A new report from Family Farm Action Alliance shows how agrifood consolidation reduces farmer autonomy. The two leading firms, for example, account for 70 percent of corn and 61 percent of soybean seed sales in the United States. And the leading firm controls more than half the sales of heavy tractors and combines. The redistribution of costs and benefits across the food chain, the report argues, negatively impacts farmer incomes and consumer choice.
The report, The Food System: Concentration and Its Impacts, was commissioned by Family Farm Action Alliance and completed by experts from the University of Missouri, Michigan State University, Family Farm Action Alliance, and Sam Houston State University.
The researchers broke down rates of corporate consolidation globally for agricultural inputs such as agrochemicals, animal pharmaceuticals, seeds, farm equipment, and synthetic fertilizer. The report notes that the top four firms in each of these sectors control between 33 and 65 percent of the market.
The report shows high rates of consolidation in livestock sectors, as well as wheat, corn, and soybeans. It also notes that for many consumer products, including cold cereal, beer, bread, and fresh-cut salads, the top four firms control upwards of 50 percent of the market.
“If there was one thing we would want folks to take with them from the report, it would be: accumulation of capital and profit are no longer the prevailing motivations of industrial corporations,” Miller tells Food Tank. “Sure profits are important, but their main goal is to accumulate and protect power.”
Miller explains that much of the power to make decisions about the food system and who has access to safe, nutritious food lies with industrial agriculture corporations. While these corporations often say that large, consolidated operations are necessary to provide enough food and allow producers to make ends meet, Miller argues that this is simply not true.
“Corporations pedal this humanitarian façade, while behind the shiny ads and PR stunts, massive amounts of food and resources are wasted, and farmers are going bankrupt in the name of efficiency,” she tells Food Tank.
The report uses the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic as an example of the consequences of concentration in the agrifood system, highlighting the more than 40,000 meatpacking workers who have contracted COVID-19, resulting in 189 deaths.
“Obviously the egregious harm and death caused by corporate negligence in meatpacking made it a pressing issue to bring to light,” Miller tells Food Tank. “But more broadly, all food sectors and supply chains are extremely vulnerable to any sort of disruption, because there are so few supply chains and there are no alternative systems to fall back on when something goes wrong.”
Family Farm Action Alliance hopes to shift the current balance of power in industrial agrifood systems, and believes that the report will help to engage the public in their fight to do so. The report offers Possibilities for Democratizing the Food System, but rather than offer fully formed policy solutions, the authors of the report encourage policy-makers, farmers, workers, and communities to work together in the pursuit of stronger policies.
“Any food and farm policies, market structures, or business practices that are to come must ensure the power to make decisions about what, where, how, and why food is grown must be with those directly growing and consuming it,” Miller tells Food Tank.
Photo courtesy of Dean Ricciardi, Unsplash