New Report Outlines Country’s Food System Crisis, Calls for Major Policy Reform

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – A comprehensive report released today by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch outlines the crisis state of the country’s food system, including detailed analysis on the severe damage levied on society by unchecked corporate monopolies dominating the system. 

The report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Food System that Works For All,” offers a corrective policy blueprint that includes sweeping federal legislation and an overhaul of the country’s farm safety net. It also features a number of case studies from across the country featuring family farmers, ranchers and food hubs that have enacted safe, healthy, sustainable and profitable business models.

The report outlines the alarming degree of corporate consolidation in the food industry and its impact on consumers and small farms. For example: 

  • 83 percent of all beef is produced by just four processing companies;
  • 65 percent of consumer grocery market share is held by just four retailers; and 
  • 67 percent of crop seed market share is held by just four corporations. 

These and other conditions have had a devastating effect on consumer choice and costs, and small farm income and stability.

“The COVID pandemic laid bare many of the systemic crises in our food system today, all of which are exacerbated by unchecked corporate consolidation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But there is a clear path forward. Small, diversified family farms are already raising healthy, sustainable food for their local communities. We need bold action from the federal government to help rebuild our regional food infrastructure — our small slaughterhouses, grain mills and grocery cooperatives — to support the growth of more independent, sustainable farms.” 

The report recommends a number of robust policy prescriptions that would help to move the country to a safer, healthier and more sustainable food future by addressing the unchecked power of mega-corporations and creating systems to adequately sustain small farms and ranches. Among these prescriptions are: 

  • Federal legislation like the Farm System Reform Act, which would ban new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and phase out the most egregious factory farm operations by 2040; 
  • Reinstating federal supply management programs for commodities, including price floors;
  • Enacting through legislation a moratorium on corporate mergers in the food system; and
  • Redirecting public agriculture funding to encourage and support organic and regenerative farming practices. 

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Food & Water Watch mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

Kristina Beggen

Kristina Beggen

Oregon Organizer

Corvallis, OR

Greg Layton

Greg Layton

Delaware Organizer

Camden-Wyoming, DE

Biden Emissions Goal is Inadequate

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Multiple news reports suggest that the White House is set to announce a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels.  

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“While these White House goals are being lauded as aggressive, they are inadequate. As the world’s historical largest emitter of climate pollution, we have a duty to do much more, and to act with greater urgency.

“These goals — based on comparisons to exceptionally high 2005 emission levels — will be meaningless without policies that explicitly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Biden can make real headway on that front by fulfilling his campaign pledge to end fossil fuel extraction on public lands. He must also halt all new fossil fuel projects, which are polluting frontline communities and driving up emissions, and should join the push to ban fracking everywhere.

“It is also vital that Democrats in Congress zero out fossil fuel subsidies in any infrastructure and climate packages — including the giveaways for industry-friendly carbon capture schemes.” 

Contact: Peter Hart, [email protected]

The Joe Manchin Problem In This Climate Moment

Categories

Climate and Energy

PHOTO CC-BY © SENATE DEMOCRATS / FLICKR.COM

by Peter Hart

After getting a massive recovery plan through Congress, the Biden administration unveiled its next move: A $2.3 trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure proposal that prioritizes a host of clean energy initiatives and upgrades to our water systems. While the package — dubbed the American Jobs Plan — would be progress after four years of Trump, it falls short of what we truly need to tackle these crises. That’s why activists and some Democratic lawmakers are already demanding more.

As this unfolds, Democratic lawmakers are keenly aware of the need to please one of their own: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. But appeasing Manchin cannot come at the expense of climate action and environmental justice.

Manchin has already shown that he’s willing to act as a spoiler, or at least threaten to do so. His initial reluctance to support the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID recovery plan led to a last minute scramble; in the end, Manchin voted with the rest of the party, but only after “winning” a reduction in unemployment benefits. And during the legislative debate over that relief bill, Manchin also emerged as one of the loudest opponents of increasing the federal minimum wage.

Manchin’s Fossil Fuel Friendly Record is a Problem

When it comes to climate action and halting the fossil fuel industry, we don’t need to wait for any upcoming votes to understand where Manchin is coming from. In February he wrote two letters to Biden; one urged the president to reconsider his executive order stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, while the other touting fracked gas as a boon to “our nation’s energy security” that could fuel a surge of new petrochemical facilities. And before the White House rolled out its American Jobs Plan, Manchin was vowing that any deal needed to draw Republican support — an exceptionally unlikely prospect. “I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” he said.

This has left many to lament the fact that Manchin holds what amounts to ‘veto power’ over the entire Biden legislative agenda. It is not yet clear whether he really intends to use it to thwart a golden opportunity to create millions of jobs and build the clean energy economy of the future. Manchin knows that he holds considerable sway; as he recently told a radio host in his home state, “If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere.” 

