Report: Global Food Chain Increasingly Threatened by Corporate Consolidation
By Jessica Corbett
As the European Commission considers a proposed mega-merger between Bayer and Monsanto, new research published Tuesday illustrates how corporations are monopolizing the global food system—jeopardizing consumer choice, labor conditions and efforts to eradicate world hunger.
The Agrifood Atlas (pdf), which was jointly published by two German foundations and Friends of the Earth Europe, found that "two trends coincide in the agrifood sector: ever-fewer corporations are taking control of an ever-bigger market share and are gaining influence in many parts of the world. At the same time, the opportunities for civil society and social movements to oppose such developments are being restricted."
"The fight for market share is achieved at the expense of the weakest links in the chain: farmers, and workers," the report explains. "The price pressure exerted by supermarkets and food firms is a major cause of poor working conditions and poverty further back in the chain. It also promotes the onward march of industrial agriculture and its associated effects on the environment and climate."
The atlas warns that further corporate consolidation throughout the global food chain will exacerbate issues that have already been perpetuated, in whole or in part, by past mergers among major companies in the agrifood sector. Those issues include:
- Less consumer choice;
- A risk to future food production;
- Job cuts and low wages;
- Price pressure through buyers' cartels; and
- A situation where the poorest stay hungry despite an oversupply of food.
"The increasing size and power of agrifood corporations threatens the quality of our food, the working conditions of the people producing it, and our ability to feed future generations," said Mute Schimpf, a food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. Schimpf urged the European Union to "play a leading role in rejecting these consolidations," while commending "local food producers and citizens across Europe" who are "creating safe jobs and greener farms."
Even so, Barbara Unmüßig, president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, noted that "activists fighting for the right to access to water, land and seeds are met with ever more violent public or private repressions all across the world," as "mergers and market concentration in the agricultural sector are skyrocketing."
The atlas includes several graphics that depict the ongoing consolidation, including the biggest mergers of the past decade:
Benjamin Luig, coordinator of the food sovereignty program at the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, explained that the report reveals how "private equity firms—rather than companies' shareholders—are increasingly driving concentration in the agrifood sector."
"Since 2004, one investment group, 3G capital, has led or accompanied mergers which have created the world's largest beer company (AB InBev), the third-largest fast food company (Burger King) and the fifth-largest food processor (Kraft-Heinz)," Luig said. "Massive job cuts and the closing of bottling stations in the beverage industry are part of the plan. We urgently need regulations that limit the grip of the financial sector over the agrifood sector."
The report celebrates that a "growing number of people are organizing themselves and are changing their buying habits," but emphasizes "that is not enough to end hunger and poverty or to protect the environment," noting that "the withdrawal of government from economic intervention is a major cause of the colossal environmental and climate damage and the global injustice that we see today."
"It is high time for a socially and politically oriented regulation of the agrifood industry," the report concludes. "We hope that this atlas will stimulate a broad-based social debate on this vital topic."
"This report should be a wake-up call for anyone who cares about their food, countryside and rural livelihoods," said Oliver de Schutter, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).
"We are seeing an unprecedented surge in mergers and acquisitions in the food and farm sectors that will have major impacts on what we eat and what food we grow in the future," de Schutter added. "We need an urgent debate and the proactive involvement of regulators to protect the public interest, workers and the environment."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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