Our VoiceNews & Politics

The Food Trusts: A Call for Backbone

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Mar 03, 2010

Next week the Departments of Justice and Agriculture will jointly convene the first of five national hearings on “competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.” If the first gathering in Ankeny, Iowa is any indicator, the Departments will have to go to the meat counter soon to buy some backbone to take on the food trusts they want to “hear” about.

Monsanto—the seed giant that brings us all those pastoral TV ads from “American farmers”—has a place at the table next week to address (the utter lack of) competition in the seed sector which it dominates. Politicians of all stripes have the first say of the day. Then come all the academics, many of whom hail from the land grant universities that helped guide producers into the grip of the Food Trusts. Finally come the enforcers (really?), some of whom have gone after the Trusts in their respective states; it will be enlightening to see what the federal “enforcers” have to say about a century of utter neglect by successive Administrations that let the Trusts take over the food system. There is one real farmer on one panel.

There will be an hour at the end of the day (of course) for public testimony, and the Departments have made known that some farmers will appear in a time slot during the day. The farmers, of course, were not important enough to have been secured or named prior to the DOJ Office of Public Affairs press release.

There are no food workers on the panels—the low-wage laborers on the lower rungs of the industrial food chain (migrant seed corn detasslers , for example). No representatives from communities economically devastated or environmentally impacted by the Food Trusts that have driven out diversified competition and continue to wreak havoc on the lands and waters. No folk who have no choice but to buy the Food Trust “specials” at their grocery store, chock-full of tongue-twisting chemical and genetic concoctions. No folk from the cities who have no choice but to pay into the hands of the Trusts for food.

A century ago the Rough Rider President, Teddy Roosevelt—a Republican—took on the big Trusts. Appalled by the growing power of corporations and influenced by the meatpacking and food horrors portrayed in The Jungle, he pressed hard for regulation and reform. In 1906 he pushed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, through a stubborn Congress, laying the groundwork (at the time) for safe and unadulterated food in the U.S. He took on the Beef Trust. Sugar. The list is long. His successor, Howard Taft, continued to rein in the food and other industrial trusts; between them the two Presidents brought down over 130 trusts in a period covering three terms of office.

Over the past century the Food Trusts have regained and dramatically increased and utterly concentrated their economic and political power, and now dominate and control much of the industrialized food system in the U.S. and, increasingly, across the globe. The levels of concentration are staggering and make the early 19th century trusts look like child’s play.

If the Food Trusts are not taken on to the full extent of the law by this Justice Department and this Department of Agriculture in a manner that picks up the reins of Roosevelt and Taft, yet another opportunity will have been missed to restore food security in the U.S. And if the dwindling number of real farmers, and the growing number of low-wage food chain workers don’t ally—in the searing words of populist agitator Mary Elizabeth Lease“ –to “raise less corn and more hell”—the corporate chickens will, indeed, come home to roost.

Get some backbone.

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