But a Powerful Climate Movement Can Win In Spite Of The Manchin Problem

What is crystal clear, though, is that the politics around the climate crisis have swung dramatically in favor of real action. A little over a decade ago, Manchin’s Senate campaign included a commercial where he quite literally shot a copy of the failed Obama-backed cap and trade bill. So It’s a sign of real progress that lawmakers nowadays are backing substantially more ambitious proposals than were being pushed back then. And even more importantly, the grassroots movement demanding real action is even more powerful.

When push comes to shove, the climate movement — and the absolute necessity of coming up with a bold plan to get off fossil fuels — will prove to be more powerful than a single senator.

Your friends need to see this.

Sussex County Council Disregards Public Opposition; Votes Unanimously to Approve Controversial Dirty Bioenergy Biogas Proposal

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Georgetown, DE — Today, the Sussex County Council voted unanimously (5-0) to approve Bioenergy DevCo’s controversial factory farm biogas facility’s conditional use permit to site their industrial operations in an agricultural-residential zoned neighborhood near Seaford. The scheme, which plans to transform Perdue’s poultry slaughterhouse waste into methane to support regional pipeline infrastructure, received conditional use approval despite significant risks to public health, safety and environmental justice concerns.

The vote to approve the conditional use permit comes after months of community organizing throughout Sussex County. Last month, over 230 advocates overwhelmed the County hearing for the project with steadfast opposition to the dirty scheme. Over the past week, constituents made more than 70 calls to Council members, urging them to vote against the project. With the approved conditional use permit, Bioenergy’s proposal now goes to the state to seek permits for air pollution, water quality and solid waste handling.

Those opposed to the project warn that the factory farm biogas proposal threatens further entrenchment and expansion of the dirty and dangerous gas and poultry factory farm industries  in Delaware and in the Delmarva region. Highlighted during COVID-19 as hotbeds of community transmission, the poultry factory farming industry across the area is known for substandard working conditions that threaten food safety and the health and safety of workers; unsustainable practices that produce excessive poultry litter that leaches pollution into drinking water sources, rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay; and exploitative practices that crowd out independent producers and local food economies.

Residents and advocates remain united against factory farm biogas buildout in Delaware, as the industry seeks to expand throughout the region. Groups turn next to the state permitting process to make their voices heard.

“Today’s vote is a disappointing vote for factory farms and dirty energy in Delmarva — two things Sussex County residents need less of,” said Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton. “To burden a local population already surrounded by Superfund sites and poultry factory farms with this factory farm gas scheme will only invite greater public health and safety risks. From the outset, members of the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission and County Council made it clear that they were uninterested in their constituents’ concerns. Today’s decision proves that local elected officials are more interested in lining the pockets of agribusiness and dirty energy interests than addressing the needs of their most vulnerable constituents.”

“It is a sad day when the will of the people, along with our zoning code take a back seat to special interests,” said Maria Payan of the Sussex Health & Environmental Network and the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. “Vulnerable communities will suffer again. This application was totally misrepresented — and approved by the County anyway, even after it was exposed.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]

Well-Fed:

REPORT - April 2021

Help Us Pass Federal Farm Legislation!

By submitting my email, I agree to receive emails about urgent food, water and climate issues from Food & Water Watch. I may unsubscribe at any time.

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: A Broken Food System
    • Deciding what and how to farm should be left to farmers, not corporations
  • 2: From Extractive To Regenerative Food Systems
    • The farmers at the forefront of this movement
  • 3: Rebuilding Regional Food Hubs
    • Rebuilding regional food hubs connects farmers and eaters, and reduces the monopoly corporate agribusiness has on the food system.
  • 4: Policy Recommendations: A Roadmap To A Just Transition
    • Here are our policy recommendations on how to pivot to this much-needed systemic change.
  • 5: Conclusion
    • We can build regenerative food systems

Part 1:

Our Food System Is Broken

Deciding what and how to farm should be left to farmers, not corporations.

Corporate monopolies control food production.

Today’s supermarkets seem like the pinnacle of choice and variety. But consumers might be surprised to learn that this choice is really a façade, and that a few companies dominate the market in each food category. Your steak? Just four companies slaughter 83 percent of all U.S. cattle (see Figure 1).1 Your flour? It likely comes from Ardent Mills or ADM Milling, which together mill half of all U.S. wheat.2 And then there are companies that profit from value-added processing of raw ingredients. The jars of Gerber, boxes of Cheerios and Lean Cuisine, and tins of Fancy Feast in your shopping cart are all Nestlé-owned brands.3 Agribusinesses make consumers feel like they have ample choices, while forcing them to buy much of their food from just a handful of corporations.

Source Data: USDA AMS 20184

Even supermarkets themselves have gobbled up competitors and secured huge market shares. Four companies — Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Ahold Delhaizea — control 65 percent of the grocery market.5 This stranglehold raises food prices and wipes out local grocery stores, reducing food access in both rural and urban communities (see Figure 2).6

Source Data: CBRE 20197

Less competition among agribusinesses means higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. But for farmers and the rural communities they support, it is a fight to survive.

