Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017, 9:00 am · By Pat Mooney
Editor’s note: The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) has just published Too Big to Feed: Exploring the Impacts of Mega-Margers, Consolidation and Concentration of Power in the Agri-Food Sector, a comprehensive (and alarming) report detailing the ways in which global agribusiness is using current economic and technological trends to further the failed industrial model. From seeds to pesticides, livestock genetics to animal pharmaceuticals, farm machinery to commodity traders, food and beverage processors to grocery stores—unprecedented consolidation has left fewer and fewer companies with a larger share of the marketplace. Meanwhile, the social, environmental and economic consequences of these unchecked arrangements are wreaking serious havoc around the world. In short, the report states, “Dominant firms have become too big to feed humanity sustainably, too big to operate on equitable terms with other food system actors, and too big to drive the types of innovation we need.” The report also explores how to build a new anti-trust environment, address the root causes of consolidation and create better food systems. Below is an executive summary of the 104-page document.
Mega-mergers are sparking unprecedented consolidation across food systems, and new data technologies represent a powerful new driver. For decades, firms in the agri-food sector have pursued mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and other forms of consolidation as part of their growth strategies. However, the recent spate of mega-mergers takes this logic to a new scale.
Since 2015, the “biggest year ever for mergers and acquisitions,” a number of high-profile deals have come onto the table in a range of agri-food sectors—often with a view to linking different nodes in the chain. These include the $130 billion merger between U.S. agro-chemical giants, Dow and DuPont, Bayer’s $66 billion buyout of Monsanto, ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta for $43 billion and its planned merger with Sinochem in 2018.
These deals alone will place as much as 70 percent of the agrochemical industry in the hands of only three merged companies. Meanwhile, the merger between leading Canadian fertilizer companies Potash Corp. and Agrium, Kraft-Heinz’s bid for processing giant Unilever, and online retailer Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market are proof that mega-deals are sweeping through all nodes of the chain.
Thursday, Oct 12, 2017, 12:00 pm · By Nora Mabie
Though the rural-urban divide has existed for decades, it is more pronounced now than it has been in generations. Our geography enforces an “us vs. them” dichotomy that, for many on both sides, makes political, economic and cultural differences seem stark and simple. But the divide is more complex than many realize, and the slang too often used to describe rural Americans is imbued with contradictions.
When President Trump won the election, understandably frustrated opponents fell back on words like “hillbilly,” “redneck” and “white trash” to describe his rural voter base. Yes, Trump won most of rural America’s votes, but what do these words really mean, and why do people use them?
In short, they are convenient. Stereotypes revolve around the process of “othering,” which occurs when people mentally characterize an individual or members of a group as outsiders. Rather than accept other people as complex individuals, like we see ourselves, sometimes it can be easier to generalize and dismiss them as less than fully human. But when “hillbilly,” “redneck” or “white trash” is used to distance oneself from the rural “other,” the fact that these words have fluid meanings and deep histories is conveniently ignored.
Monday, Oct 9, 2017, 5:00 pm · By Jonathan R. Latham
Is the supposed safety advantage of GMO crops over conventional chemical pesticides a mirage?
According to biotech lore, the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) pesticides introduced into many GMO food crops are natural proteins whose toxic activity extends only to narrow groups of insect species. Therefore, says the industry, these pesticides can all be safely eaten (by humans).
However, this is not the interpretation we arrived at after our analysis of the documents accompanying the commercial approval of 23 typical Bt-containing GMO crops.
In our publication, authored along with Madeleine Love and Angelika Hilbeck of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), we show that commercial GMO Bt toxins differ greatly from their natural precursors. These differences are important. They typically cause GMO Bt proteins to be more toxic. Worse, they also cause them to be active against many more species than natural forms of Bt toxins.
Thursday, Oct 5, 2017, 8:00 am · By Stephanie Woodard
The worst mass shooting in recent years. Escalating threats of nuclear war. Catastrophic hurricanes. Calamities and fear rock the nation these days. Meanwhile, public servants are chartering private jets, and the president’s frenzied tweetstorms create yet more chaos and division. As the tweeter-in-chief seeks sycophantic praise (or anything to divert our attention from Robert Mueller’s accelerating investigation), serious policy changes have been proposed, or are underway, in numerous aspects of American life.
For an update, Rural America In These Times spoke to Native Americans—people whose survival requires being extremely well informed about what all branches of the federal government are up to. From their vantage point as sovereign entities with direct government-to-government relationships with the United States, the tribes have a unique perspective on issues including voting rights, the economy, the extractive industries’ hold over this administration and more.
In each case below, they explain how powerfully and comprehensively this administration’s misguided policies would impinge on each and every one of us. After all, “everything is connected,” as Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Durham puts it.
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017, 10:00 am · By Tracy Frisch
Industry and government officials say perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the toxic chemical blamed for contaminating drinking water supplies in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and several other area communities, is no longer used in manufacturing in the United States.
But if PFOA has been phased out, what are industries using in its place?
People like Silvia Potter would like to know the answer to that question for the two Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plants that still operate in Hoosick Falls. Potter says people in her community know “absolutely nothing” about the identity of the chemical or chemicals the company is using as a replacement for PFOA.
The lack of information has been frustrating for her and other members of their local advocacy group, NY Water Project.
