World Power Food Inc.


iD magazine - - Contents -

Who con­trols who eats what and how much they get?

Just a hand­ful of cor­po­ra­tions dom­i­nate food pro­duc­tion world­wide. They be­have like a sin­gle global na­tion, es­tab­lished across a vast ter­ri­tory, with its own armed forces and more than a bil­lion cit­i­zens. Th­ese cor­po­ra­tions are now de­ter­min­ing what we eat— and how we live…

They come to the vil­lage with no warn­ing—and they don’t ne­go­ti­ate. Within just a few min­utes around 700 sol­diers ut­terly de­stroy the Sun­gai Beru­ang vil­lage in the In­done­sian rain for­est. The in­hab­i­tants of the vil­lage are not able to de­fend them­selves against at­tack­ers equipped with ri­fles and bull­doz­ers: The troops leave about 100 peo­ple of the Suku Anak Dalam tribe home­less, il­le­gally driven off of the land on which they have lived for gen­er­a­tions. But the en­tity be­hind the at­tack is not an Is­lamist ter­ror cell nor a crime syn­di­cate car­ry­ing out a puni­tive ac­tion: The at­tack­ers have come from the ranks of pri­vate se­cu­rity forces and the so- called Mo­bile Brigade, one of the old­est and most elite spe­cial forces units of the In­done­sian po­lice force. Their mis­sion: to con­quer new ter­ri­tory. Their client: World Power Food Inc., the com­pa­nies that de­cide who gets to eat what and how much they get.


Un­for­tu­nately, what hap­pened in the vil­lage of Sun­gai Beru­ang only rep­re­sents the tip of the ice­berg: World Power Food Inc. has al­ready stretched out its arms to reach into the re­motest cor­ners of the planet. “We’ve never had food com­pa­nies this big and this pow­er­ful in our his­tory” points out Eric Schlosser, an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and food ex­pert who closely ex­am­ines the food in­dus­try. “The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the pre­vi­ous 10,000.”

It may sound un­be­liev­able but if Food Inc. were a coun­try, with its ap­prox­i­mately 1.5 bil­lion em­ploy­ees it would have more work­ers than China has in­hab­i­tants. This mega coun­try would be re­spon­si­ble for one-tenth of all goods and ser­vices world­wide, and its eco­nomic might would ex­ceed that of Ger­many and France com­bined. Also, it would be huge: nearly 19 mil­lion square miles, about five times the area of the U.S. World Power Food Inc. com­prises just a few com­pa­nies—only 10 of them con­trol 28% of the pro­duc­tion of food. What’s cru­cial, how­ever, is that in some coun­tries and sec­tors of the in­dus­try that per­cent­age is much higher. For ex­am­ple, just four com­pa­nies share 99% of the trade in broiler chick­ens. And just a sin­gle com­pany con­trols over 90% of the pow­dered milk pro­duc­tion in Brazil. “Only a hand­ful of com­pa­nies can de­ter­mine the se­lec­tion, con­di­tions


Only four cor­po­ra­tions con­trol the world­wide trade in grains and oilseeds. Hardly any­one is fa­mil­iar with their names or widely branched cor­po­rate struc­tures. It’s par­tic­u­larly those com­pa­nies that are not listed on the stock ex­change that of­ten lack the nec­es­sary trans­parency. of de­liv­ery, and of­fer­ings in the big su­per­mar­kets,” says Chris Jochnick of Ox­fam Amer­ica, an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to fight­ing poverty and in­jus­tice. And to con­tinue to grow, the com­pa­nies must ac­quire ever more agri­cul­tural land and larger ter­ri­to­ries—by force, if nec­es­sary…

But un­like the sit­u­a­tion in Syria or Iraq, wars over new ter­ri­tory waged by World Power Food Inc. will rarely make the head­lines. That’s be­cause the mem­bers of its armies do not usu­ally wear any na­tional col­ors on their uni­forms, but are in­stead hired or pur­chased: The pri­vate mil­i­tary com­pa­nies cur­rently gen­er­ate about $ 200 bil­lion in rev­enue ev­ery year and so rank as one of the world’s fastest-grow­ing in­dus­tries. Some of the es­ti­mated 5 mil­lion mer­ce­nary sol­diers world­wide carry out Food Inc.’s dirty work. They cap­ture new ter­ri­to­ries, such as in In­done­sia— though ac­cord­ing to In­done­sian law the for­est be­longs to the in­dige­nous in­hab­i­tants, with­out whose con­sent noth­ing is al­lowed to hap­pen there. Tech­ni­cally…

In North Amer­ica and Europe we only no­tice some of this ex­pan­sion be­cause it hap­pens pre­dom­i­nantly in Asia, Africa, and South Amer­ica:

“We’ve never had food com­pa­nies this big and this pow­er­ful in our his­tory.”