Corporate agribusinesses gut rural America.

Market consolidation has wiped out competition, giving farmers fewer choices when they buy seed and feed and when they bring products to market (see Figure 3 on page 3). As a result, they face both rising costs and stagnating income.8 In fact, today’s median farm income is negative $1,840; many farms manage to stay afloat through off-farm income.9

Ironically, while farmers have little power in our industrial food system, they often receive much of the blame for that broken system. Misguided policymakers and others deride farmers for overproduction, for receiving subsidies, or for participating in contract farming when all of these are symptoms of the underlying dysfunction in the food system.

All Source Data: ETC Group 201810

Corporate consolidation also hurts rural communities. Local slaughterhouses and flour mills have shuttered as processing facilities became fewer and larger. Revenue that once circulated in rural communities and built thriving main streets is now funneled to Wall Street and far-away corporate headquarters.11

Corporate agriculture perpetuates exploitation and racism.

Our farming system rests on stolen land, stolen labor and stolen resources, including forced removal of Indigenous peoples, the enslavement of African Americans and the sharecropping model. These systems persist today in vertically-integrated livestock systems that lock farmers into abusive contracts and high debt, the patenting of Indigenous seed varieties, the freezing-out of farmers of color from federal loans and subsidies, and the exploitation of low-wage labor in dangerous conditions in our nation’s produce fields and slaughterhouses.12

Industrial agriculture is extractive.

The industrial farming system focuses on squeezing out as much profit as possible, with little regard for long-term environmental ecological or public health impacts. Planting monocultures year-after-year can impair soil health.13 So does spraying synthetic pesticides. Intensive practices also harm bees and other pollinators and microorganisms that make up healthy ecosystems.14

Source Data: Food & Water Watch analysis of USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture15
Industrial agriculture pollutes the environment and fuels climate change.

Factory farms confine thousands of animals in inhumane, unsanitary conditions. They produce more manure waste than can be sustainably disposed and increase the risk of diseases jumping from livestock to humans (See Figure 4).16 In many parts of the country, factory farms are concentrated around communities of color and low- income communities, making them environmental justice catastrophes.17

Rural communities bear the brunt of pollution from industrial farming, from pesticide exposure to toxic emissions from factory farms.18 Yet these impacts reach far beyond the farm; nutrient runoff from manure and pesticide application pollutes waterways, contributing to fish kills and aquatic “dead zones” from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.19 Pesticide residue is found on all food types of food, from organic produce that was never sprayed with pesticides to human breast milk.20

Agriculture is also one of the largest human sources of climate change; across the entire production chain, it contributes 19 to 29 percent of all human-sourced emissions. Overproduction of commodities and meat, food waste, growing crops for fuel, and use of synthetic fertilizers produced from fossil fuels all enlarge this footprint.21

Our food production chain is not resilient.

Decades of unchecked corporate consolidation has worn away our food system’s resilience.22 For instance, large, centralized processing facilities replaced the regional slaughterhouses and dairy processors that once dotted the rural landscape, leaving farmers with fewer options for marketing their products.23 When some of these large facilities closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many farmers were left with no choice but to euthanize livestock or dump milk — gut-wrenching scenarios that would not have been as widespread if we still had networks of smaller facilities serving local markets.24

Our food system does a poor job of feeding people.

Even after accounting for commodities grown to feed livestock and produce energy, the U.S. still has roughly 4,000 calories of nutrients available per day per capita.25 Yet nearly one in seven children live in food-insecure households.26

Much of what goes into deciding what and how to farm is shaped by agribusiness, not farmers. Corporations set farm markets and policy.27 We need to join farmers and food chain workers to break Big Ag’s stranglehold and rebuild our food systems so they work for everyone. It can be difficult to imagine what alternatives to the industrial system might look like. We can start by learning from those at forefront of this movement, who are building healthy farmland and rural communities through regenerative agriculture.

Part 2:

From Extractive to Regenerative Food Systems

The farmers at the forefront of this movement

Regenerative agriculture is generating a lot of buzz today, with everyone from food activists to big agribusinesses floating the term. But with no unifying definition, the term “regenerative” can take on different meanings.28 So let’s start by defining what we mean by “regenerative food systems.”

Regenerative food systems are those that invest in the long-term health and fertility of farmland; build soil and prioritize soil health; and rely on natural rather than synthetic inputs. They embody these principles along each step of the food supply chain — investing in local economies; providing farmers and food chain workers with living wages and safe working conditions; and addressing racial and economic injustice. The regenerative movement shares roots with organic farming, a reaction against the environmental degradation caused by industrial farming. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program, creating standards for the organic label and certifying compliance. Regenerative farming, on the other hand, has no federal standards or label;b any farmer or food company can market their products as regenerative.

