued in 2018, and yet another ad hoc $16 billion bailout that was announced May 23rd. With a final twist of the knife, the USDA eliminated the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), and with it, any hope for anti-trust enforcement in the meatpacking industry.

Truth is, farmers don’t want to put taxpayers on the hook. Farmers want fair trade and an end to Trump’s tariffs, a personal fight that has created uncertainty in the marketplace. The Booker/Pocan/Tester Bill is a start, but more can be done. The Democratic candidates need to talk about corporate concentration and antitrust seriously, starting with the Progressive Era Sherman, Clayton and Federal Trade Commission Acts. Over one hundred years ago, these laws were created to investigate and punish corporations for anti-competitive practices — such as mergers, price fixing and rigging contracts.

The Reagan administration, challenged the federal government’s antitrust philosophy, claiming that “bigger was better,” and that relaxing antitrust law enforcement would benefit everyone. Since the Reagan era, efforts to dismantle antitrust enforcement have been put on steroids in every sector of the economy. We know how the game has played out. Corporations cash in as farmers and farmworkers see their incomes plummet, and consumers get swindled at the grocery store.

The Department of Justice – at the federal and state levels must launch serious investigations into the illegal practices of agribusiness corporations, including the effects of mergers and acquisitions on food system workers. Next, breaking up corporations must be seriously considered – this means overturning past mergers, as well as looking into breaking up the corporate processors, retailers, and distributors that currently control the food system.

Anti-trust enforcement, like the greed it seeks to beat down, is never ending . The enforcement of anti-trust laws means continual oversight and regulation of corporate practices. This will require increased funding for the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to support a staff committed to public, not corporate service.

For decades Democrats and Republicans have let corporate concentration and power grow, while the incomes of farmers and farmworkers shrink. We have seen a steady erosion of regulation, when we need more of it. It’s heartening that the Democrats have realized that rural America is out there, and that market concentration is a very real problem. Taking on the monopolists is a serious task; now, it’s up to the Democrats to decide if they are truly willing to invest in our food system and rural America.

Anthony Pahnke is the Vice President of the Family Farm Defenders and Assistant Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University. 

Jim Goodman is a repurposed dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin and board President of the National Family Farm Coalition. Jim can be reached atr.j.goodman@mwt.net and Anthony at anthonypahnke@sfsu.edu

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Book: The Hacking of the American Mind – The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains (Video & Audio)

by Robert H. Lustig, MD                                                                                         Author of New York Times Bestseller, FAT CHANCE

VIDEO: San Francisco Library Robert H. Lustig (99 Min)

AUDIO: Interview with author  Robert H. Lustig (65 Min)

Page 17-18: Once upon a time we were happy. Then the snake showed up and we’ve been miserable ever since. Hieronymus Bosch’s painting Garden of Earthly Delights (circa 1500) is a triptych housed in the Prado in Madrid. It is an allegorical warning of what happens when we squander our birthright of happiness divined from God in one garden and move on to the pleasures of the flesh in the next garden, with the inevitable result of eternal damnation. Figures. Our most lauded goal in life – to be happy – is seemingly an illusion, out of reach for us common folk. Except the rich aren’t any happier. Happiness seems to be a mirage, something to chase after, to keep us turning over rocks, kissing frogs, and trying to fit keys into the magic lock.

But along the way, wandering through our own individual gardens of earthly delights in search of our seemingly unobtainable nirvanas, we’ve sure had a whole lot of fun. Or we’ve at least tried to. We buy shiny things, play Powerball, imbibe with friends or sometimes alone. So why are so many of us miserable? Are we destined just to sink further into the abyss of pleasure with no hope of extricating ourselves to find real happiness? Is it all futile? Lots of people have died trying to get to that magic place of contentment and inner peace, that thing called “happiness”. But if we can’t get there, what’s the point?

What if I told you that happiness is right there in front of you, just behind the curtain of your own brain?

To some, an argument over the difference between pleasure and happiness might seem like a straw man, a false argument not really worth having. Hey, they both feel good; why should you care? And pleasure is here, now. Happiness…maybe not so much, and not so soon.

But it does matter. And not just to you but to all of society. Explaining the differences between these two otherwise positive emotions forms the narrative arc of this book.

Page 24

For the rest of this book, pleasure, derived from the French plaisir for “to please”, is defined as the concept of gratification or reward. The keys to this definition are:

  1. it is immediate
  2. it provides some level of excitement or amusement, and
  3. it is dependent on circumstance.

