Willie Nelson : Occupy the Food System

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2011.

Occupy the food system

From seed to plate, our food system is now even more concentrated than our banking system.

By Willie Nelson / Reader Supported News / December 18, 2011

Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s a deeper understanding about the power that corporations wield over the great majority of us. It’s not just in the financial sector, but in all facets of our lives. The disparity between the top 1 percent and everyone else has been laid bare — there’s no more denying that those at the top get their share at the expense of the 99 percent. Lobbyists, loopholes, tax breaks… how can ordinary folks expect a fair shake?

No one knows this better than family farmers, whose struggle to make a living on the land has gotten far more difficult since corporations came to dominate our farm and food system. We saw signs of it when Farm Aid started in 1985, but corporate control of our food system has since exploded.

From seed to plate, our food system is now even more concentrated than our banking system. Most economic sectors have concentration ratios hovering around 40 percent, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40 percent of the market. Anything beyond this level is considered “highly concentrated,” where experts believe competition is severely threatened and market abuses are likely to occur.

Many key agricultural markets like soybeans and beef exceed the 40 percent threshold, meaning the seeds and inputs that farmers need to grow our crops come from just a handful of companies. Ninety-three percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn grown in the United States are under the control of just one company. Four companies control up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of beef in the U.S.; four companies dominate close to 60 percent of the pork and chicken markets.

Our banks were deemed too big to fail, yet our food system’s corporations are even bigger. Their power puts our entire food system at stake. Last year the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Justice (DOJ) acknowledged this, hosting a series of workshops that examined corporate concentration in our farm and food system.

Despite the hundreds of thousands of comments from farmers and eaters all over the country, a year later the USDA and DOJ have taken no action to address the issue. Recent decisions in Washington make clear that corporate lobbyists have tremendous power to maintain the status quo.

In November, the Obama administration delivered a crushing blow to a crucial rule proposed by the USDA (known as the GIPSA rule), which was meant to level the playing field for independent cattle ranchers. The large meat packers, who would have lost some of their power, lobbied hard and won to leave the beef market as it is — ruled by corporate giants.

In the same month, new school lunch rules proposed by the USDA that would have brought more fresh food to school cafeterias were weakened by Congress. Food processors — the corporations that turn potatoes into French fries and chicken into nuggets– spent $5.6 million to lobby against the new rules and won, with Congress going so far as agreeing to call pizza a vegetable. Both decisions demonstrate that corporate power wins and the health of our markets and our children loses.

Despite all they’re up against, family farmers persevere. Each and every day they work to sustain a better alternative — an agricultural system that guarantees farmers a fair living, strengthens our communities, protects our natural resources, and delivers good food for all.

Nothing is more important than the food we eat and the family farmers who grow it. Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, destruction of our soil, pollution of our water, and health epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

We simply can’t afford it. Our food system belongs in the hands of many family farmers, not under the control of a handful of corporations.

[Country musician, poet, and activist Willie Nelson, an American legend, is the president of Farm Aid. This article was distributed by Reader Supported News.]

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1 Response to Willie Nelson : Occupy the Food System

  1. I call my congresscritter a vegetable all the time.
    Actually, I use stronger words which gravitate toward that theme.

    The system is in free fall, for the same economic reasons Rome fell. You can’t build an economy on pillage because it immediately starts a snowball effect, it costs more to extract the resources (by force) from the conquered nations than the resources themselves are worth.

    The difference, really crucial, is that disparity, the percentages of the GLOBAL economy controlled by the Imperium Nova Roma.

    Rome could only screw up the economies for a much smaller area of the world. The famines we’ve seen in my short half-century lifetime have been awful in scope, but not one was even continental. Far less global.
    That’s the one that’s coming.
    Those foreclosed houses and businesses that are clogging up the banking mess even more than it already was, they’ve got land attached to them. In smaller packets than even the 40 acres and a mule standard from more than a century ago.

    Not if, but WHEN those properties are “illegally” re-occupied by The People, that land has to be immediately converted from horticulture to agriculture.

    Small farming spelled with a capital SMALL. The 40 acres rule was an economic reality, one man, one mule, and a lot of backbreaking work was about the ratio.

    Understandably especially in urban environments mules are going to be out of the question. So it’s going to be a lot of human-labor to work the land. Hey, it’s a do-able proposition.

    It beats starving by a long shot and, it’s been proved to work for what, 7 decades and some change since the rise of Fascism at the end of world war one. Spanish and Greek anarcho-syndicalist communes have survived that long even under some of the most repressive governments in history. Preaching to the choir here, at least up to this point —> We do have an obligation to the rest of humanity to show them the direction to pull in order for them to pull their collective head out…

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