World Power Food Inc.
ERIC SCHLOSSER, AUTHOR AND FOOD EXPERT
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.
HOW BIG IS THE BIGGEST COUNTRY ON EARTH?
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
THE GRAIN INDUSTRY
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…
WHERE IS CHEMICAL WARFARE A MOMENTOUS THREAT?
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.
WILL A FEE BRING RAINWATER?
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.”
WHO CONTROLS WHAT I EAT— AND HOW MUCH?
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.
SCARCE WATER Only 0.3% of the Earth’s freshwater reserves are readily available to people— agriculture consumes around 70%.
HUNGRY FOR BUSINESS If the World Power Food Inc. were an independent nation, its GDP would be around $7 trillion— only the U.S. and China could keep up. GIGANTIC LAND GRAB In the last 15 years Food Inc. has managed to bring about 850,000 square miles of a
Other companies 25% 75% Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus