Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy for the Love of Food!

Tom Philpott has written a great article on why food movement actors should support Occupy Wall Street. He makes the argument that the occupations (which have spread across the world, starting today!) challenge the concentration of power in the hands of the elite, and the agrifood industry is a prime example of this concentration, elite control, and marginalization of the consumer and small producer.

I thought I'd take three of Tom's key points, which use American examples, and make the case for his argument applying to Canada. (Of course, many of his examples of multinational corporations apply to us here as well.)

1. The food industry is a big fat monopoly
  • The top five food retailers in Canada account for 60% of sales (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
  • Nilsson Bros. Inc. is Canada’s largest beef packing corporation, owning nearly half of Canadian capacity. In addition to its packing plants, holdings of the Nilsson Bros. conglomerate also include (wholly-owned or in partnership) feedlots, most of western Canada’s large auction facilities. ('Losing Our Grip', 2010)
  • Three companies -- Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill -- control an estimated 90% of the world's grain trade (USA Today) and the prairies export 80% of the grain they grow.
  • The largest 5% of food manufacturing establishments accounted for over 50% of sales in 2003 whereas the smallest 80% of establishments accounted for only 15% of sales. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
  • And, since transnational corporations sell the majority of Canadian farmers' inputs, some global stats are relevant: the top 10 seed companies account for 67% of the global proprietary seed market (Monsanto is 23% of that number); the top 10 pesticide firms (the six largest of which are also in the top 10 seed companies) control 89% of the global agrochemical market. (ETC)
2. Wall Street's greed leaves millions to starve—literally
  • "In recent years, the financial markets have discovered the huge opportunities presented by agricultural commodities. The consequences are devastating, as speculators drive up food prices and plunge millions of people into poverty... Since last June alone, higher food prices have driven another 44 million people below the poverty line, reports the World Bank. These are people who must survive on less than $1.25 (€0.87) a day." (Der Spiegel, trans.)
  • "Holdings in commodity index funds ballooned from US$ 13 billion in 2003 to US$ 317 billion by 2008...The promotion of biofuels and other supply shocks were relatively minor catalysts, but they set off a giant speculative bubble in a strained and desperate global financial environment. These factors were then blown out of all proportion by large institutional investors who, faced with the drying up of other financial markets, entered commodity futures markets on a massive scale." (De Schutter briefing note, 2010)
  •  Some advice from a Canadian investment advisor: "the biggest and most worrisome near-term crisis of all, is a food crisis; and you will have the opportunity to make a ton of money from it. Speculators love crises as well, and only add fuel to the fire, which multiplies your gains. The writing is already all over the wall for a pending food crisis; the west just hasn’t seen it on a domestic level yet, but believe me, we will. It’s time to get ahead of this trade." 
  •  The extension of food speculation, as you know from reading this blog, is speculation in land. "Bay Street investors like Sprott Resources and Lawrence Asset Management have been buying into farmland in Uruguay and the Democratic Republic of the Congo." (Canadian Dimension)

3. Our politicians are in bed with agribusiness.
  • A homegrown prairies example: Assiniboia Capital Corp, "the largest farmland investment management company in Canada, with almost 100,000 acres under management" (from its website). Organization includes: Co-founder Brad Farquhar, who is the former Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Party and former Executive Assistant to Sask. Party leader Elwin Hermanson; Gord Nystuen—General Manager of Assiniboia’s farm input financing division, Input Capital—is former Saskatchewan Deputy Minister of Agriculture, former Chief of Staff to the Premier, and former Chair of Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation; Advisory Board member Lorne Hepworth is President of Croplife Canada and former
    Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Energy and Mines, Minister of Education,
    and Minister of Finance.
    (Assiniboia Capital website)
  • Assiniboia Capital has tripled its land base over the past two years.  In light of this, it is interesting that Assiniboia’s primary capital source is taxpayer-owned and federal-government-controlled Farm Credit Canada (FCC).  ('Losing Our Grip', 2010)
  • Five of the 100 lobbyists named in the Top 100 Lobbyists list compiled annually by the Parliament Hill insider newspaper The Hill Times have agriculture or food sector clients. (Western Producer)
To borrow a phrase from Dave Oswald Mitchell's excellent essay,

Occupy the market. Occupy the commons. Occupy the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment