Jul 28, 2021
In an effort to inform policymakers, advocates, and the public about the impacts of agrifood corporations on the U.S. food system and build support for transforming the nation's agricultural practices, the Family Farm Action Alliance released a new report on Wednesday that details how Big Ag's survival depends on externalizing costs and perpetuating myths about the supposed lack of more just and sustainable alternatives.
"If we come together to make different choices, we can have a competitive and democratized system that serves the needs of all Americans."
--Emily Miller, Family Farm Action Alliance
"Time and time again family farmers, rural communities, and good food movement advocates have pushed to shift government support away from industrial agriculture and toward a more resilient and equitable system," Joe Maxwell, president of Family Farm Action Alliance, said in a statement. "Time and time again, we have failed--because Big Ag controls the narrative. Our report offers a playbook to counter Big Ag's deception and finally break their stranglehold on our food system."
Titled The Truth About Industrial Agriculture: A Fragile System Propped Up by Myths and Hidden Costs, the report (pdf) documents how corporations involved in the "economically flawed" agribusiness model "intentionally evade costs all along their supply chains."
The costs that agrifood corporations avoid paying don't simply disappear, however. Instead, the bill is passed along to "poorly paid and badly treated" agricultural workers, rural communities, and consumers who are forced to contend with "unequal access to affordable, healthy food," the report says. These costs "eventually surface in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies, a degraded environment, and poor public health outcomes."
If actors in the corporate food regime were required to internalize the true costs of production, the report notes, "their businesses would no longer be economically viable and they would not be competitive with independent farmers and ranchers."
The report identifies several "costs of doing business that industrial agrifood corporations simply don't pay," including:
- worker safety, healthcare, and liveable wages;
- farm debt and adequate income for producers;
- increased local infrastructure maintenance taxes and utility maintenance;
- producer's share of the retail price;
- rising crop insurance premiums;
- weather-related yield decreases; and
- drinking and recreational water contamination.
According to the report, the negative consequences of industrial agriculture that powerful entities shift onto farmers, consumers, and taxpayers hit low-income communities hardest of all.
"Control of agricultural markets and concentration of power has proven to be a lucrative business for industrial agrifood corporations," wrote Emily M. Miller, research and policy manager for Family Farm Action Alliance and author of the report. "The erosion of antitrust enforcement, unbridled mergers and acquisitions, and monopolistic control of the agrifood system from local to global markets have yielded highly concentrated markets and corporations with unprecedented political and economic power."
Miller added that:
There is no more compelling evidence for the artificiality of agricultural markets than the feed-meat complex. The feed-meat complex is a cycle of constant feed-grain monocultures and concentrated animal feeding operaton-raised livestock. Over decades of farm market erosion and political influence, industrial agrifood corporations have created the demand in domestic and foreign markets for commodities, trapped farmers into constrained production practices and contracts, and created taxpayer subsidies and mandatory producer fees to fund the entire system--all while targeting links of exploitation and profit extraction within the supply chain.
Rather than "alter their wealth-extracting supply chains... industrial agriculture interests would rather spend billions of dollars on lobbyists and myth-based marketing campaigns," the report states. "The falsehoods they perpetuate persuade consumers and policymakers alike that there is no other option."
One of the key contributions the report makes is to dismantle "some of the well-funded falsehoods that multinational agrifood corporations use to defend their destructive business model and defeat any meaningful reforms to the food system."
For each "myth" propagated by Big Ag about hunger, food prices, public health, economic development, environmental degradation, and lack of alternatives, the report provides a "truth" to challenge it.
According to the report:
- Smaller farms meet 70% to 80% of the world's food needs, and they could double or triple production without adopting industrial farming methods;
- Efficiency limits of Big Ag's large-scale, centralized production were reached years ago--yet not only are food prices high relative to inflation, more Americans are classified as food insecure than ever before;
- The economic benefits industrial agriculture claims to offer rural communities are short-lived and vastly outnumbered by the damages they inflict on communities' economic, civic, physical, and environmental well-being;
- Public health issues--including antibiotic resistance, asthma, cancer, hypertension, and respiratory complications--are widely recognized by the scientific community as being linked to nearby industrial agriculture operations;
- Industrial agriculture causes a host of environmental ills: degraded soil runs into waterways, rendering both drinking and recreation water unsafe; synthetic inputs rely heavily on fossil fuels; pesticide and herbicide use lead to decreased plant and animal biodiversity;
- Industrial agriculture is the product of intentional policy decisions on the part of federal agencies and other decision-makers who promoted it as the future of agriculture; and
- The U.S. already boasts alternatives that offer built-in resilience and redundancy--collective food aggregation, cooperative groceries, farmers' markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares with local farmers, and roadside stands, to name a few--that could be prioritized in our policies and subsidies.
"This report reveals that the current consolidated food system is nothing more than the result of policy choices that prioritized a large, concentrated industry," Miller said in a statement.
"If we come together to make different choices," she added, "we can have a competitive and democratized system that serves the needs of all Americans."
If not, the report warns, "the long-term viability of the agrifood system will be threatened, guaranteeing that higher costs, both financial and human, will be paid in the future."
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