Big Corporations Dominate Food Sales

The growing dominance of international conglomerates in the food and farm industries has been documented by German researchers and journalists. Their “Corporation Atlas 2017” (Note: Did not find in English) calls for tighter anti-monopoly controls.

According to their dossier, 50 firms share 50 percent of the worldwide revenue for food products – and market dominance is even more prevalent in certain product categories.

Roughly 80 percent of the global tea market is held by three companies – the Dutch-British concern Unilever, the Indian corporation Tata and Associated British Foods.

Sixty percent of all baby foods and 62 percent of all cereals worldwide are produced by just four companies. In Latin America, this number is even higher – 75 percent for both product lines.

Mergers create mega-corporations

A  new wave of mergers among food producers started around 2010, triggered by the global financial crisis.

This increased market concentration, the authors of the “Corporation Atlas” assert.

They cite the 2015 mergers between US giants Heinz and Kraft and brewing companies Anheuser-Busch and SABMilleras examples for the increasingly oligarchical state of the food and beverage industries.

Agricultural and foodstuff mergers were worth 329 billion euros ($347 billion) in 2015, five times greater than mergers in the pharmaceutical and oil sectors.

Evaluating Agro-ecological, Economic, and Community Conditions

We’ve used this Framework for ensuring we are comprehensive in our farm evaluation:

Framing Questions 1

Are precipitation and groundwater resources captured, stored, used and released in a safe, stable and sustainable manner?

What are water sources and quality of water source?

Are water losses to runoff and evaporation in balance with soil and plant resources (Determine a water budget)?

Are irrigation waters efficiently and timely in use?

Are perennial stream flows, ground water aquifers, and water storage reservoir volumes stable (within natural or acceptable range of variability)?

Framing Questions 2

What are the major soil types?

What is the general texture of the surface soil?

Is the texture likely to make soils unstable if vegetative cover is removed?

Are there hydric soils on the parcel? How many and are they being farmed?

Is the land surface of sufficient steepness to cause erosion and management concerns?

Does the land have a general aspect toward a specific compass point?

Framing Questions 3

Are kinds and flows of chemicals (minerals, nutrients, etc.) in balance and appropriate for native plant and animal communities?

Are nutrients and/or minerals being lost from the system?

Are nutrients and/or minerals accumulating in the system?

Framing Questions 4

Are pest populations being held in check by predators?

Are native/desired species being damaged by predators?

Has human intervention substituted for natural predation in pest control?

Are crop losses above acceptable economic limits?

Is there evidence of environmental/ecological recovery without human intervention?

Is there evidence of recovery with human intervention?

Are soil parameters within ranges sufficient to allow recovery from stresses?

Is recovery impaired due to species competition?

Are managed species varied by land use and crop management in order to minimize risk of catastrophic loss (crop arrangement, crop rotation, crop integration)?

Is there sufficient genetic variation in the managed species to minimize risk of catastrophic loss?

Is there a sufficient soil seed bank to revegetate disturbed areas?

Framing Questions 5

Does farmer’s enterprise contain a diverse source of income?

Does current management system allow farm to remain competitive?

Does the farmer have latitude in making decisions about management or do others control those choices?

Does the farmer have a profitable economy?

Framing Questions 6

Are their documented harmful health effects from management methods?

Are their health risks from the types and methods of application of agrichemicals?

Are their broader community health risks from farm management?

Framing Questions 7

What are the regional trends in farm ownership?

What are the trends in development patterns?

What are community land uses?

Are there zoning restrictions?

What is the distribution of vegetative types in the county/community?

To what extent is farm/community vegetation fragmented?

Do the political borders correspond with ecological, economic, social and institutional boundaries?

Framing Questions 8

What regional markets are in place?

What products are supported?

What commodity programs are in place to support markets?

Framing Question 9

What nutrient profiles are possible given the property’s agro-ecology?

How do those nutrient profiles ‘fit’ with local and regional nutritional needs and eating habits?

What adaptations are possible to enhance nutrient profiles?

What adaptations are possible to diversify nutrient profiles if desirable?

Framing Questions 10

What types of community institutions exists to make decisions on land use, management and protection?

What civic and community groups exist?

What percentage of the community participates in elections, meetings, and hearings?

Does the community have a land use planning process?

What is the kind and nature of community government?

Are there land and water growth management plans?

What are the kinds and frequency of local cultural activities?

What is the history of successful citizen/community initiatives?

Framing Questions 11

How effective and efficient are modes of transportation and communication?

Are the health, education, and banking facilities distributed for broad use?

What structures are in place to promote a healthy local food supply?

Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Mary Berry in Conversation

A video from December 2016:

Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Mary Berry in Conversation

Some phrases:

With regard to our traditional energy economy…The party is over! (Wes)

With regard to our economy…we accept no limits…an economy built on explosives and toxins. (Wendell)

With regard to the local food movement…it has been going on for 40 years and the divide between urban and rural has grown greater. (Mary)

With regard to a future economy…Developing an economy as a way of taking proper care. (Wendell)

Lastly, Wendell had a very nice thought on ‘natural integrity’.

Agriculture’s Role in 21st Century American Social Reform

In our partner meeting this morning we were having an interesting discussion on a recent New York Times article.