Some regenerative advocates market it as a new concept that goes beyond the limits of organic agriculture.29 This is a disservice to the organic community and its decades of work in strengthening the integrity of the organic label and increasing federal funding for organic research and adoption. It also erases centuries of contributions from indigenous and other farmers of color who farmed regeneratively long before the term emerged.30

In this piece, we use the term “regenerative” as an umbrella term for sustainable farming systems. Some of the farms featured are certified organic whereas others have not sought certification. What unites them is a holistic method of farming that seeks to regenerate, rather than extract, natural resources.

Part 3:

Regional Food Hubs

Rebuilding regional food hubs connects farmers and eaters, and reduces the monopoly corporate agribusiness has on the food system.

Farms need access to open, competitive markets to thrive. However, agribusiness consolidation has all but wiped out the nation’s smaller-scale slaughterhouses, grain mills and mom-and-pop grocery stores,81 making it increasingly difficult to imagine a food system that is not dependent on highly consolidated supply chains. The truth is, agri- businesses built the industrial food system over a few decades; we can similarly rebuild this broken system to ensure justice for all farmers, food chain workers and consumers.

Building just, regenerative food systems will not happen overnight. It requires significant public investment and political will. Direct sales and farmers markets are important but insufficient; we must also connect local farms to the grocery stores and restaurants where consumers spend the majority of their food dollars.82 Regional food
hubs can play a vital role, aiding smaller farms with distribution and marketing of their products so they can reach new markets that would otherwise be difficult to enter on their own.83

Small farms often lack the volume and consistency of products to sell directly to a retailer or foodservice institution. Larger institutions prefer to purchase from a single entity rather than several small farms. A food hub can help bridge this divide by connecting several smaller farms with regional buyers. Some food hubs even invest in infrastructure farmers need to bring products to market, like warehouses where food is stored, packed and labeled. What distinguishes food hubs from other local distributors is that they are formed with the goal of improving the economic, social and environmental health of their communities. As such, they are committed to providing farmers with fair prices and longstanding relationships rather than undercutting them in search of the cheapest alternative.84

There are many current efforts to revitalize local food systems through the food hub model. Public investment and incentives can help create similar food hubs across the country that are unique to each region’s geography and food culture.

Part 4:

A Roadmap For a Just Transition

Here are our policy recommendations on how to pivot to this much-needed systemic change.

Regenerative and organic farming are economically viable and already working to feed people, invest in local communities and create jobs. But federal farm policy is not designed to serve “alternative” or smaller-scale farming systems. Powerful agribusinesses have spent billions of dollars influencing lawmakers and regulators to serve their economic interests.126 But we can fight back against corporate control and reshape farm policy to achieve social and economic justice.

Enact Federal Legislation

Stop the growth of factory farms.

A handful of state legislatures have introduced factory farm moratoriums in recent years; the moment is growing. But to enact systemic change, we need a national moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.

Models for federal legislation include the Farm System Reform Act (FSRA),127 introduced by Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna. The FSRA would immediately ban all new large factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and would phase out existing large factory farms by 2040.

Moreover, the FSRA would invest in a “just transition” by creating a $10 billion buy-out program for factory farm operators to pay off debt (an obstacle for farmers wishing to exit contract growing) or transition to more sustainable systems, such as pasture-based livestock or specialty crops. Notably, this funding would only be available to farmers for projects on land they own which ensures that corporate giants that created the problem do not pocket the funds.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Stop further consolidation in the food industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes hitting the pause button on mega-mergers all the more critical, to ensure that agribusinesses do not use the pandemic recovery to buy out struggling competitors and further entrench market power.

Federal lawmakers are targeting agribusiness consolidation. This includes Senator Cory Booker and Representative Marc Pocan’s Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act.128 The legislation would enact a moratorium on all agribusiness and grocery mega-mergers and create a commission to recommend steps to strengthen antitrust and merger rules and enforcement. The moratorium would be in place until Congress passes comprehensive legislation to address market consolidation in the agribusiness sector.

End discrimination within USDA programs and support farmers of color.

Black farmers faced disproportionately higher rates of farmland loss throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. This was accelerated by systemic racism within federal agencies like USDA.129

Legislation like the Justice for Black Farmers Act,130 introduced by Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, seeks to end discrimination by establishing an independent civil rights board to review reports of and appeals to civil rights complaints filed against USDA. It would also create a number of initiatives to address Black farmer land loss, including creating a land trust to provide the next generation of Black farmers with land and resources to farm.

Overhaul the Federal Farm Safety Net

The current farm safety net is just a Band-Aid on a broken system. Crop insurance provides some economic relief to farmers, but does not address overproduction, a key contributor to price slumps. And farmers are not incentivized to implement sustainable practices that make land more resilient to future disasters in a changing climate.

Reinstate federal supply management for commodities.

