It’s time to investigate corporate concentration in agriculture –

By: Anthony Pahnke Vice President of Family Farm Defenders and Assistant Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University

Published in the CapTimes (Madison, WI) Thurs. Dec. 6th, 2018

The price tags at the grocery store, particularly for food items, hide a lot. Over the past couple decades, they have hidden from consumers the increasing concentration in nearly every facet of the food industry. It’s the least our current government can do, especially as President Trump claims to want to fix trade, to investigate and perhaps punish food-industry monopolists who negatively affect farmers who receive unfair prices for what they sell and consumers who pay too much for what they buy.

Farmers and consumers don’t have to go to China to get “ripped off.” No, unfair trade deals regularly occur within the United States.

Consider the dairy industry. For instance, in 2007 Dean Foods settled out of court with a group of dairy farmers who argues that he agribusiness processor sought to eliminate competition in the Southeast. In 2011, Dean was ordered by the Department of Justice to divest of a plant and other assets associated with its acquisition of the Golden Guernsey processing plant in Waukesha. The claim was that Dean’s share of the school milk market had become too large.

Meanwhile, the largest dairy cooperative in terms of sales, Dairy Farmers of America, has settled out of court with farmers and consumers on numerous occasions. DFA’s history of monopolistic behavior is long, including an agreement to to pay $50 million in a 2009 lawsuit for alleged price-fixing in the Northeast; a 2013 agreement to pay $158.6 million to settle a class action lawsuit for the same issue in a 14-state region stretching from the Midwest to the South; and, also in 2013, an agreement to pay $46 million for manipulating prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the financial market company that specializes in derivatives and options trading.

More recently, in 2016, Land O’Lakes acquiesced after five years of litigation to pay part of a $50 million lawsuit that also involved Dairy Farmers of America, Dairylea, and Agri-Mark for their collective attempt to control milk prices.

Why would a cooperative hurt its members? The answer: profits. How do some cooperatives and processors make money? Through gaining market share, which can grow by exploiting the difference between what is bought from farmers and then sold to retailers.

How could this happen in the dairy industry? Just look at many of these big corporate cooperatives, and you will find that they are not run by farmers. Yes, farmers are on the boards of both Land O’Lakes and DFA. But who are the CEOs? Who are the managers in charge of research, mergers and strategy? These people are not farmers, but individuals who are lawyers and corporate executives with decades of experience, not milking cows, but working with pharmaceutical companies like Novartis and food and drink companies such as Nestle.

Do consumers gain from the expansion of corporate control of the food chain? No. In 2012 Food and Water Watch issued a study noting how concentration in the pork, dairy, poultry and vegetable industries not only drives prices down for farmers, but also forces consumers to pay more than what they should for what they find on supermarket shelves. According to the National Farmers Union, farmers receive just $0.14 of every food dollar, with the vast majority of sales heading to marketing firms, retailers and processors.

Concentration in agriculture – not just in dairy, but also in seeds, poultry and beef – prompted a series of workshops in 2010 between the Department of Justice and the United States Department of Agriculture to discuss the nature of competition – or rather, the lack thereof – in agriculture. From Wisconsin and Colorado, to Alabama and Washington, D.C., government officials heard stories and collected testimony from farmers and consumers on the lack of market transparency, anticompetitive mergers, and bid-rigging (when buyers of agricultural commodities agree to limit competition by agreeing on prices). The report issued after the workshops helped clarify central elements in antitrust law, yet failed to provide a strategy for moving forward.

Now, during a time of record farm bankruptcies, is the time for the government to launch a serious, concerted investigation on food monopolies. Farmers and consumers are losing trade deal – not with the Chinese, but with the agribusiness industries that have become too powerful and too large.

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Family Farm Defenders Just “Say Cheese”Holiday Gift Boxes Are Back!

Family Farm Defenders is proud to once again offer many giftbox options you can send to your family and friends over the holiday season. We are excited to offer award-winning Cedar Grove Cheeses along with other delicious products – artisanal Potters crackers, Cherokee Farm bison sausage, organic Just Coffee, Honor the Earth wild rice, Honey Acres mustard, Tietz Family heirloom popcorn, and Driftless Organic sunflower oil – all of which are “fairly traded” and guarantee their smallscale producers a living wage. By choosing Family Farm Defenders Holiday Gift Boxes, you can help insure family farmers receive a parity price for their hardwork. So, this holiday season, why not just “say cheese” and help support Family Farm Defenders at the same time!

FFD-1 “Cream Puff” Special:

Three pounds of “creamy” Cedar Grove cheeses that will melt in your mouth: Farmers, Monterey Jack and Butterkäse. We’ve also included some Tietz Family heirloom popcorn, as well as Driftless Organic sunflower oil. Yummy! $50 total – includes shipping and handling.