Al­most all of the more than 900 “big land grabs” recorded since the year 2000—when 500 acres of land or more changes hands at one time— have oc­curred in 32 coun­tries that are the most cli­mac­ti­cally fa­vor­able and usu­ally lie close to the Equa­tor. If res­i­dents don’t vol­un­tar­ily ac­cept their new “cit­i­zen­ship,” then, as had hap­pened in In­done­sia, “clean-up crews” and slash-and-burn troops of­ten ap­pear to cre­ate com­pli­ance. In this land grab­bing no at­ten­tion is paid to small plots of turf; in­stead, the fo­cus is on im­mense tracts that tran­scend na­tional bound­aries—an ex­tremely frag­mented ter­ri­tory that is grow­ing daily.

The land seized since 2000 had the po­ten­tial to feed 1 bil­lion peo­ple, or one-sev­enth of the pop­u­la­tion of the planet. But there’s no ques­tion that two-thirds of the new own­ers in­tend to pro­duce food for ex­port only—even if the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion is re­liant on the food pro­duced there. That’s be­cause, in­stead of ver­sa­tile agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, the seized land is dom­i­nated by just one plant: the one that prom­ises the high­est pos­si­ble re­turns…


Be­low there is dense green, where peo­ple are work­ing. Up in the sky planes are cir­cling, dis­tribut­ing their deadly cargo in the form of very fine droplets. This isn’t a scene from the Viet­nam War; rather, it’s ev­ery­day life in the fields that are owned by World Power Food Inc., for ex­am­ple here at the Keri­cho tea plan­ta­tion in Kenya with its 50,000 work­ers.

Of­fi­cially the chem­i­cal war­fare waged with her­bi­cides, fungi­cides, and in­sec­ti­cides is con­ducted for pur­poses of pest con­trol, but in fact it also im­pacts the plan­ta­tion’s own work­ers who live on the premises along with their fam­i­lies: al­ler­gies, rashes, in­flam­ma­tion, and dis­eases of the lungs are com­mon, and ev­ery six months the work­ers are re­placed.

But af­ter the gov­ern­ment of Kenya the Bri­tish plan­ta­tion op­er­a­tor is the big­gest em­ployer in the East African coun­try, and the peo­ple there don’t have many al­ter­na­tives.


Ev­ery­one’s heard of Saudi Ara­bia, the oil su­per­power, but who’s aware of the world wa­ter power Nestlé? Wa­ter is nu­tri­tional sub­stance #1, and so we might take it for granted and rarely give a thought to what would hap­pen if it sud­denly stopped flow­ing from our faucets. How­ever in many re­gions of the world ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter is scarce—a prob­lem that’s al­ready ex­ac­er­bated by the ac­tiv­i­ties of Food Inc. Take Mex­ico, for ex­am­ple: Although the drilling of new wells is for­bid­den in the re­gion sur­round­ing the cap­i­tal city be­cause wa­ter is so scarce, Nestlé is per­mit­ted to ex­tract the ground­wa­ter and sell it by the bot­tle. In Pak­istan the com­pany ex­tracts the same vi­tal liq­uid from a deep well and sells it in plas­tic bot­tles at a price higher than the daily in­come of many Pak­ista­nis. Wa­ter has now be­come one of the most lu­cra­tive busi­nesses in the world: 238 bil­lion liters of it fly off the shelves each year, and one in nine of th­ese bears the Nestlé Wa­ters name. The Swiss food gi­ant with al­most 100 fac­to­ries and more than 30,000 em­ploy­ees is the largest bot­tler of wa­ter on Earth. In the Cana­dian town of Hope, a sub­sidiary com­pany ex­tracts about 265 mil­lion liters of ground­wa­ter per year and is only charged a small fee for be­ing the land owner: Around $ 2 is paid for ev­ery mil­lion liters—in the su­per­mar­ket a 1.5- liter bot­tle of Nestlé Pure Life costs around 60¢. For­mer UN ad­viser on wa­ter is­sues Maude Bar­low ex­presses it like this: “Nestlé is a preda­tor on the prowl for the last clean wa­ter on Earth.”