The first Farm Bill enacted a federal supply management program, saving countless farmers from bankruptcy during the Dust Bowl.131 The program took marginal farmland out of production and provided farmers with living wages — until it was systematically dismantled by Big Ag.132

USDA used to set a price floor for grains that achieved parity, an income that both covers the cost of production while providing farmers with a living wage. USDA provided farmers loans based on this price floor, which farmers repaid after harvest. In years when market prices dropped below the price floor, USDA collected the harvest as collateral, essentially buying surplus grains from the market for the federal grain reserve. Then when drought or other disasters reduced crop yield, USDA sold grains from the federal reserve into the market,133 smoothing out market volatility and ensuring a steady supply of grain to the benefit of both farmers and consumers.

Remarkably, supply management can operate at virtually no budgetary cost to taxpayers.134 We can reinstate supply management for grain crops and extend it to dairy, if our elected officials stand up to the corporate agribusinesses greedy for artificially-cheap commodities.

Require farmers to implement organic practices in order to participate in safety net programs.

This would provide a huge incentive for farmers to shift from ecologically-depleting monocultures to ones that incorporate cover crops, crop rotation and no-till farming. Safety net programs should also promote crop and livestock systems that are appropriate and sustainable for each region. In turn, organic practices would build soil and help make farmland more resilient to future climate change events, reducing reliance on disaster insurance.

Expand coverage for more crops that directly feed people.

Feed corn, soybeans and cotton make up a huge chunk of acreage enrolled in federal crop insurance programs,135
while many fruits, vegetables and nuts are not eligible under many programs.136 Expanding safety net coverage to more specialty crops supports farmers in shifting to new production systems and diversifying their operations.

These crucial changes will encourage organic practices and stop propping up factory farms with taxpayer-subsidized feed. However, we must also correct past failures of safety net programs to include historically underserved farmers, including farmers of color, female and beginning farmers.137

Redirect Public Funding To Support Organic And Regenerative Agriculture

Big Ag has perfected the art of funneling public dollars into maintaining industrial agriculture’s status quo.
Money earmarked for conservation programs flows to factory farms, and agribusinesses court public universities to develop patented seeds.138 It is time to end public research for private gain and instead invest in building a food system that works for every farmer, food chain worker and consumer.

Increase funding for regenerative practices.

USDA spends billions of dollars each year on agricultural research, yet only a small slice of this goes into regenerative systems.139 Federally funded research should prioritize practices that reduce chemical inputs, build soil and help farmers adapt to a changing climate. Similarly, state legislatures should follow the example of states like Maryland and California and earmark funding for regenerative practices.140

Farmers must also have access to information on regenerative practices. State extension services have long played vital roles in sharing new practices with farmers. They can be important facilitators in connecting farmers with the growing body of research on climate-friendly practices.141 We should also provide financial and technical support to help farmers — especially those historically under-served — transition to USDA Organic certified operations.

Develop climate-resilient seeds and livestock breeds and make them publicly-available.

Land-grant universities have long been incubators of new farming practices and seed varieties that were once shared widely with farmers, with each public dollar invested paying out $10 in benefits.142 But when public funding lagged, federal policies increasingly encouraged private corporations to partner with universities. Today, agribusinesses develop new seeds at public universities which they then patent. This raises seed costs and prevents farmers from seed-saving.143 Corporations are more interested in developing seeds that lock farmers into costly, poisonous pesticides than those that adapt to climate change.

Federal dollars should instead fund research into non-GMO, patent-free seeds and livestock breeds through traditional breeding methods. We must increase funding for land-grant universities and discourage so-called public-private partnerships. Seeds should be developed to respond to specific geographical conditions and to be climate-resilient. State extension services can help distribute innovative seeds and breeds to farmers and encourage farmers to save seed in order to break free from buying expensive patented seeds year after year.

Reject false solutions and close “conservation” loopholes that fund factory farms.

Money from conservation programs flows to false solutions, such as anaerobic digesters, which generate factory farm gas from manure and other waste.144 Factory farm gas is a dirty, polluting energy. 145 Digesters built with taxpayer money simply prop up factory farms and entrench fossil fuel infrastructure. Instead, we should encourage farmers to shift to smaller, integrated crop-and-livestock systems where they can sustainably recycle manure as crop fertilizer.

Another false solution peddled by corporate interests are carbon pricing schemes for farmers. Carbon pricing — or “pay-to-pollute” schemes — allow polluting industries to avoid emissions reduction by purchasing “offsets” from another source, such as a farmer who sequesters carbon in her soil. But pollution trading doesn’t meaningfully reduce carbon emissions and instead allows companies to pay to pollute.146 The practice is unfair to farmers who have already been practicing climate-friendly agriculture and are unable to claim new offsets. Instead, we must leverage existing conservation programs to implement sustainable practices and tie their adoption to safety net participation, while investing in a rapid transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy.

