New book explores the 'battle' over America's food industry - FOX Carolina 21

New book explores 'battle' in America's food and farming industry

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(Source: foodandwaterwatch.org) (Source: foodandwaterwatch.org)
(Source: foodandwaterwatch.org) (Source: foodandwaterwatch.org)
(Source: foodandwaterwatch.org) (Source: foodandwaterwatch.org)

(RNN) - Most conversations about food don't take the form of a political discussion. But with fewer companies in charge of the food we eat, rising costs, and chemicals and additives that only trained scientists can recognize, the word "crisis" is being used more and more to describe the state of the American food industry.

Wenonah Hauter, the author or Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, aims to give readers insight into why she believes this is a critical time for the nation and its food supply. She explains how anti-trust laws put more power in fewer hands and spawned mega food producers and how farming and water subsidies created a form of corporate welfare that millions of people pay into but don't get anything back.

We spoke to Hauter to ask about some of the topics her book explores.

Food is something that affects everybody in the U.S., no matter who they are. Why do you think food politics is not talked about as often as some other "hot-button" political issues?

I think that most people don't realize the impact that public policy is having on the food that they eat. They don't realize that there are 20 large food processing companies that control most of the brands in the grocery store and that these companies wield a lot of power that they dictate the policies around what chemicals people are exposed to, how their food is produced, and the price.

When a consumer goes into the grocery store, it looks like there are thousands of brands. But there are really just a handful of companies that own most of those brands. And then we also have four large grocery chains, with Walmart at the top, that control the retail sales of food. And since these companies have so much political power, I think that it has disguised the importance of food policy and the impact these companies are having - on not just the price people are paying for food, but the health impacts as well.

Are people paying more or less for their food as a result of mass consolidation in the food industry?

We're told America has a cheap food supply. But when you look at the numbers, it turns out over the last 10 years, each year the price of food has increased by 3 percent. And we are told by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Americans spend about 9 percent of their disposable income on food.

But when you look at the details, what they consider disposable income is, they average everybody's salary or wealth of the U.S. and then they count pension benefits, food stamps, health benefits, women and children programs - things most of us don't consider disposable income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics - another federal agency - actually has a statistic that's much more informative. It says that the bottom 40 percent of Americans spend over 36 percent of their income on food. So yes, there are some cheap food items people can buy - mostly just junk food - but to get a really decent diet, it does take a substantial amount of many Americans' income.

In your book, you point out that four companies control 66 percent of all pork, 58 percent of boiler chickens, and 80 percent of all beef. Why is this a negative thing and what should people know when they purchase factory-farmed meat?

First of all, they should know how these animals are being raised in these confined feeding operations because the animals are being raised in such tight quarters. For instance, poultry in a giant warehouse, 300,000 to 400,000 chickens have less than a square foot of space to turn around and are living in one another's feces. These animals are vulnerable to disease, so they are fed antibiotics. This is spurring antibiotic resistance and we're basically wasting important properties of antibiotics to feed them to these factory-farmed animals. And people should be concerned about that.

Also, they should be concerned with how these animals are being processed once they reach the slaughter facilities. To be profitable, these companies have raised the speed of which animals are slaughtered. And in the poultry industry, they are actually trying to make it legal to slaughter chickens at 200 birds per minute. Yes, that's per minute, if you can imagine the lightning speed slaughtering birds that quickly. That means the fecal matter splashes on the carcass. And because the USDA meat inspectors can't really see what's going on because the carcass is moved so quickly, the companies are using chemical washes, things like trisodium phosphate and chlorine to kill the bacteria.

You know, I don't think most Americans want to eat fecal matter, even if the bacteria is rendered harmless and I think most Americans would be shocked to know how the animals that they eat are being raised and processed.

Your book also talks about how food industry giants influence government policy to allow for more deregulation. How did this come about?

Well, what happened is, over the last three or four decades, the laws that prevented companies from merging and acquiring one another were erased, anti-trust cops were taken off the beat, and that has allowed companies to get so large and to have so much political and economic power that they're basically buying public policy.

A good example is the merger that's going on in the beer industry right now. Most people don't know that the beer industry has become increasingly consolidated and we basically have two companies that are foreign-owned that sell most of the beer in the United States. Only 6 percent of breweries are craft or independent breweries. And now there's a merger that the Department of Justice is looking at that will mean the favorite beverage brands from Budweiser and Beck's to Stella and Michelob will basically be controlled by one company. And with these companies having a price war, it means the price of beer will go way up.

So these are the things that matter when companies get bigger and when the companies actually drive public policy. You know, we hear a lot in our country about our economic system being based on competition, but these companies are using their political power to stop competition and I don't think that's the American way.

What are some things people can do to improve the food industry?

Our nation has a really long history of social movements coming together to bring change. And I think the time has come for people to not only vote with their forks, but to vote with their vote and to hold the politicians accountable. And that means we have to politicize food activists to actually engage in changing the federal policies that have resulted in this dysfunctional food system. And you know, I'm given a lot of hope by the activism that I see all over the country because we need to organize across the country. So much focus has been put on the east coast and west coast where people are more engaged in these issues. It's time for us to really do a lot of work in other parts of the country, in the south and in the Midwest. In fact, we need to organize in every congressional district in this country. And the way to politicize people is to engage them in the issues that affect their own lives. And then people are drawn into the bigger issues, the bigger policy issues at a state or federal level.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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