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Agricultural Policy | Food & Water Watch - Part 2
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When I scan my Inbox each day, I single out emails from Food & Water Watch because they keep me up-to-date on back-room shenanigans that affect relevant issues that are of concern to me... like the food I buy in the grocery store! And when they ask me to do something, I do it.
Paul Keleher

Fact Sheets: Agricultural Policy

Fact Sheets Count: 20
February 21, 2011

Farm Subsidies 101

Whether the topic is obesity, climate change or even the budget deficit, there are few debates these days when U.S. farm policy doesn’t get mentioned. One popular recommendation to fix our farm policy is slashing payments to farmers entirely, or redirecting that money into other programs. Proponents of this approach claim it would encourage farmers to shift to crops other than corn or soybeans and would protect the environment. It’s an appealing concept — save money and stop promoting industrial agriculture at the same time. The problem is, when it comes to the food system, it’s never quite that simple.

December 8, 2010

Consolidation and Buyer Power in the Grocery Industry

Food companies throughout the entire food chain are rapidly consolidating, leaving just a handful of powerful middlemen between 2 million American farmers and more than 300 million consumers. One of the most critical links in the food chain that has suffered the effects of this consolidation is the retail sector. A smaller number of grocery stores and supermarkets are exerting more and more control over which foods reach the mass market and the prices families pay at the checkout case. As food retail companies grow larger, so too does their influence on food processors and manufacturers, encouraging consolidation up the food chain, all the way to farmers growing crops and raising livestock.

August 3, 2010

Horizontal Consolidation and Buyer Power in the Beef Industry

The beef-packing industry is more powerful and consolidated now than it was a century ago when Congress enacted the Packers & Stockyards Act to break up the beef monopolies. Beef packing is the most concentrated industry in the meat and poultry sector. Meatpackers have merged into a few dominant players that slaughter and market almost all of the beef products in the United States. Today, just four firms slaughter more than four out of five beef cattle. This concentration gives large packers tremendous leverage over independent cattle producers. The beef-packing industry has also expanded beyond slaughter and processing and now large packers own their own cattle and operate feedlots, thus controlling supply through all stages of production. These practices enable the meatpackers to drive down cattle prices while keeping consumer beef prices high.

July 30, 2010

The Farm Bureau’s Billions: The Voice of Farmers or Agribusiness?

Calling itself the “voice of agriculture” and promoting itself as a tireless defender of farmers, the American Farm Bureau Federation has successfully positioned itself as one of the most powerful interest groups in the United States. A cursory look beyond its pro-farmer public relations campaign, however, reveals billions of dollars in assets, close alliances with the insurance industry, and legions of lobbyists — making it difficult to view the Farm Bureau in a different light from the powerful agribusiness corporations with which it regularly partners.

June 22, 2010

Consolidation and Price Manipulation in the Dairy Industry

Despite what the picture on the package suggests, the dairy products you buy probably don’t come from a local dairy farm that supplies a local processing plant. Over the last 20 years, the dairy industry has transformed from a local network of farms and processors to mega-dairies that sell their milk to a tiny number of corporate-style milk cooperatives and processing companies. Consolidation in the dairy industry has increased the size and power that large dairy cooperatives, fluid milk processors and dairy product manufacturers exert over dairy farms. There are now fewer companies at each step of the dairy supply chain and they are coordinated into powerful corporate alliances. These larger market players increasingly source their milk from industrial mega-dairies. But this increased scale and intensified production by farms, processors and manufacturers has not benefited farmers or consumers — farmers receive lower prices for their milk and consumers pay more at the grocery store.

Abusive Poultry Contracts Require Government Action

The poultry sector is completely dominated by a few large poultry processing companies, known as integrators, that control every step of chicken production — from chicks to cutlets. Farmers that raise chickens are known as growers; these growers do not even own the birds that they raise and fatten for the processors, often under abusive contracts. Integrators deliver chicks to the growers, micromanage how the birds are raised, and frequently require the growers to build and upgrade expensive henhouses in order to keep getting contracts. Chickens reach slaughter and processing weight in about six or seven weeks, but loans taken out to build henhouses can last for more than a decade, making many chicken growers entirely dependent on a series of flock-to-flock contracts to repay their debts. The poultry sector is less like a free market than abject serfdom. Growers are reluctant to defend themselves from abusive practices because integrators can retaliate by cutting off their contracts. Often there is only one processor operating in any one area, which leaves growers with no other options to sell poultry.

June 11, 2010

Better Food Starts with the Farm Bill

Our current food system is broken, and it didn’t happen by accident. Many people don’t have access to safe, nutritious, affordable food; farmers can’t make a living; many regions of the country can no longer produce the food they consume; and large-scale industrial agriculture pollutes our soil and water. Decades of bad food policy designed for agribusiness and mega-farms, combined with unchecked corporate mergers, have wreaked havoc on family farmers, public health and rural communities.

March 26, 2010

Why Antitrust Laws Matter for Agriculture and Food

Only a few companies dominate most links in America’s food chain. These firms sell the equipment and supplies farmers use everyday, buy the crops and livestock from the farms, and process and sell food to consumers. These companies are the bottleneck between two million farmers and more than 300 million consumers and can raise costs and lower prices for farmers while reducing choices and raising prices for consumers, keeping more of the profits for themselves.

March 25, 2010

Taking on Corporate Power in the Food Supply

Bad farm policy and unchecked corporate mergers have driven out independent family farmers, creating powerful agribusiness giants with massive market share. And after decades of government officials looking the other way, regulators are finally acknowledging that there might be a problem. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are conducting public workshops around the country to hear about the state of competition in agriculture markets.

March 23, 2010

Consolidation and Intellectual Property Rights in the Seed Industry

Over the past decade, the number of companies that sell seeds for commodity crops like corn and soybeans has dramatically decreased. Farmers are dependent on a smaller number of firms for seeds, and the prices have risen sharply as the market has become more concentrated. The seed industry, which once relied on universities for most research and development, is now dominated by a few major chemical and pharmaceutical giants that patent specific traits in seeds and charge fees to farmers who use their patented seeds. Since 1990, the largest seed companies (many of them biotechnology firms) acquired many small- and medium-sized seed companies, reducing competition in conventional and biotech seeds. Between 1996 and 2007, Monsanto, the largest supplier of genetically modified seed traits, acquired more than a dozen smaller companies, and now controls 60 percent of corn and 62.5 percent of soybean seeds and seed trait licenses in the United States.

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