Part 5:

Conclusion:

We Can Build Regenerative Food Systems

This is a window into what regenerative farming systems and food hubs in the United States can look like. It is meant to start a conversation, not offer a prescription, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” model for regenerative farming. We can build new farming and food systems that work for everyone if we embrace a few core principles:

Communities of color are leaders — not afterthoughts — in rebuilding food systems.

Our great-grandparents modeled many of the farming systems and practices we strive for today, with diverse farms serving local markets. But we must not romanticize the past; our farm systems have largely benefitted white male farmers with the most capital. We need to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table, and work alongside communities of color that have been in this fight for generations. There is no food justice without racial justice.

Everyone must be able to afford to participate.

Food hubs that provide farmers and food chain workers with living wages should be accessible to everyone. In the short term, we must increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and extend benefits to farmers markets, co-ops and online purchasing. We must also reform labor laws to raise the minimum wage, eliminate wage theft and provide universal paid sick and family leave, so that everyone can afford healthy food.

Reform will bring choice, variety and availability.

Reforming the way we produce animal products will impact cost and availability. We can embrace a “less-is-better” approach, choosing high-quality meat, dairy and eggs produced sustainably while increasing our consumption of whole produce and grains.

Food policies must promote food sovereignty at home and abroad.

This means empowering communities to feed themselves with fresh, local, healthy food. We must also reorient our trade policies so they do not undermine the ability of farmers and rural communities in the developing world to feed themselves.147