Why Rural America Voted for Trump

The author states his insight came from…

….a 2015 pre-caucus stop in Pella by J. C. Watts, a Baptist minister raised in the small town of Eufaula, Okla., who was a Republican congressman from 1995 to 2003, to begin to understand my neighbors — and most likely other rural Americans as well.

“The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that.

“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.”

He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

Watts’ statement, for me, was an odd construction.

Yes, many conservative religions believe in a fundamentally flawed human.

The generalization about Democrats was strange. Please let me know the religion that states we are born good and ‘create God’ (although I think a good bit of our societal interest in yoga practice is based upon a misconception about Eastern religions ‘creating God’…allowing American practitioners to interpret meditation as mind/body/spirit individualistic self-absorption).

The article goes on to discuss different conceptions of personal moral responsibility…or the lack of personal moral responsibility (blaming others for personal shortcomings).

Other than the article pointing out the author’s amazingly shallow knowledge of his neighbors, I found little insight.

What it did generate in our partner meeting was a discussion of Western religion’s preoccupation with good and bad, right and wrong.

There are certainly broad ‘truths’, and I admire certain conservative religious ministers/writers for their ability to sternly profess Biblical truths.

HOWEVER, we have a ‘hhhhuge’ social problem that results from our hyper-individualistic society. Professing Biblical truths (or for that manner any truths) meets resistance and belligerence with a selfish, thoughtless individualist.

We are not – in our present society – going to solve the enormous problem of thoughtlessness and personal amorality by ‘teaching the truth’.

Here is where agriculture becomes critical….we can use food, food preparation, nutrition as a ‘remedy’.

Two months ago I spent much of a day with the relatively new President of my undergraduate engineering school. For over 35 years I’ve been an alum agnostic…no involvement. Although I highly respected aspects of my undergraduate education I came to not respect the engineering ethic…so had never practiced engineering.

The meeting arose because I received an alumni magazine talking about the School’s interest in sustainability. A brief email exchange led me to campus.

I had wanted to talk about the ethic of the engineering curriculum, but found the President preoccupied with renovations to the Student Union and efforts to enhance the food program with both improved nutrition and a more green, sustainable operations plan.

It quickly became evident that he had determined that the most viable method to improve the ethic of the School was to improve the food program for students. I think it gave him a way to engage students, faculty, alumni, donors in an active discussion about ‘what the heck are we doing’ and ‘what the heck are we teaching’…without meeting the hyper-individualistic belligerence to ethical changes in the curriculum that arise from examining truths and repenting for past industrial engineering ‘sins’.

Agriculture and food are intellectual gateways to culture…and we sorely need a culture.

Sexual/Gender Identity and Agriculture

Through some research and reading I’ve been doing on moral, ethical, and religious thought related to agriculture I have come across a number of discussions on sexual/gender identity…and a language system that is evolving to discuss sex in politics.

From a sexual human rights website:

Sexual orientation

An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.

Gender identity

One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender expression

External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Transgender

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Gender dysphoria

Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term – which replaces Gender Identity Disorder – “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”

Citations of the term dysphoria in Google books database.

Dysphoria is a state of unease or general dissatisfaction with life.

I also find that there is an increasing amount of academic writing redefining the meaning of gender. Traditionally, gender has been described as the state of being male or female…in essence a direct link to human sexual biology. Currently, you can find discussions of the definition of gender that are extensive and take the position that gender is a social construct.

I grew up spending a great deal of time in horse country Kentucky. Long before dysphoria came into use folks have been ‘genetically modifying’ horses (and many other animals) to suit their human needs/desires/social constructs.

Agriculture has also genetically modified seeds to an enormous extent to suit their human needs/desires/social constructs.

How do we, as a society and a community, evolve ethically, morally, and religiously given our current willingness to profoundly alter the biological characteristics of plants, animals, and ourselves?

How can we know with any certainty what we are creating?

How do we evaluate the risks we are taking?

Do we know with certainty that we are not creating catastrophic biological conditions for Earth?

Tilth Association

David DeFrancesco just sent an interesting note about the term ’tilth’ and the northwest Tilth Association.

First of all, tilth gets us ‘along the path’ to renewing the cultural nature of agriculture.

From the Tilth Association website:
The people who started the Tilth Association first met on July 1st, 1974, at a symposium in Spokane entitled “Agriculture for a Small Planet.” One of the featured panelists was Kentucky farmer, poet and writer Wendell Berry, who spoke forcefully about the culture of agriculture. 

In his speech Berry described the loss of the traditional farm economy and the destruction of rural communities. He was blunt in detailing the impending collapse of rural America, and he linked the “drastic decline in the farm population” with “the growth of a vast, uprooted, dependent and unhappy urban population.”

“Our urban and rural problems have largely caused each other,” he said. “My point is that food is a cultural, not a technological product. A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its destruction invites calamity.”

“If we allow another generation to pass without doing what is necessary to enhance and embolden the possibility of strong agricultural communities, we will lose it altogether. And then” he concluded, “we will not only invoke calamity, we will deserve it.”

The ‘now complete’ moral and economic collapse of rural America and the traditional middle class has been starkly evident in the recent American election.

How morally and religiously responsible people act to restore what has collapsed will set the course of Earth.