Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Agribusiness

Beauty pagaent contestants frequently respond, when asked what they dream of, "I want to feed all the little children of the world." More likely, they dream of a modeling contract, followed by a movie career.

Monsanto also proclaims its desire to feed all the little children of the world. More likely they just want increased profits on its way to controlling all the genetic plant material of the world.

A governments main concern should be the welfare of its people, and the protection of basic needs should be number one. Food is one of the most basic needs, along with air and water. In the last 30 years, our government has turned from protecting our ability to feed ourselves, and has also attacked the ability of people around the world to feed themselves. Although there are 4600 calories of food per person, per day, produced now in the world, a billion people go hungry. Obviously, Monsanto is not the solution, since the problem is not food production, it's food distribution.

Even before fossil-fueled agriculture, farmers grew more food than was needed to feed the people. Michael Pollan points out that excess corn grown in the 19th century was turned into whiskey, leading to very high rates of alcoholism in early America.

In the previous Great Depression, farmers produced more food than they could sell, while people went hungry. The government stepped in with a price support program, including paying farmers not to grow crops on marginal or environmentally sensitive lands. Food prices were kept high enough so that farmers were not driven bankrupt, while any excess was stored for future needs.

Farm policy changed when Nixon was president. Earl Butz, his Secretary of Agriculture, encouraged farmers to grow as much as possible, telling them to plant hedgerow to hedgerow. The new policy gave payments to farmers based on how much they grew. The more they grew, the more they were paid. Earl Butz also told them to get big, or get out. The new policy, coupled with Paul Volcker's high interest rates in the 80s, led to hundred of thousands of farmers losing their land, Farm Aid concerts notwithstanding. Farmer suicides soared, and there were occasional murders, although the phrase "going farmer" never caught on the way "going postal" did.

Now, less than 1% of Americans are farmers. 75% of the billions of dollars of farm subsidies go to the top 10%, including "farmers" in New York and San Francisco, who own the land in the Heartland that actual farmers farm. People like David Letterman, David Rockefeller, Scottie Pippen, Charles Schwab and the Walton heirs all receive farm subsidy checks.

What does overproduction of food mean? What effects does it have upon America and the world when 6,000 daily calories of corn for every American is produced?

The effect on the environment of the 40% of the world's corn grown in the US starts with massive amounts of herbicide dumped on the Monsanto Liberty-linked and Round-up Ready corn. Coupled with the fertilizer which leaks into the underground water and rivers of America, this already created a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, south of where the Mississippi River flows, before the BP/Halliburton oil spill.

Americans can't possibly eat 6,000 calories of corn a day, so most is fed to animals, who are kept in cramped and horrendous conditions in CAFOs, which is animal abuse on a massive scale. The waste the packed together animals produce, which should be a source of fertility for the land, becomes an air and water pollutant, instead. Not only do the animals lead a miserable life, so do the humans who live near the concentrated confinement camps. Nine billion animals are killed yearly for food in the US, so that a people who used to think chicken every Sunday was high living now eat dead animals for every meal, usually deep fried in corn oil. High frutose corn syrup is added to almost all processed foods, and to the sodas which have gone from 8 oz. to 20 oz. over the past decades.

The result? Obesity rates in the US have skyrocketed, along with the rate of diabetes. 75% of Americans are now considered either overweight or obese. It is interesting to see that farm subsidies are never mentioned as the source of the 500% increase in obesity since 1975. As with the skyrocketing unemployment rates, individual Americans are blamed. Just as no one ever asks why 20 million unemployed Americans became "lazy" in the last 10 years, when globalization increased the numbers of factories moved out of the country, no one ever asks why so many Americans lost their willpower when the farm subsidies started. Instead, they are sternly lectured on healthy food choices.

Americans don't eat all of the surplus, of course. The rest of the overproduction is burned in cars or shipped overseas.

The effect of NAFTA on Mexico is instructive. In 1995, one year after NAFTA, Mexico imported 30,000 tons of pork, rising 25 times, to 811,000 tons by 2010. That means that 4,000 Mexican pig farms went out of business. Corn imports rose from 2 million tons to over 10 million tons.

The rate of poverty in Mexico rose from 35% to 50%, and millions of Mexicans were pushed off the land. Many went to live in the slums of Mexico City, but millions came to the US, where they went to work on our farms and slaughterhouses. In 1990 there were 4.5 million Mexican born people living in the US. By 2008, there were 12.68 million. Their increased numbers are used to divide the working class of the US, and to increase support for decreased freedom of movement for us, along with calls for Big Brother-like biometric IDs for all, to be handed over on demand to the new Homeland Security employees.

Our slaughterhouses became more cruel, as the nine billion animals to be killed were brought to fewer slaugherhouses, and the assembly killing lines sped up. Workers were injured by the speed-up and tales of animals not yet dead being boiled or skinned alive spread.