Perhaps the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be this generation’s “Dust Bowl” that forces a systemic overhaul. Let’s seize the moment and pressure our leaders to enact policies and make investments in food systems that work for all farmers, food chain workers and consumers.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Endnotes
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). “Packers and Stockyards Division: Annual Report 2018.” August 2019 at 9.
  2. Vogel, Stefan. “The milling industry structure in key regions—Fragmented versus consolidated markets.” Rabo-bank. June 2017. Accessed July 2020. Available at https:// research.rabobank.com/far/en/sectors/grains-oilseeds/ The_Milling_Industry_Structure_in_Key_Regions.html.
  3. Nestlé. “Our brands.” Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.nestle.com/aboutus/overview/ourbrands.
  4. USDA (2019) at 9.
  5. CBRE. “2019 U.S. Food in Demand Series: Grocery.” May 2019 at 16.
  6. Sage, Jeremy L. et al. Washington State University. “Bridging the Gap: Do Farmers’ Markets Help Alleviate Impacts of Food Deserts?” Submitted to the Research on Poverty, RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research. February 2012 at 5 to 6.
  7. CBRE (2019) at figure 4 at 16.
  8. USDA (2019) at 9; Kelloway, Claire and Sarah Miller. Open Markets Institute. “Food and Power: Addressing Monopolization in America’s Food System.” March 2019 at 2 and 6.
  9. USDA. Economic Research Service (ERS). “Highlights from the February 2020 Farm Income Forecast.” Updated February 5, 2020.
  10. Mooney, Pat. ETC Group. “Blocking the Chain: Industrial Food Chain Concentration, Big Data Platforms and Food Sovereignty Solutions.” October 2018 at 8.
  11. MacDonald, James M. et al. USDA ERS. “Consolidation in U.S. Meatpacking.” AER-785. February 2000 at iii; Williams, Gregory D. and Kurt A. Rosentrater. Tyson Foods and USDA. “Design Considerations for the Construction and Operation of Flour Milling Facilities. Part I: Planning, Structural, and Life Safety Considerations.” Paper No. 074116. Written for presentation at the 2007 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Annual International Meeting. Minneapolis, Minnesota. June 17-20, 2007 at 1; USDA (2018); Willingham, Zoe and Andy Green. Center for American Progress. “A Fair Deal for Farmers: Raising Earnings and Rebalancing Power in Rural America.” May 2019 at 20 and 22; Andrews, David and Timothy J. Kautza. “Impact of Industrial Farm Animal Production on Rural Communities.” Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. 2008 at v to vii.
  12. Manion, Jennifer T. “Cultivating farmworker injustice: The resurgence of sharecropping.” Ohio State Law Journal. Vol. 62, Iss. 5. 2001 at abstract; Drake University, USDA Farm Service Agency and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Contracting in Agriculture: Making the Right Decision.” ND at 8; Andrews, Deborah. “Traditional Agriculture, Biopiracy and Indigenous Rights.” Written for the 2nd World Sustainability Forum. November 1-30 2012 at 2.
  13. Liu, X. et al. “Effects of agricultural management on soil organic matter and carbon transformation — A review.” Plant, Soil and Environment. Vol. 52, No. 12. 2006 at 537 to 538; Horwath, William R. and J. G. Boswell. University of California — Davis. “How much can soil organic matter realistically be increased with cropping management in California?” Proceedings of the CA Plant and Soil Conference, 2018. Fresno, California. February 6-7, 2018 at 32.
  14. Prashar, Pratibha and Shachi Shah. “Impact of fertilizers and pesticides on soil microflora in agriculture.” In Licht-fouse, Eric (Ed.). (2016). Sustainable Agriculture Reviews: Volume 19. Cham: Springer at 355; Deguines, Nicolas et al. “Large-scale trade-off between agricultural intensification and crop pollination services.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Vol. 12, Iss. 4. May 2014 at abstract.
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  91. U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (2015) at 1.
  92. Based on information taken from the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) website, and reviewed by HAFA staff on August 18, 2020.
  93. Holpuch, Amanda. “‘I almost got killed’: The Hmong refu- gees who call the US home.” Guardian. June 28, 2019.
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  101. Brod, Andrew. University of North Carolina—Greensboro. “The Economic Impact of RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund since 2008.” May 2011 at executive summary and 1.
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  104. Ibid. at 2 to 3.
  105. Brod (2011) at executive summary.
  106. Jackson & Perrett (2018) at 24.
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  108. Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. “About.” Available at https://www.brwia.org/about.html. Accessed August 2020 and on file with Food & Water Watch; Ham, Nathan. “High Country Food Hub sees major increases in customers sales and in food supply from local farmers.” High Country Press (NC). May 13, 2020.
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  110. Schrama, M. et al. (2018) at 123, 124 and 129; Ponisio, Lau- ren C. et al. (2015) at 1, 2 and 5; USDA. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Cover Crops to Improve Soil in Prevented Planting Fields.” June 2013 at 1; Aktar, Md. Wasim. et al. “Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: Their benefits and hazards.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology. Vol. 2, Iss 1. 2009 at 1.
  111. Arneth, Almut et al. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [Summary for policymakers]. “Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems.” August 7, 2019 at 20 to 26 and 40 to 41.
  112. Martin, Allyson. “Seed savers v. Monsanto: Farmers need a victory for wilting diversity.” DePaul Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law. Vol. 24, Iss. 1. Fall 2013 at 96; Andrews (2012) at 2 to 5.
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  116. Hendrickson (2014) at 20.
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  122. University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute. “Field to fork farm: Resilience through diversification.” ND at 1 to 2.
  123. Egan, Franklin and Brooks Miller. “Scaling up pastured live- stock production: Benchmarks for getting the most out of feed & land.” Pasa Sustainable Agriculture. June 2020 at 6 to 7; Stampa, Ekaterina et al. “Consumer perceptions, pref- erences, and behavior regarding pasture-raised livestock products: A review.” Food Quality and Preference. Vol. 82. 2020 at abstract; Stanley et al. (2018) at 255.
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  125. Ranganathan, Janet et al. WRI. “Shifting Diets for a Sustain- able Food Future.” Installment 11 of “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” April 2016 at 36 to 37.
  126. Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 15; Mooney (2017) at 71 and 74 to 75.
  127. S. 3221. 116th Cong. (2019).
  128. S. 1596. 116th Cong. (2019).
  129. Gilbert, Jess et al. Land Tenure Center. “The Decline (and Revival?) of Black Farmers and Rural Landowners: A Review of the Research Literature.” Working Paper No. 44. May 2001 at 8 to 9; Reynolds, Bruce J. USDA. “Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000: The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives.” RBS Research Report 194. October 2002 at 24.
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  131. Graddy-Lovelace, Garrett and Adam Diamond. “From supply management to agricultural subsidies – and back again? The U.S. Farm Bill & agrarian (in)viability.” Journal of Rural Studies. Vol. 50. February 2017 at 76.
  132. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 76; Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 23 to 24.
  133. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 76.
  134. Ibid. at 76; McMinimy, Mark A. Congressional Research Ser- vice (CRS). “U.S. Sugar Program Fundamentals.” R43998. April 6, 2016 at summary.
  135. Shields, Dennis A. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Federal Crop Insurance: Background.” R40532. August 13, 2015 at summary; Schnepf, Randy. Congressional Research Service (CRS). [Fact sheet.] “2018 Farm Bill primer: Marketing Assistance Loan program.” IF11162. April 3, 2019 at 2.
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  141. Ibid at 17.
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Carbon Offset Scams Facing Broad Opposition

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Washington, DC — As the Biden Administration gears up for a global climate summit and Congress begins negotiations on an infrastructure package, agricultural-based offsets for polluters are attracting considerable criticism as a false solution that will do little to reduce emissions. 

A cadre of organizations recently sent a letter to Congress, coordinated by Food & Water Watch, that focuses on the Growing Climate Solutions Act, legislation that would lay the foundation for a federally certified carbon offset program. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) are leading this effort in Congress, and are expected to reintroduce the bill in the days ahead. 

While supporters of the Growing Climate Solutions Act (including powerful fossil fuel and agribusiness interests) portray offsets as a win-win for farmers and the climate, critics point out that offsets undermine efforts to create a more sustainable and regenerative farming system, weaken efforts to address climate change and increase pollution in environmental justice communities while also not eliminating existing pollution at source..

