Would you like to see a food system where family farmers, food system workers, local communities and consumers have more power?
Then we need to stop Big Ag corporations from getting even bigger.
The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019, introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep.Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), would protect family farmers who are at the mercy of the food and agriculture giants who have the power to raise their costs and cut their pay.
Why do we need a moratorium on mergers in the food and agriculture sector?
Let’s look at a recently proposed merger in the struggling dairy industry as one example of what happens when the Big Guys swallow up the Little Guys.
The Big Guy in this case is the nation’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). The Little Guy is St. Albans Co-Op Creamery in Vermont, a state where organic integrity, family farms and clean water are already in peril and stand to get even worse under a merger with DFA.
Organic integrity: The difference between conventional and organic dairy is clear. But as the Cornucopia Institute has revealed, there are also big differences in the quality of organic dairy brands. The Cornucopia Institute provides an organic dairy scorecard that rates organic dairy brands on a 0 to 5 cow scale. The scale compares “organic” factory farms that violate rules requiring cows to graze on pasture and that regularly add non-organic cows to their herds, with farms that strictly adhere to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for certified organic dairies. Dairy Farmers of America and St. Albans are on opposite ends of the organic integrity spectrum, based on the brands they supply: DFA supplies the Kemps brand, which gets a 0-cow rating from Cornucopia. St. Albans supplies Organic Valley, which gets a 4-cow rating.
Family farms: In theory, cooperatives like St. Albans and DFA exist to sell their farmers’ produce at a return which will provide them a decent living. In practice, many farmers find that they have no choice but to join the cooperative that dominates their region, and which forces them to sell their product at a loss. DFA has been repeatedly—and successfully—sued by its farmer members for this kind of anticompetitive behavior and price fixing. As a co-op member of DFA, St. Albans was technically on the plaintiffs’ side in these lawsuits, but the Vermont co-op had its own poor track record when it comes to anticompetitive behavior. Allowing the two companies to merge into one, will only concentrate more power in the hands of the co-ops—and less money in the hands of dairy farmers.
Clean water: Dairy Farmers of America is a mega-polluter. According to a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and GRAIN, DFA is the fourth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the meat and dairy industry, when the company’s livestock feed and agrochemicals operations are included. (The five largest meat and dairy corporations combined—JBS, Tyson, Cargill, DFA and Fonterra—are responsible for more annual greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell or BP). The manure produced by DFA’s dairies is part of its greenhouse gas emissions, but even more immediately it’s a cause of water and air pollution. That’s why DFA has strategically located its recent projects in states like Nevada, which are not known for dairy, but are known for what the co-op noted as “agriculture-friendly regulations.” But, even progressive Vermont has found it difficult (or not politically expedient) to rein in dairy pollution. The DFA-St. Albans merger would just make matters worse. make things worse. iI farmers can’t get fair prices from the new, super-sized co-op, they’ll be forced to sell out to larger farms, or get larger themselves, in an effort to create economies of scale to produce more milk at lower costs. This predictable consolidation will create larger farms that are more concentrated, with less pasture and greater numbers of cows in feedlots, eating less grass and more grain. The load of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and manure going into Vermont’s waterways will increase along with farm sizes.
The St. Albans-DFA merger would make all of these problems much worse. As Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance told FERN reporter Leah Douglas, he sees “nothing good” coming from the St. Albans-DFA merger.
The proposed merger is just one example of the problems with consolidation in food and agriculture. There are dozens of major mergers with equal or greater impact, including Monsanto & Bayer, Dow & Dupont, Whitewave & Danone, and Iowa Premium & National Beef Packing Company.