FFD-2 “Spicy Cheese” Special:

Three pounds of “spicy” Cedar Grove cheeses that will tingle your tongue: tomato basil; pepper jack; and garlic dill. We’ve also included some Honey Acres hot mustard, as well as Potters artisanal crackers. Delicious! $50 total – includes shipping and handling.

FFD-3 Something Wild

Three pounds of pepper jack, swiss, and smoked cheddar from Cedar Grove Cheese, along with Honor the Earth wild rice, Cherokee Farms Bison Cranberry Summer Sausage and Potter’s artisanal crackers. A real crowd pleaser! $75 total – includes shipping and handling.

FFD-4 Breakfast Brunch

We’ve put lots of good stuff in this box to start off your day – three pounds of mild, medium, and sharp cheddar from Cedar Grove Cheese, Cherokee Farms bison cranberry summer sausage, organic French Roast Just Coffee, and some Potter’s artisanal crackers. MMM good! $75 total – includes shipping and handling.

Make Your Very Own Box!

Just give us a call (#608-260-0900) or email: familyfarmdefenders@yahoo.com if you would to customize your own box by mixing and matching whatever combination of items you wish. We are more than happy to accommodate your holiday gift giving!

You can download an order form here:  FFD2018HolidayGiftBoxOrderForm

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2018 Bellingham Declaration – US Food Sovereignty Alliance IV National Gathering Oct. 12th

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) held its IV National Assembly from October 12th thru 14th in Bellingham, Washington with the participation of 117 members, allies, and individuals from 71 organizations and 7 countries.  The theme “Defending Mother Earth for an Agroecological Life:  No Walls, No Capitalism” was enacted through art, drama, music, dance, organizing, debate, analysis, healthy locally-sourced food, and spirited “mística” ceremonies.

Anchored by the farmworker-led organization Community to Community Development (C2C), the assembly overflowed with a joyous, intelligent, and diverse rainbow of origins, identities, and organizers of all ages from various sectors of the food system, including farmworkers, food chain workers, fishers, family farmers, urban agriculturalists, food providers, and social justice advocates fighting for their livelihoods, freedom, and dignity through food sovereignty, and an end to patriarchal, capitalist, and colonial ways of thinking and acting.  Building on regional assemblies in the Northeast, the South, the Midwest and the West, the IV National Assembly vibrated with an expanding and deepening energy!

Challenged by the current political and ecological moment—characterized by the rise of right-wing, racist populism allied with neoliberal, corporate economics, coupled with massive impoverishment and oppression of peoples, and the threat of climate catastrophe—our motivation intensified.  Those assembled discussed and the Alliance’s national coordination proclaims the following solidarity positions of the USFSA:

* In solidarity with La Via Campesina, we call on the United States and other members states to support the Declaration of Peasants Rights being pushed forward at the U.N.  The struggle for Food Sovereignty depends on the protection of the rights of peasants and small- and medium-sized family farmers.

* We oppose the expansion of the H2A visa guest worker program, particularly when used as a means of displacing farmworkers organizing themselves into unions.  H2A workers tied to a single employer have not been able to unionize themselves, and are often subject to wage theft, extortion by labor contractors and foremen, and other abuses.  We denounce in the strongest terms efforts to expand and weaken existing safeguards and housing provisions in guest worker programs by establishing a proposed H2C visa, which would spread and intensify the defects of H2A to food processing industries.  We also support the boycott of Reynolds American Tobacco VUSE e-cigarettes until that corporation signs an agreement to guarantee the right to organize without retaliation to all farmworkers in the tobacco fields, whether H2A or undocumented.

* We denounce the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in implementing the racist policies of mass detention and deportation, and stand in solidarity with immigrant and refugee peoples currently residing and working in the U.S.

* We add our collective voice to the Call to Protect Food Systems from Genetic Extinction Technology and call for a global moratorium on any release of engineered gene drives, which could contaminate ecological systems, species, and food webs with genetic traits designed to create species extinction.

We denounce proposals in the Farm Bill that would increase work requirements for SNAP eligibility, end the Double Up Bucks farmers market program, defund critical conservation programs, and reduce support for beginning and socially challenged farmer programs.

* We reject the King amendment in the House Farm Bill, which would give agribusinesses greater control and restrict state and local governments from regulating agricultural products, and could nullify the Food Sovereignty Ordinances passed in Maine, as well as laws that curb pesticide use, regulate farmworker safety, prevent cruel livestock practices, and label GMO foods.

* We call for an expansion of agroecological practices and the protection of our agroecological biodiversity in food, fiber, forest and aquatic systems across the planet, as one of the essential solutions to the climate catastrophes humanity faces.  We know that small farmers, family fishers and foresters all cool the planet.  Agroecology cools the planet!

