Agribusiness Facts and FiguresAGRIBUSINESS:
When the USDA tried regulating the organic food industry in a way that would have nearly eliminated it, the voice of agribusiness was heard. Fortunately, 250,000 American voices were heard, so we won that round. The bedrock of the world economy is food, and has been so for as long as human beings have walked the earth. Agriculture probably began when hunter-gatherers drove all the easily hunted big animals to extinction. Ever since, the “agricultural surplus” has been the basis for all the world’s civilizations. As forests are the primary creator of soils, razing forests to grow crops has always eventually destroyed the soils. Deforestation, irrigation and plow agriculture led to soil salination, mineral depletion, soil loss and desertification. The long, slow decline of Sumeria demonstrated the long-term effects of agriculture; the Fertile Crescent is largely desert today. Modern industrial farming, combined with neocolonialism, has wreaked environmental devastation on a much vaster scale and far more swiftly.
As civilizations rose and fell, with copper, bronze and iron ages increasing humanity’s ability to manipulate the environment, agriculture became more sophisticated. Because North America probably had the world’s healthiest soils in 1491, as the natives lived lightly on the land, the invading Europeans inflicted environmental devastation that had no precedent, but the land had enough biological wealth to survive the onslaught…so far (although events such as the Dust Bowl happened). The rise of capitalism combined with the rise of the United States led to agricultural empires. There were no robber baron farmers during the Gilded Age, not of the stature of Rockefeller and other industrialists, although there were ranching empires.
For years, I was skeptical that the food industry would turn into a monopolistic/oligopolistic industry, as energy, medicine and other large industries had, because there were so many small farms and growing food is the world’s most widespread industry. However, large segments of agriculture have been taken over by corporate conglomerates. Many world food markets are controlled by a handful of companies. For instance, two companies - Cargill and Archer Daniel Midland - control about 80% of the world’s grain market.
Monsanto and other companies are creating genetically engineered seeds that create sterile crops, forcing farmers to buy more seeds the next year. They are also making seeds dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. It is even scarier than that. Monsanto came out with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), which sucks even more milk and life out of those factory cows. To millions of Americans, such practices are not only scary, but evil. With the introduction of BGH, organic dairy farmers began advertising that there was no BGH in their milk. Because agribusiness companies largely own the USDA, in a classic instance of regulator capture, nobody could count on the USDA to find that BGH was harmful. In an Orwellian summersault, Monsanto sued the organic dairies, trying to make it illegal for them to state their milk did not have BGH in it. It is similar to the agribusiness attempts to define “organic” to allow genetic engineering, irradiation and sewer sludge, then outlaw any higher standard. Fortunately, the American legal system is not yet that far gone, and Monsanto did not get its way in court. [ Plardsky ]
Far more frightening than Monsanto’s BGH antics is what is happening in the realm of genetic engineering. As industries vent their pollutants into the environment, with industrial assets such as Elizabeth Whelan providing helpful disinformation, at least PCBs will one day break down into harmless compounds. With genetically engineered (GE) organisms, however, it may not be possible to stick that genie back into the bottle. There are already cases where GE organisms are inadvertently killing butterflies and other insects. Europe has risen up against the “Frankenfoods” America is producing, and accordingly, American agribusiness, through neocolonial institutions such as the WTO, are inflicting punishment onto Europe for daring oppose the introduction of GE products. An internal memo leaked from an agribusiness company that presented their strategy. The plan was to flood the world with GE organisms, and as the contamination becomes universal, anti-GE advocates will throw up their hands and surrender. A leaked Monsanto memo showed its global strategy for rigging GE regulation throughout the world. While most Americans sleep through the process, there is a fierce battle happening across the world, as nations resist the introduction of GE foods.
There are horrifying aspects of the current GE craze in agribusiness, but the scariest GE aspect is biological warfare experimentation in the U.S. military establishment, generally with zero oversight from any governing bodies. The U.S. military has long used genetic engineering in its biological warfare research. The “Captain Trips” of Stephen King’s The Stand is closer to becoming reality each day. Calling it genetic “engineering” is a misnomer, as scientists barely understand what they are doing, injecting DNA from a fish into a tomato, and seeing what happens. They are playing with forces they do not respect or understand. Toying with life’s building blocks that way, especially when their understanding of life is so degenerate, may unleash a Captain-Trips-like disease that kills off most of humanity, and inadvertently. There is plenty of suppressed and ignored evidence that today’s orthodox understanding of disease is flawed, and that catastrophic epidemics may be more the result of misery and despair than biological mechanisms. With all the misery being inflicted onto humanity today, with the United States leading the way, a major global epidemic, perhaps something like airborne AIDS, could well sweep humanity, and soon.
The “Green Revolution,” which dramatically increased crop yields for a generation, has been hitting the wall of diminishing returns for years, and at great cost; artificial fertilizers, pesticides and other practices are poisoning the environment at unprecedented levels, and water tables are plunging across the world from irrigation over-pumping. Asia, with the world’s largest population, is rapidly running out of arable land, partly due to its rapid industrialization, as it plays catch-up with the West. Already, China and India are quickly becoming dependent on grain imports from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Argentina. Japan became grain dependent long ago. The current global warming trend threatens to create crop failures even more devastating than has been seen in Africa and Asia during the past generation. Exploding human populations, combined with fast-disappearing croplands and forests, combined with global warming and air pollution disasters that have been happening in Asia and Indonesia the past few years, may well conflate into a famine of a magnitude the world has not seen before. If China and India begin starving, it will not happen quietly, and could trigger a global war.
The food industry began rapidly consolidating during the merger and globalization mania of the 1990s, and global food monopolies are on their way to becoming a reality. I doubted it was possible fifteen years ago, but have since revised my thinking. Combine that trend with the disinformation about nutrition that industrial hired guns such as Steve Milloy and Elizabeth Whelan have been disseminating, and the coming storm clouds are ominous. The food racket is nearly here.