by Marion Nestle
Feb 28 2012

Occupy Your Food Supply

Yesterday was Occupy Your Food Supply Day, the latest food-related manifestation of the Occupy movement.  The day was organized by the Rainforest Action Network, which considers it a resounding success.

 The day included more than 100 events across the globe, united an unprecedented alliance of more than 60 Occupy groups and 30 environmental, food and corporate accountability organizations, and featured prominent voices including Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, music legend Willie Nelson, actor Woody Harrelson, authors Raj Patel, Anna Lappe, Gary Paul Nabhan, author Michael Ableman and Marion Nestle, among others.

It was a teaching day for me and I wasn’t able to do much except lend some moral support:

Marion Nestle, professor and author of What to Eat and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health: “While the food industry digs in to fight public health regulations, the food movement will continue to attract support from those willing to promote a healthier and more sustainable food system. Watch for more young people going into farming and more farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, school meal initiatives, and grassroots community efforts to implement food programs and legislate local reforms. There is plenty of hope for the future in local efforts to improve school meals, reduce childhood obesity, and make healthier food more available and affordable for all.”

The day was designed to highlight some of the least democratic aspects of our current food system:

Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical US grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than ninety percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.

The overwhelming support for Occupy our Food Supply underscores the unity between farmers, parents, health care professionals, human rights activists, food justice advocates and food lovers around the world who are increasingly viewing their concerns as different manifestations of the same underlying problem: a food system structured for short term profit instead of the long term health of people and the planet.

What to do about all this?  Get to work on the farm bill, for starters.

  • I agree. It is unacceptable that so few are in charge of the food sources, and hence the health of so many.

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  • NYFarmer

    I wish the Occupy Food movement had been around in the spring of 2010 when the Obama Administration held hearings about antitrust concerns in agriculture. These hearings followed on the heels of the Great Milk Price Crash of 2009 that left a trail of broken farmers and even suicides in Upstate NY.
    Some of us farmers phoned various NY food groups and asked if they could say something about the tremendous concentration in Northeast dairy processing and retail at the hearings. All declined, except for one environmental group whose attorney drafted a letter of concern as to industry concentration and impact on NY prices and thus upon the NY countryside. Mostly the NYC food groups we contacted said that their focus is on CSA’s or organic farming and that commodity dairy farmers were not their cup of tea. However, concerned NYC friends with internet technical know-how drove several hours from NYC to Batavia, NY to set up live twitter feeds for us as well as a website. You can read about the dairy antitrust hearings at Farmgate milk sales in NY are $2 Billion dollars that flow into the rural dairy towns of NY. Minor fluctuations in milk prices have a big impact on the working countryside of this state.
    Dairy farmers went to the hearings alone. The Obama administration since forgot about the hearings, Christine Varney who chaired the NY hearing on behalf of the Obama administration has moved on to another position. We just never heard from them again after the photo ops.
    Dairy coop leaders testified at the hearings that super chain stores have tremendous power to push down prices of milk and other dairy products. It was noted that 25% of US retail food purchases go through Walmart. Even the most powerful dairy coops are “not much” in comparison to global chain stores.
    The Occupy Food movement towards helping farmers stands in stark contrast to the late 1990’s when NYC consumer groups organized to break NY dairy farmer collective bargaining in the form of the Northeast Dairy Compact. Perhaps things really are changing!

  • Steve

    I’m not disputing it, but what is the source that one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart? It’s shocking if true, and if my mother is any indication it may well be. Just curious as someone who is a foodie and a small farmer to boot!

  • Ewan R

    More than ninety percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto.

    This isn’t true – the percentages pertain (approximately) to the amount of each crop that contains GM traits owned by Monsanto – the seeds are sold by a more diverse range of companies (perhaps not as diverse as people might like, but far more diverse than this piece dishonestly suggests) – traits are licensed broadly, Pioneer sells probably as many (if not slightly more, I forget how the market share falls out in the last couple years – Pioneer were the leader for both Soy and Corn if I am not mistaken (I often am) until very recently) corn and soy seeds as Monsanto, and then you also have Syngenta in the mix aswell as smaller seed companies (some still exist)

    There is a world of difference between the %age of seeds which contain a Monsanto trait, and the %age of seeds which are sold directly by Monsanto (this would be rather like suggesting that 95% of all cars were sold by the guy who invented the variable speed windshield wiper, because 95% of all cars contain said piece of technology (figures pulled utterly out of the air)

    One wonders, if you’re willing to fudge the facts so badly on such an easily understood and easily researched piece of the puzzle – where else is the movement blatantly making stuff up? (given the involvement of Shiva it would be surprising if one claim in five has any basis in reality – which is rather sad as the occupy movement as a whole only stands to be harmed by the parasitic attachement of various other interest groups whose message will dilute the main thrust of the movement)
    Full disclosure – I’m a Monsanto employee, the views expressed above are entirely my own and not those of the company.