Conversely, happiness is defined as the Aristotelian concept of eudemonia – that is, “contentment” or well-being or human flourishing, or, as the introductory quote from Yeats, “growth” – physical and/or spiritual. The keys to this definition are:

  1. It’s about life, not the afterlife,
  2. it’s not prone to acute changes in one’s life, and
  3. it is unrelated to circumstance, so anyone can be happy, not just the rich and powerful.

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http://www.robertlustig.com/hacking/ videos

 

Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen

Corporate Crime Reporter – By Editor Filed in News July 18, 2018
That’s the story that Kristin Lawless tells in her new book – Formerly Known As Food: How the Industrial Food System is Changing Our Minds, Bodies and Culture.

Lawless challenges the modern food movement for focusing on individual choice – made famous by Michael Pollan’s prescription – eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Lawless might revise it to – challenge, as much as possible, corporate power and the corporate takeover of the kitchen.

Flip to the back of the book to see how Lawless differs from Pollan and the food movement’s focus on the individual.

Instead, she targets corporate power.

Stop predatory marketing of poor quality industrial foods. Stop the marketing of infant formula to parents. Place warning labels on all industrial food packaging – “these foods may be harmful to your health.” Stop the use of thousands of chemicals in and on our food supply.

Create a federal urban farm program. Demand nutrition and cooking education in all public schools. Demand a universal basic income. Demand payment for cooking and other household work. Demand six months paid parental leave – insuring the option to breast feed as a right.

Lawless writes that ten companies control nearly every large food and beverage brand in the world – Nestle, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods and Mondelez.

And still the food movement focus is the individual, not the corporation.

“When food movement leaders say the solutions are to eat whole foods and buy organic, they leave out the crucial fact that we need to collectively reject the production of poor quality processed foods and stop the production of dangerous pesticides and other environmental chemicals that contaminate many foods,” she writes. “Critics do not often articulate this omission, but it is largely why the movement is perceived as elitist – and rightly so. If the food movement’s solutions are market based and predicated on spending more for safer and healthier food, they ignore how impossible these solutions are for most Americans. In fact, this agenda serves the agendas of Big Food and Big Ag quite well.”

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Book Excerpt Why the food movement needs to understand capitalism

Climate & Capitalism – Eric Holt-Giménez – July 11, 2018

The fragmentation, depolitization, and neoliberal co-optation of the food movement, however, is rapidly changing with the crumbling of progressive neoliberalism. The rise of racial intolerance, xenophobia, and organized violence from the far-right has raised concerns of neofascism, worldwide, and prompted all progressive social movements to dig deeper to fully understand the problems they confront.

Many people in the Global South, especially poor food producers, can’t afford not to understand the economic forces destroying their livelihoods. The rise of today’s international food sovereignty movement, which has also taken root among farmers, farmworkers, and foodworkers in the United States, is part of a long history of resistance to violent, capitalist dispossession and exploitation of land, water, markets, labor, and seeds.

In the Global North, underserved communities of color —  historically subjected to waves of colonization, dispossession, exploitation, and discrimination — form the backbone of a food justice movement calling for fair and equitable access to good, healthy food.

Understanding why people of color are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity and diet-related disease, even though they live in affluent Northern democracies, requires an understanding of the intersection of capitalism and racism. So does understanding why farmers go broke overproducing food in a world where one in seven people are going hungry.

As the middle class in the developed world shrinks, much of the millennial generation, underemployed and saddled with debt, will live shorter lives than their parents, due in large part to the epidemic of diet-related diseases endemic to modern capitalism. The widespread “back to the land” trend is not simply a lifestyle choice, it also responds to shrinking livelihood opportunities.

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Making the Invisible Visible: A Bold Strategy to Change the Food System – FoodTank Interview with Dr. Barbara Gemmill-Herren

FoodTank

Dr. Barbara Gemmill-Herren is an agroecologist who lived and worked in Africa for over 25 years and is currently working as an agroecology consultant for the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).  She is a chapter author of the new Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood) report focused on evaluating our agriculture and food systems while considering a range of social, human, and environmental dimensions across the value chain.

Dr. Gemmill-Herrin served as the Delivery Manager for the Major Area of Work on Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). She implemented a global Pollination Services project for the FAO and worked on the FAO’s Ecosystem Services in Agriculture production. Gemmill-Herrin was a key contributor to the “Beacons of Hope” initiative for the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and served as the Director of the Environmental Liaison Centre International.

Food Tank talks to Dr. Barbara Gemmill-Herren about her chapter in the new TEEBAgriFood report about today’s realities, and tomorrow’s challenges in the eco-agri-food system.

INTERVIEW…

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