The MN Ag Mercenaries Count More FDA Cash; Illusion of Food Choice
Alvin Schlangen began his first day in court by rejecting a settlement offer from the prosecutor and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that would have had him pleading guilty to one misdemeanor, paying $200 court costs, and possibly going to jail. He has previously expressed his commitment to go through with a trial, and prove his innocence of state charges of illegally selling raw milk and other foods.
Much of Monday was spent selecting a jury, and near the end of the day, the state presented its first witnesses. (A more complete report will follow shortly.)
In the meantime, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture came into court fresh from a big grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration--part of its reward for going after farmers like Schlangen so aggressively.
State agriculture and public health departments that play ball with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do so, in significant measure, to earn money from the feds.
Minnesota, which has been about as loyal an ally as the FDA could ask for in its national assault on private food arrangements, proved that yet again by earning a $600,000 "food safety" grant, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, announced late last week.
That is on top of a $1 million "rapid response grant" the MDA received from the FDA nearly a year ago.
And these are just the payoffs we know about. Many so-called cooperative arrangements between the FDA and state ag and public health agencies aren't even announced.
The MDA and FDA didn't say it, but they don't need to--the money is for a job well done in ongoing harassment and theft of food from farmers like Alvin Schlangen and Michael Hartmann, and for intimidating as many as ten Minneapolis-area consumers with threats of criminal action in connection with acting as dropoff points for Hartmann.
One of the scenes that stayed with me from the 2008 foodie movie, "Fresh", was of a farm couple explaining how they raise chickens according to a large corporation's production practices.
The couple looked to be in late middle age, and very tense. That was because, as became clear from the interview, they have almost no control over how they do their work. The corporate producer told them where to get the chicks, what to feed them, how to house them, and when to slaughter them. And, oh yes, the price they received for the chickens was pre-determined as well.
Also clear was that this couple wasn't really farming. They were subcontractors in a long supply line that led eventually to supermarket shelves. They had no control either over what they paid for their raw materials or on the prices they were paid for the final product.
Far from being an anomaly, this chicken-raising couple is now the norm in America. Ever more chicken production...as well as pork, cattle, and milk production, are controlled by ever-fewer large corporations. According to two university researchers, five companies account for almost half of supermarket food sales in the United States.
"And what about the food those companies offer us?," ask the researchers, Donald Stull of the University of Kansas and Michael Broadway of Northern Michigan University. "Let’s take meat. A meal is not a proper meal without it, at least for 97 out of 100 Americans. Just four companies provide us with 79 percent of our beef, 65 percent of our pork, and 57 percent of our poultry.
"So, no matter what kind of meat we have for dinner, most likely it comes from the same handful of companies: Tyson, JBS, Cargill, Smithfield. You can never decide which bacon to bring home? Armour, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Smithfield – all owned by Smithfield."
Why does any of this matter? It matters because Big Ag isn't just a bunch of big companies, but rather a few big companies, better known, in economic terms, as an oligopoly. That is pretty close to a monopoly. You don't have one company controlling everything, like Standard Oil once controlled the oil business, but it might as well be, since oligopolies are notorious for collusion...with each other and with government regulators and politicians. Corruption is endemic.
And because oligopolies already control their particular markets, they don't have to worry about such niceties as marketing and competition. That means they don't have to worry about quality.
No, there is just one thing they worry about--maximizing their profits. The main way to do that in the food business is to continually lower the costs of production, and maximize the selling prices of the final products. Keep squeezing the subcontractors doing the production (still commonly referred to as "farmers"), and raise grocery store prices.
But, of course, to lower costs, you have to lower quality. Poorer quality feed, ever-more-crowded conditions for the animals, more hormones to speed up animal growth. In other words, more shortcuts...and more health problems for consumers.
There is just one fly in the ointment for these oligopolies. The rush by consumers to private food. They keep buying more, supporting farmers committed to supplying them. As I said, the oligopolies don't like to compete. So they keep the politicians lubricated with cash, who then get the enforcers, the agencies like the MDA and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), to do their dirty work for them.