The story is the same across the globe, as US economic and military might is used to force countries to open up to US farm products and Monsanto seed. Monsanto now supplies 25% of the world's seed, and they are using all their power to prevent peasants from doing what peasants have done for 10,000 years, save seed for next year's planting.

When the US invaded Iraq, the cradle of civilization, the birthplace of agriculture, one of the edicts forced upon that country was that Monsanto was turned loose to sell seed yearly to the farmers.

It is estimated that in India, every 8 hours a farmer commits suicide, frequently by drinking a bottle of Roundup, the Monsanto product that drives farmers into bankruptcy and despair.

In South Korea,opening Korean markets to cheap foreign imports devastated Korean farmers. Since the 1995 Agreement on Agriculture, Korean farmer debt grew four-fold to approximately $30,000, forcing millions off their land and into poverty. In 1970, farmers made up 44.7 percent of the Korean population. By 1995, only 11.6 percent were farmers. It was a South Korean farmer who killed himself in 2003 at the Cancun meeting of the WTO.

Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production 30 years ago, and now relies on cheaper imports, resulting in the same story: peasants forced from the land and into the cities, where they provide a cheap labor force for US multinational corporations.

The Earth now has 7 billion people crawling over its surface, with, for the first time, more than half of them living in cities, instead of the country.

Are these former farmers drawn to the big cities for a chance to live out their dreams of living in a loft and exploring their artistic sensiblities? No. What are called "mega-cities" are actually enormous open-air slums, with people crowded into shacks built from scraps in cities such as Mexico City, Lagos and Jahkarta.

The story is similar all over the world. The last 30 years of neo-liberalism, gone into high gear after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the New World Order proclaimed by the first Bush, which was the triumph of imperialistic capitalism, with the WTO and GATT agreements turning sovereign governments into signing agents for multinational corporations to take over economies.


As much of the remaining undeveloped world,( which is code for the last of our remaining original planetary ecosystem), is razed and turned over to plantations and farms using genetically modified organisms, we humans, who evolved in the Holocene era, with its mild climate and diverse biosystems, are facing disaster.

Monsanto is the poster child of evil corporations, with its drive to monopolize the genetic material of all food plants on Earth, and its salesmen, lawyers and goons making life miserable for so many farmers around the world. But it's not the only one.

Either we break the control of the corporations over our lives, and the lives of all other species on our planet, or we, and they, perish.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The turning of crops into whiskey especially in remote areas was a way to increase value while diminishing volume of hard to transport commodities (Whiskey Rebellion is interesting history)...alcoholism didn't diminish during prohibition. I heard a thing on NPR Fresh Air about how the govn't poisoned some component used in alcohol production - that was why so many people died during prohibition.

Small point.

Subsidies keep prices so low that third world countries find it impossible to compete in agriculture.

wagelaborer said...

I hadn't heard that about the poisoning. Interesting.

Yes, US grain prices are kept low, so that small farmers in other countries are driven off the land.

We shouldn't be competing in agriculture. It is essential that every country be able to feed its people, and not be dependent on long shipments of food, easily subject to disruption.

Actually, local food production is essential.

david g said...

What an incredible article, wagelaborer! It is a savage indictment of not only Monsanto but the human race in general and the U.S. in particular. When it's not killing people via starvation and control of seed, it uses drones, cluster bombs and depleted uranium.

Yet where is the world outcry? Why aren't the nations of the world uniting against the U.S.? Some are, but the rich ones are on the take!

The world is disgusting. It's ready for rebellion.

wagelaborer said...

David, I don't know why the world is so afraid of criticizing the US. I'm guessing it has something to do with money.

However, the US's main partner-in-crime, Europe, refuses to allow GMOs. Or, at least, they did.

I think that other countries are working on decreasing US dominance. We'll see if it makes the world a better place.

Anonymous said...

Wagelabourer,

The information in your latest script contains a lot of truly terrifying statements. I, like you, tend to believe there are no limits to the bestial behaviour that homo sapiens is capable of but I would like to ask you how you verify the veracity of your assertions. It is true a lot of the historical outcomes you mention are self evident but how do you actually check them ?

I would really like to know.

Whether you bother answering me or not I remain an ardent admirer of you and your words. Such a refreshing change from the usual american "tripe".

Hard and depressing as current events may seem, may your chin stay firmly up.

p.s. I heard your wonderful president on the radio this morning confirming the use of "drone" aeroplanes to bomb Afganistan. It was comforting to hear how these courageous weapons only kills Al- Qaeda members and that no civilians were hurt. Bloody clever these warmongers.

Your respectfully, Peter Banks

wagelaborer said...

Hi, Peter. I used to rely on books for my info, but now I've added the Google!

There is a lot of information out there, and I have an interest in the effect that corporations are having on our planet.

Too Big said...

Capitalism's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Self interest drives our economy better than any other system attempted, but self interest is also the driving force behind corruption.

There are other problems as well:

Everyone demands the right to reproduce as often as they please with no consideration for how their own children will be supported. This is one of those third rails of politics that no one will touch.