Letter from Langdon: They Can’t Print Food
Richard Oswald describes how the mega-consolidated food industry puts us at risk for losing a reliable food supply — until they figure out how to roll wheat off the press.
"It Came from the Grocery Store"/Greenpeace
Image: via Scientific Misconduct
Food is life.
But suppose we allowed U.S. agriculture to consolidate into five large corporations that account for nearly all of the processed food in the United States. And suppose those corporations grew so large that they had tentacles extending into nearly every food-related business in the nation and the world. And what if a majority of those five major corporations, through lack of oversight from their own overseers as well as those of the government, failed catastrophically in such a way that virtually all food production and distribution was threatened?
That's what happened when our financial system nearly crashed and burned this year. Many people lost their investments, their homes, their jobs, and their retirement. People are always the first to feel it and the last to heal it.
In order to mend the problem, the Federal Reserve basically had to print more money…but the problem still isn't fixed as more and more big businesses fall like a row of dominoes. Right now there seems to be no end in sight.
So far the results for AIG, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, and Citigroup have been mixed at best, lots worse for Lehman Brothers, and maybe GM, Ford, and Chrysler, too.
And the printing presses at the Fed keep running day and night.
Sprouting a field of $20s
Photo: Backyard Gardening Blog
To those promoting the same business model for U.S. food production that is currently causing so much financial and business pain both at home and abroad, my question is this: "How do you print more food?"
It doesn’t appear that we’ve learned a thing, because some are still saying that the answer to cheap abundant food lies with the same notion that bigger is better — in portions, in trade, and in corporations — even though now, in giant corporate America, bigger seems to refer more to losses than efficiencies. Consumer food costs remain high even though food commodities are well off the peak.
In order for our financial system to thrive, credit has been key.
Americans live on plastic these days. Most of the plastic is in the form of credit cards, some of them sponsored by the same guys who trashed our financial system. Easy credit helps maintain consumer spending but burdens buyers with double-digit interest rates and unmanageable debt. (A side note: common synonyms for "plastic" are “fake,” “false,” and “artificial.”)
In our food, yet another form of plastic comes to us from the folks at Mainland China, where melamine is added regularly to food, even infant formulas, by unscrupulous trading "partners."
Big businesses crave free-trade access to various food ingredients world wide. They want to take advantage of low shipping and exchange rates to buy on the cheap. And they want to sell the stuff back to us with a brand name and logo that imply the product is as American as apple pie — without the inconvenience of a Country of Origin label that could alert the public to its own plastic assumptions about food safety.
FDA's rejected food imports, 2006-07
Source: FDA via MSNBC
In many cases the cost of advertising to create customer appeal exceeds the cost of some ingredients. For instance, Kraft Foods' advertising budget exceeds $1 billion annually.
Even our commercial fertilizer supplies are at risk as foreign companies add heavy metal pollutant waste like cadmium to their exported zinc plant-food supplements. Remember the contaminated imported children’s toys from Christmas past? How about the imported poison pet food? Now, it’s not just animals or people who are occasionally being poisoned, but the plants and the very soil itself.
Is there a printing press that can replace the soil?
All alone, American farmers and ranchers are expected to fight the free trade battle with VAT (value-added-tax) wielding foreign governments, as multinational corporations scavenge the battlefield for bargains.
While early morning Black Friday shoppers were crashing Wal-Mart’s doors to buy cheap imported goods, our sneaky corporations were quietly slipping through the back door of our domestic food chain with cheap imported goods of their own. If they get their way, Black Friday could come each and every week as shoppers line up on the darkest day of all: the day America runs out of safe, wholesome, and abundant home grown food. Some things defy explanation while others shouldn’t need one.
Put simply, food is life.
If we can’t trust them with our jobs, and we can’t trust them with our money, then why would we ever trust them with our food?