Press Release

Open Markets Serving Up Anti-Monopoly for Dinner

Washington, D.C. — In the wake of last week’s Heartland Forum with five presidential candidates, the Open Markets Institute published a major policy brief, ‘Food and Power: Addressing Monopolization in America’s Food System’, framing the national conversation surrounding the problems facing rural America and the discussion by Democratic leaders at the forum regarding proposed solutions including reining in major corporate monopolies.

This comes at a time when the Trump administration plans to allow the pork industry to regulate its own food safety standards, signaling the government’s move to shift more power to agribusiness. In recent weeks, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have all come out calling for stronger anti-monopoly enforcement. During the forum, Warren and Klobuchar both called for the break-up of big agribusiness monopolies harming rural communities.

As the concentration of private power has grown unchecked for nearly four decades, now is the time for policymakers to address monopolistic corporations and their consequences. One place to start is the farm economy, where massive agribusiness corporations are squeezing farmers to the brink of a farm price crisis not seen since the 1980s.

To start reining in this corporate power, Open Markets’ calls for breaking up big agribusiness corporations, reinvigorating the Packers & Stockyards Act, cracking down on anti-competitive practices in food retailing, and increasing food chain workers’ protections, among other policies. Open Markets new policy brief has been cited in POLITICO Morning Agriculture and Axios.

The brief is excerpted below and can be read in full here.

The American food supply chain—from the seeds farmers plant to the peanut butter in our neighborhood grocery stores—has become concentrated in the hands of a shrinking number of giant multinational corporations.

This concentrated power has many negative consequences, particularly for farmers, farm workers, and for rural communities that depend on agriculture to drive their economies… Nearly one in five rural counties depend on agriculture as their primary income source. In Iowa, up to about 30 percent of the state’s economy is tied directly to agriculture and related industries… It’s important to remember that regional levels of concentration are often much more severe than national figures suggest.

[…] In many rural communities, large meat processing plants are one of the only employers and exert this power to suppress unionization, lower or even steal wages, and force employees to work faster in unsafe environments. The Food Chain Workers Alliance reports that 65 percent of meatpacking and food processing workers have been injured on the job.

[…] Milk producers historically organized into co-ops to counterbalance concentrated power among buyers, but today, the largest co-ops, such as Dairy Farmers of America and Land O’ Lakes, prey off of small-scale producers they’re supposed to protect and strike arrangements with massive milk processors, like Dean Foods, that result in additional wealth transfers from farmers to their own executives.

[…] The largest vehicle for agricultural policy at the federal level is the Farm Bill, which is re-negotiated every four to five years. The most recent Farm Bill, which received significant support from both parties and passed into law in December 2018, maintained the status quo… The Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission also have extensive authority to structure and police agriculture and food markets, but have been almost entirely derelict in recent decades—siding repeatedly with Big Agribusinesses and clearing hundreds of mergers throughout the industry, including mergers between some of the world’s largest corporations. Restoring competitive markets in agriculture will require Congress and executive agencies to undo decades of bad policy.

Press Contact: Stella Roque at Open Markets Institute, [email protected]