“We only know what the company volunteers,” she says.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), widely used for decades in the making of nonstick coatings like Teflon and a variety of other consumer products, is considered toxic even in tiny amounts. PFOA has been linked to cancer, birth defects and immune system dysfunction.
In 2006, eight major chemical companies, including 3M and DuPont, entered into a “voluntary stewardship agreement” with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out the production and use of PFOA by 2015. In its place, the industry switched to other chemicals in the same family that were deemed less hazardous by the EPA. But lately a variety of experts have begun to believe that these new chemicals also pose grave threats to human health.
Thursday, Sep 28, 2017, 3:30 pm · By Johnathan Hettinger
A law requiring foreign investors to report transactions of farmland to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been on the books for almost 40 years. But as the amount of foreign-controlled farmland doubled in millions of acres between 2004 and 2014, the USDA has lapsed in enforcing the law, a review of USDA documents has found.
The Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act was passed in 1978 to combat fears about increasing foreign investment in farmland. About 27.3 million acres of agricultural land in the United States are controlled—either owned or under a long-term lease agreement—by foreign investors, according to a USDA database of foreign investment in farmland.
The land, roughly the size of Tennessee, is worth $42.7 billion.
But, since 2011, the USDA has only assessed 10 fines under the law, worth $115,724, according to records obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting through the Freedom of Information Act. And no fines were assessed in 2015, 2016 or so far in 2017.
Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017, 2:30 pm · By Anthony Flaccavento
It always amazes me how so many of us fight to ensure that we keep doing the same thing, even when it clearly doesn’t work. Two examples stand out.
The first is “trickle-down economics”—the idea that if we just cut the taxes on the wealthy and big corporations, we’ll free them up to innovate, invest and create wealth, which will then trickle down to the rest of us. This idea has driven our economic debate and policies since Ronald Reagan brought it front and center in 1980. It’s the essence of President Trump’s tax and economic plans. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Never has.
The 1950s through the early 1970s saw sustained economic growth and widening prosperity in the United States. During that period, corporate taxes were at 50 percent and the top tax bracket on the rich was more than double what it is now. During those same years, not only did the economy grow substantially, but the main beneficiaries of that growth were working people and the middle class, whose incomes and wealth grew far more, proportionately, than those of the rich.
Since then, through nearly 40 years of tax-cutting trickle down, the results have been starkly different: An economy that’s nearly three times bigger, with extraordinary increases in overall wealth, yet the vast majority of Americans treading water or going backwards. Trickle down hasn’t, doesn’t and won’t happen. But that hasn’t shaken the confidence of its many proponents.
The second example is: the strategy of the Democratic Party. (I’m a Democrat).
Friday, Sep 22, 2017, 2:00 pm · By The Cornucopia Institute
On September 10, Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program, announced his resignation at the end of the month. He has held the post since early in the Obama administration. Included in his resignation letter was a list highlighting his top 10 accomplishments as leader of the program.
After the Bush USDA was widely considered to have delayed implementation of the organic standards (12 years after congressional passage of the Organic Foods Production Act, or OFPA), McEvoy took over, with some fanfare, given his background in organic certification. Initially, The Cornucopia Institute was among those cheering his appointment.
But McEvoy, a darling of the powerful industry lobby—the Organic Trade Association—instead shifted policy during the Obama-Vilsack USDA years to favor the corporate agribusinesses that have acquired most of the leading organic brands (Dannon, Dean Foods, Kellogg’s, Purdue, Coca-Cola, General Mills, etc.). As a result, the USDA became a big cheerleader for Big Organic.
McEvoy failed to enforce many tenets of OFPA, causing ethical, law-abiding family farmers extreme financial distress. Since April of 2015, The Cornucopia Institute has formally requested that he be removed from his position.
Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017, 6:00 am · By John Ikerd
A consensus among scientists is no longer accepted as proof of the existence of fact or reality. Public acceptance of “alternative facts” is not limited to the political arena. Many sustainable agriculture advocates are firm believers in the science of human-caused climate change but are ardent skeptics of the science of human-controlled genetic engineering. The scientific consensus appears to be that humanity should take action to mitigate climate change but should do nothing to impede the development and diffusion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Admittedly, some scientists reject both propositions. Regardless, scientific consensus is no longer accepted as the final determinant or arbitrator of fact or reality.
Several logical reasons account for the growing public skepticism of science.
Monday, Sep 18, 2017, 6:30 am · By Rural America In These Times
On September 14, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages 193 million acres of public lands, announced that the cost of fighting this season’s massive wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies and elsewhere had exceeded $2 billion dollars—making 2017 the agency’s most expensive year on record.
According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the Forest Service:
“At the peak of Western fire season, there were three times as many uncontained large fires on the landscape as compared to the five-year average, and almost three times as many personnel assigned to fires. More than 27,000 people supported firefighting activities during peak Western fire season. The Forest Service has been at Preparedness Level 5, the highest level, for 35 days as of September 14, 2017. Approximately 2.2 million acres of National Forest system lands have burned in that time.”
In order to cover the cost of “continuous fire activity” and “an extended length of the fire season,” the Forest Service has been forced to borrow funds otherwise allotted for its land management and fire prevention initiatives. Without speculating as to why we’re seeing more and more wildfires (i.e. avoiding the subject of climate change entirely), Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Tony Tooke, the recently appointed Chief of the Forest Service, are calling on Congress to change the way the Forest Service’s emergency firefighting efforts are funded.