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Global Food Game: Squeeze Farmers, Corner Consumers, Pocket Dough

May 1, 1999 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Control, not competition, is the ruling business principle today as cartels of related companies undercut independent producers in every market from genetic stock to grocery shelf.

The world’s top 10 crop chemical companies control 85% of global sales and are taking over seed markets.

  • Monsanto et al. are developing “Terminator” plants that produce sterile seeds farmers can’t re-plant, and “suicide seeds” that grow only with the companies’ chemicals.
  • DuPont, #5, bought Pioneer HiBred, the world’s largest seed company. Monsanto, #3, controls 88% of the U.S. bioengineered seed market.

Farmers have less choice, higher costs, lower earnings as big companies squeeze them from above and below.

  • The cost to U.S. farmers for seeds and chemicals shot up 86% 1987-97.
  • Farmers increasingly are forced to sell their crops to the same interests that sold them the seeds and chemicals.
  • Alliances, such as between Grain Titan Cargill and Gene Giant Monsanto, can jack up prices farmers pay and depress prices they get.

A few global corporations buy, process, and ship most U.S. grain.

  • The four major Titans are Cargill, Continental Grain, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra.
  • Cargill’s pending acquisition of Continental Grain means one company would control 40% of U.S. corn exports, 33% of soybeans, and 20% of wheat.

Grain Titans feed from their own grain supply, drive down livestock prices.

  • Continental Grain and ConAgra are #1 and #3 in cattle feeding. Continental Grain also is #3 for hogs.
  • Many small livestock farmers give up and work for minimum wage under corporate contract.

Meat packers use Grain Titan connections and livestock factory loads to offer independent farmers paltry prices.

  • Four firms slaughter 79% of all beef. (IBP/Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra/Swift, Cargill/Excel, Farmland)
  • Six firms (four the same as above) slaughter 75% of all pork.
  • Smithfield, the country’s #1 pork producer and #4 pork processor, buys most of its hogs from itself.

The world’s top five food companies include farm marketeers ConAgra (#4) and Cargill (#5).

  • While farmers’ earnings fell 36% since 1984, grocery bills increased 3%.
  • 77 cents of every food dollar spent goes to packaging and advertising.
  • The top supermarketers (Kroger’s, Albertson’s, Wal-Mart) keep buying up or beating out smaller chains.
  • Few independents make it past corporate-controlled markets to the retailer, or can compete with products that have global marketing and distribution budgets.

*Oligopoly: Control by a small number of sellers over prices and types of goods and services in a given market. Also at work in the global food chain is oligopsony, or control by just a few buyers over the majority of sales in a given market (see Grain Titans and Slaughter Bosses above).

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