* Lastly, the USFSA stands in solidarity with our global allies, particularly members of La Via Campesina, suffering the overthrow or threat of overthrow of popular, democratic governments.  Whether in Honduras, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Venezuela or elsewhere, these “soft coups” are a threat to democratic processes and to food sovereignty everywhere.
____________

The IV Assembly debated and affirmed the formation of the following national Collectives:  Political Education, Agroecology: Land and Water, Narrative Strategy, International Relationships, and Youth.   These collectives together with the regional bodies will carry forward the work of USFSA, coordinated by representatives from grassroots organizations from the regions, with the help of grassroots support organizers.

With our collective strength, we shout “No!” to injustices in the food system everywhere and “Yes!” to the people rising up to radically transform unjust systems and practices, for the betterment and survival of humanity and defense of Mother Earth.   And to the inspiring sister movements across the planet working for food sovereignty, we sing out a resounding ¡VIVA!  WE STAND WITH YOU!  WE ARE PART OF YOU! 

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Farmers are Hurting, but Don’t Blame Mother Nature

Current farm policy sacrifices stewardship on the altar of profitability.

By: Jim Goodman and Anthony Pahnke (FFD board members)

The Progressive, September 25, 2018

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Monsanto-Bayer merger hurts farmers and consumers

By: Jim Goodman and Tiffany Finck-Haynes

Published in the Des Moines Register, Sept. 1st, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a stern warning in its lawsuit against the conditionally-approved mega-merger between Bayer and Monsanto in June.

The anti-competitive price effects of the merger would, according to the DOJ, “likely result in hundreds of millions of dollars per year in harm, raising costs to farmers and consumers.” The Justice Department warned that the combining of Bayer and Monsanto would reduce competition for vegetable seeds, likely driving up prices. Further, farmers might see prices for GMO cotton, canola, corn and soybean seeds increase, as well as price increases for herbicide and seed treatments.

After imposing some limited divestments on Monsanto, the DOJ approved this merger, enabling Monsanto to hide its controversial name brand while giving Bayer anti-competitive control over seeds, pesticides, farmers and consumers worldwide.

But the harm to consumers and farmers will still exist.

The DOJ is on the brink of essentially authorizing a monopoly. This is bad news for nearly everyone on the planet except Bayer and Monsanto executives and shareholders. Aside from a combined Bayer-Monsanto, only three other seed companies will be in the market manufacture and sell these products.

Farmers overwhelmingly object to the merger. Ninety-three percent of farmers expressed concern that the merger will harm independent farmers and farming communities. Farmers’ top three concerns were that Bayer/Monsanto “would use its dominance in one product to push sales of other products;” “control data about farm practices;” and that the merger will create “increased pressure for chemically dependent farming.”

Aside from the overwhelming number of farmers that have already voiced opposition to the merger, the DOJ has received petitions from over 1 million Americans urging the agency to block the merger. This month, thousands of farmers and Americans resubmitted comments urging the agency to reverse its harmful conditional approval. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joined a letter with the state attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Oregon submitted a letter opposing the merger.

Bayer and Monsanto’s merger comes at a moment when powerful companies push farmers into dependence on their products, locking farmers into long-term contracts.  A consolidating food system means less choice for consumers.

“This mega-merger will give the company a stranglehold on the vegetable seed, cottonseed, corn and soy seed markets, which will only increase prices and put farmers’ livelihoods at risk,” noted Ben Burkett, a Mississippi vegetable farmer and past board president of National Family Farm Coalition.

For farmers, the merger will likely push up production costs. Farmers’ concerns are backed up by history, in which mega-mergers have diminished competition and options for both farmers and consumers while promoting more chemical-based farming — in turn harming our environment and health.

As seed and GMO companies have consolidated over the past 20 years. Much of that price increase comes from companies increasing fees for seeds as they genetically modify new traits into our food. The cost of these new technologies has exploded the price of seeds; between 32 and 74 percent of the price of seed for corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets in the United States and the European Union was estimated to reflect technology costs or the cost of seed treatments.

Farmers’ net profits continues to shrink. Reduced earnings have forced most farmers to take on second jobs; 82 percent of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year, up from 53 percent in 1960.

As the Trump administration moves to give another handout to corporate agriculture, family farmers will pay the price.

Farmers aren’t fooled by claims that Monsanto divestments will make this merger beneficial and non-monopolistic. Consumers and policymakers shouldn’t be fooled, either. On our farms, in our soil and on our supermarket shelves, the merger of Bayer and Monsanto means fewer options for a cleaner, healthier and more farmer-friendly food system.

As the Department of Justice moves to make a final decision, they should stop this merger and save farmers and consumers from this new monopoly.

Jim Goodman is the Board President of the National Family Farm Coalition.

Tiffany Finck-Haynes is Senior Food Futures Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

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