An­other ex­am­ple from the city of Cochabamba, Bo­livia, shows where this can lead: In the year 2000, a multi­na­tional con­sor­tium se­cured a mo­nop­oly on all of the avail­able wa­ter in the area and made the lo­cal res­i­dents pay a very high price for it. Col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter even be­came il­le­gal—only af­ter dra­matic protests and deadly ri­ots took place was the pri­va­ti­za­tion law re­scinded.

Maude Bar­low be­lieves con­flicts over wa­ter will just keep in­creas­ing: “The world only has a lim­ited sup­ply of fresh wa­ter: In to­tal, fresh wa­ter that’s read­ily ac­ces­si­ble to hu­mans makes up only about half a per­cent of all fresh­wa­ter re­sources on Earth. And the global wa­ter sup­ply is be­ing con­sumed, wasted, and pol­luted so fast that two-thirds of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will be af­fected by wa­ter short­ages in some way by 2025.”


Around the world about 4,000 cups of Nescafé are drunk each sec­ond. Ev­ery day the world pop­u­la­tion uses 1.7 bil­lion prod­ucts man­u­fac­tured by the Coca- Cola brand. Over the course of a life­time each Amer­i­can will have con­sumed al­most 50 tons of food, and each of the 123 mil­lion house­holds in the U.S. will fork over $ 300 to $1,000—or more—for food prod­ucts ev­ery month. The trade in the 4 bil­lion tons of food pro­duced an­nu­ally is a cri­sis-proof in­dus­try— but what does our food re­ally cost?

Andy Ge­orge set out to dis­cover just that, in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cost of a sin­gle sand­wich as an ex­per­i­ment: The Youtube per­son­al­ity pro­cured all of the in­gre­di­ents him­self, bak­ing the bread, mak­ing the cheese, and even ob­tain­ing salt from sea­wa­ter. In the end the cost of the sand­wich had sky­rock­eted to $1,500, and the en­deavor had taken six months— for a sin­gle meal. The ex­per­i­ment proves how elab­o­rate non-in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion is—so there’s no get­ting around the World Power Food Inc. And its in­flu­ence is only ex­pand­ing: To­day about 500 com­pa­nies con­trol 70% of the range of prod­ucts that are of­fered in a typ­i­cal su­per­mar­ket. The prob­lem: The cor­po­ra­tions are mainly fo­cused on max­i­mum profits and high profit mar­gins rather than on max­i­mum ben­e­fit. They de­cide what we eat—for in­stance, starch from potatoes of the Am­flora va­ri­ety, the first ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crop to re­ceive ap­proval in the EU in 1998. Ap­proval for Am­flora was even­tu­ally with­drawn, though just last year the EU ap­proved the use of 19 dif­fer­ent GM species of corn, soy­bean, clove, cot­ton, and rape­seed. Mean­while in the U.S., 2015 saw USDA ap­proval of In­nate potatoes, GM spuds that will re­sist bruis­ing and de­velop less car­cino­genic acryl­amide when fried.

Food Inc. also de­ter­mines how we eat: for ex­am­ple, by of­fer­ing up a wide range of eas­ily con­sum­able “con­ve­nience prod­ucts” in which the ex­pen­sive ( that is, nat­u­rally grown) in­gre­di­ents have been re­placed with chem­i­cally pro­duced ones. To make a liter of wa­ter taste like grape­fruit, not one trop­i­cal fruit is nec­es­sary— just 0.2 bil­lionths of a gram of fla­vor.

In ad­di­tion, the in­dus­try de­cides how much we eat: 1.9 bil­lion adults around the world are over­weight or chron­i­cally obese, while 800 mil­lion suf­fer from chronic hunger. This is not just due to lack of avail­able food, but es­pe­cially be­cause of lu­cra­tive al­ter­na­tives to pro­duc­tion of food: Around 2.7 bil­lion tons of grain were har­vested world­wide in 2014, more than ever be­fore. But just un­der half of this crop served as hu­man food, as around 55% was pro­cessed into an­i­mal feed, fu­els such as biodiesel, and raw ma­te­ri­als for in­dus­try.

Other com­pa­nies 25% 75% Cargill, Archer Daniels Mid­land, Bunge, Louis Drey­fus

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