Washington, DC — Today, a broad-based coalition of 210 farm, rural, worker and consumer advocacy organizations (including Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance) released principles for a fairer Farm Bill that would address the lack of competition in every link in the food chain. The groups point out that growing consolidation in the agribusiness, food processing and supermarket industries lowers prices for farmers and wages for farmworkers and other food chain workers, erodes rural economies, and raises prices while limiting choices for consumers. The letter calls on Congress to address the ongoing consolidation of these industries with policies that address unfair contracts for farmers, increase market transparency, reform USDA guaranteed loans and guarantee worker rights.
“Corporate consolidation is the worst it has ever been in our nation’s history,” said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union. “A handful of multinational companies control our inputs sector, and just four meatpackers dominate the cattle industry. Yet, as these industries and others consolidate market power into the hands of a few, the federal government continues to rubber stamp more and more mergers. If we want a country where family farmers, ranchers, and rural residents can enjoy the same economic liberty and prosperity as the rest of the country, we must address this enormous domestic policy threat to the livelihoods of these people.”
A wave of mergers has swept through every step of the food system in recent years, from seed to supermarket. The deals have made already concentrated industries reach historic levels of control by just a few powerful companies. Recent deals between seed and chemical giants Dow and DuPont and ChemChina and Syngenta, retailers Amazon and Whole Foods Market, and food processors Kraft and Heinz have changed the landscape of the food system.
“We saw a few years ago during the financial crisis that allowing our economy to be controlled by a few large corporations puts our nation and its citizens in extreme jeopardy,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The same is true in our food system. Consolidated economic power in the hands of a few companies captures most of the economic value in the food system, leaving little for farmers, workers and consumers.”
The letter describes how meatpackers control livestock markets with tools including packer-owned livestock, contracts and marketing agreements that are susceptible to manipulation and vertical integration. These tools allow large meat companies to exert unfair market power over farmers and ranchers, lowering the prices they receive, while consumer prices continue to rise.
“Family farm agriculture is an economic and cultural cornerstone in America,” said Greg Fogel, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Increasingly, however, our small and medium-scale farms are disappearing while corporate agribusinesses rapidly grow and consolidate. Without a fair playing field, these corporations can easily drive out family farmers, or relegate them to working within opaque and unfair contract systems. We need to bring equity and efficiency back to our agricultural markets. We cannot continue to allow agricultural consolidation to grow unchecked at the expense of our nation’s family farmers, natural resources, and the American taxpayer.”
The letter also described how the rapid consolidation has compromised the economic vitality of rural communities, which has been especially perilous during a steep downturn of agricultural prices for crops, livestock, and dairy.
“As long as corporations and large commodity groups dictate the contents of U.S. farm bills, antitrust laws will never be enforced, and there will never be fair, competitive markets for family farmers, fishermen, ranchers and workers who support the economies and protect the environment of the communities and consumers they sustain,” said Dena Hoff, board vice president of the National Family Farm Coalition and an organic farmer in Montana.
The groups urged Congress to include commonsense protections to level the playing field for farmers, workers and consumers by prioritizing antitrust enforcement, anticompetitive behavior and market transparency.
“Fairness and equity must be provided to everyone from the farm to the table. Agribusiness must not be allowed to extract economic value at every level of the food system by pushing down on prices, wages, benefits and working conditions,” said Rural Coalition Board Member Rudy Arredondo, who also serves as President of the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Association. “They should not be allowed to drive out traditional and small-scale producers who properly care for animals and the ecology while assuring consumers safe and nutritious meat products.”
The letter calls on Congress to ensure the 2018 farm bill addresses the “negative trends in agricultural market control and anti-competitive business structures if we are to have any hope of restoring the economic health of rural America.”
National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.
The National Family Farm Coalition represents 34 grassroots farm, fishery and rural advocacy organizations working together for a food and agriculture system that ensures health, justice and dignity for all.
The Rural Coalition, born of the civil rights, indigenous rights, and anti-poverty rural movements, has worked since 1978 to assure that diverse organizations from all regions, ethnic and racial groups, women and men, and youth and elders, have the opportunity to work together on the issues that affect them all and assure the representation and involvement of every sector of this diverse fabric of rural peoples.
Andrew Jerome, National Farmers Union, (202) 314-3106, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darcey Rakestraw, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2467, email@example.com
Reana Kovalcik, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, (202) 547- 5754, firstname.lastname@example.org
Quinton Robinson, National Family Farm Coalition, (703) 975- 4466, QuintonnRobinson@nffc.net
Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition, (703) 624-8869, email@example.com