“Family farmers must be part of any solution to the climate crisis, but are also justifiably dubious of relying upon corporate controlled market schemes to do so. Farmers have long been denied a fair (parity) price for their commodities due to price rigging by the food giants, and this same abuse will happen with carbon trading. Privatized pollution speculation is a false climate solution — a much better option is to encourage family farmers to switch towards more agroecological practices by expanding existing publicly funded conservation programs,” said John E. Peck Executive Director Family Farm Defenders.

Those opposed to the bill also outline existing USDA programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program that are oversubscribed, and with more funding could actually help build soil health, protect water quality, and avoid greenhouse gas emissions while boosting farm income. In addition to increasing funding for these programs, the groups point to the need to close loopholes that fund factory farming, which are inundating environmental justice and rural communities with air and water pollution and perpetuating dangerous occupational conditions for farmworkers. 

“Farmworker frontline communities bear the direct consequences and are the primary victims of the pollution caused by CAFOs and factory farms by diminishing air quality and often contaminating the water on which these communities rely for their daily needs,” said Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, General Coordinator, Farmworker Association of Florida.

The pollution concerns with offsets do not end with factory farming; as the letter points out, offsets are actually increasing pollution in environmental justice communities where power plants and other polluters are already relying on offsets to  continue the status quo.

“My water-rich, life giving homelands are under attack. A new oil pipeline by Enbridge Energy will carry nearly a million barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil through our tribal territories, threatening our traditional foods, our waters, our ways of life, in fact our very lives. And not just here in Northern Minnesota; the effects on the climate threaten the entire world. Enbridge’s Line 3 will contribute the equivalent of the carbon produced by 50 coal fired power plants, while being able to claim net-zero emissions through scams like carbon offsets,” said Simone Senogles, a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and Indigenous Environmental Network.

Climate advocates have also voiced opposition to offsets, based on numerous studies that raise serious concerns about their actual impact on reducing emissions derived from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

“Offsets don’t stop climate change because they don’t stop emissions. The whole point of an offset is that one entity gets to keep emitting greenhouse gases. Major oil companies are claiming to be greening their operations by purchasing offsets, while at the same time expanding operations for the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels. That fact alone should leave no doubt that the emperor is truly naked. Offsets are not a climate solution and continued emissions lead to continued warming,” said Doreen Stabinsky, professor of global environmental politics, College of the Atlantic.

Contact: Jim Walsh, [email protected]

Governor Cuomo Fumbles On His Commitment to Fossil Fuel Phaseout

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Albany, NY — In a press conference today, Governor Cuomo appeared to fumble on a commitment made in his January State of the State address to replace fossil fuel plants with clean power. In his remarks today, Governor Cuomo said his goal was to use renewable energy sources for the power plants, but “that may not be a realistic option.”

In his State of the State speech, Governor Cuomo committed to fossil fuel phaseout, a necessary step to make progress against climate goals, saying “we must replace fossil fuel plants with clean power. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.” His backtracked remarks today seemed to indicate an unwillingness to fulfill his legal obligation under the state’s climate law to move New York off fossil fuels, including stopping the Danskammer, Gowanus and Astoria fracked gas plants.

In response, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp issued the following statement:

“To make any serious progress on climate change, Governor Cuomo must fulfill his legal and moral obligation to phase out fossil fuels. We cannot continue to import fracked gas, let it flow through pipelines in our communities, or burn it in our power plants, factories and buildings. Governor Cuomo must get back on track and put in the hard work to move New York off fossil fuels for good. As he said himself, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]

National Consumer Organization Urges Binghamton Elected Officials to Reject Veolia Contract

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Binghamton, NY — Today, Food & Water Watch issued a letter to Mayor Richard David and members of the Binghamton City Council, amplifying the chorus of residents opposed to a proposed contract with Veolia to audit municipal wastewater services in Binghamton. The letter comes in advance of the next City Council meeting on April 21, where a vote on the contract is expected to take place.

In the letter, advocates warn that the proposed audit contract is a foot in the door on a larger sewer privatization deal, with significant potential negative outcomes for the city, including:

  • Sewer privatization can lead to degraded services;
  • Sewer privatization can result in higher costs for the public; and
  • Sewer privatization can leave communities without local control of essential services.

Veolia’s bad track record is also highlighted, noting multiple instances where cities had to foot the bill or take Veolia to court over improper water and wastewater management. For more information on Veolia, see their corporate profile here.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“When a controversial international corporation with a scandalous track record of lawsuits and poor service comes to town and offers a ‘win-win’ contract, the red flag must go up. From Idaho to Massachusetts, Veolia has entered communities and disrupted essential services for the benefit of outsourced corporate profit — Binghamton must not suffer the same fate. Mayor David and the Binghamton City Council must reject Veolia and commit to full public provision of water and wastewater operations.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]