An “Eaters’ Bill of Rights” – Debating the Corporate Social Responsibility of Our Food Providers
By Donald Stull and Michael Broadway for CSRwire
Your supermarket is a cornucopia, overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world, no matter the season; counters full of meats, poultry, and fish; aisles stacked high with boxes and bags, cans and cartons of every kind of cereal, drink, dessert, and snack a body could want.
The typical American grocery store is stocked with 50,000 items, more than triple what it was 30 years ago. In 2010 alone, more than 15,000 new foods and beverages came to market in the U.S.
But such is the competition for our food dollar that many of these new products will fail. So much to choose from, no wonder we usually come home with stuff that wasn’t on our shopping list.
But how much choice do we really have?
Just five companies account for almost half of supermarket food sales in the United States. And what about the food those companies offer us? Let’s take meat. A meal is not a proper meal without it, at least for 97 out of 100 Americans.
Just four companies provide us with 79 percent of our beef, 65 percent of our pork, and 57 percent of our poultry.
So, no matter what kind of meat we have for dinner, most likely it comes from the same handful of companies: Tyson, JBS, Cargill, Smithfield. You can never decide which bacon to bring home? Armour, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Smithfield – all owned by Smithfield.
Okay, so market power is consolidated in the hands of a few multinational corporations. What does this mean for the food we eat and the people who produce it?
Market Consolidation Erodes Control
Control of our food supply has been wrenched from independent farmers and ranchers in the corporate boardrooms of agribusiness giants. Since 1980, four out of 10 farmers who raise cattle and nine out of 10 who raise hogs have gone out of business. Under this Darwinian survival of the fittest model, control of most production is now in the hands of large corporations.
But farmers still raise cows, and pigs, and chickens, don’t they? Well, yes they do, but most of them don’t really own the animals they raise.
What does that mean for the workers? And the multinationals who control our food supply — and therefore, are responsible for food safety and security? And, mostly importantly, do we want a food system built on the illusion of variety, abundance, and choice, while systematically monopolizing and exploiting both those who provide its raw products and those who purchase the foods made from them?
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