Capitalist Food Production: A Leading Cause of Hunger, Illness, Ecocide, Exploitation and Imperialist Domination
[Originally appeared at Salty Eggs]
By Stephanie McMillan
Capitalism is a dysfunctional economic system that benefits a few while exploiting and neglecting the majority. But it’s not only that. It’s also a social relationship of domination, where a small class of capitalists exerts power over the whole society through the private ownership of the means of production. Under capitalism, the purpose of all commodity production (including food) is not to meet the needs of the people; but to make a profit. Food production has become a massive profit center, as well as a tool of domination, both domestically and globally.
Nearly all food production on the planet has been industrialized, and is controlled by giant monopolies. The largest include Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Kraft. Monsanto and DuPont control much of the world’s seeds and other farming inputs. ADM and Cargill control much of agriculture and animal feed. Dole is the world largest fruit company.
Monsanto vice president (and Bill Gates Foundation board member) Rob Horsch said “He who controls food, controls the world.”
When profit is more important than human needs, food production doesn’t contribute to our well-being or to our health, or to a sustainable future. Instead, it is twisted into a weapon against us, that causes hunger, illness, and ecological crisis, and facilitates domination.
First, capitalism starves people. Enough food is produced in the world to feed everyone. Yet 920 million people worldwide suffer from hunger, simply because it’s not profitable to feed them. Malnutrition is the key factor causing the deaths of 2.6 million children each year. In the US, 1 in 6 people don’t have adequate food; that’s 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.
Meanwhile Wall Street speculators caused an intense world food crisis from 2006-2008, driving up the price of wheat by 80%, corn by 90% and rice by 320%. After temporarily stabilizing, prices are again (in September 2012) nearly at the peak reached in April 2008.
In addition to causing hunger, capitalism also poisons people.
It makes eating unhealthy food very compelling, by making it more affordable than healthy food, and also through intense propaganda. In the US, the price of fresh produce has gone up by 40% in recent decades, while the price of processed food and soda (most of which contains government subsidized corn), decreased by 30%. There are five fast food restaurants for every supermarket. Fast food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009.
GMO foods, in particular, are extremely profitable. Worldwide, companies like Monsanto, Cargill and Dupont made $13.2 billion from GM seeds in 2011, plus another $160 billion from just three GM crops: corn, soy and cotton.
In the US, 93% of canola is genetically modified, as is 95% of soy, and 86% of the corn crop.
There is no reason for these poisonous foods to be produced except for big business interests to make money. Not only the food industry benefits; the many diseases caused by unhealthy food keep profits flowing to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries as well. The many illnesses suffered by the population are not a problem for capitalism.
Capitalist food production is also extremely ecologically destructive. 98% of the American prairie has been converted into annual monocrops. In the US, industrial agriculture causes the loss of three tons of topsoil per acre, per year. One season of planting wheat, corn or soy, can destroy 2000 years of soil. We all know where we’re headed with numbers like that.
Capitalism that goes global is imperialism. Imperialism isn’t just open warfare. It is the economic domination of one country by another – along with the exertion of political and cultural influence.
In much of the world, subsistence farming has been destroyed and replaced by monocrops produced for export. The last land still in control of subsistence farmers is currently being violently stolen and converted to industrial farming, or held for speculation (particularly in Africa and Latin America).
One way capitalists acquire land for agribusiness is by dumping cheap food.
In October 2012, I spent a week in Haiti with three other members of our collective, One Struggle, where we met with members of worker and student organizations. Traveling around Port-au-Prince, we saw a lot of bags of rice marked with the words “US AID.” Donating food, especially after a disaster like the earthquake two years ago, seems like a nice thing to do, right? But in fact it’s purely self-serving for US business interests. Decades ago, the head of USAID openly said that most money given to other countries ends up back in the pockets of US-based businesses.
The US has been using rice for several decades as one of the many ways it’s destroying Haiti’s national economy. This is rice that is subsidized, which means that the US government gives our hard-earned money, in the form of taxes, to huge agribusinesses. Many people in the US would wholeheartedly support a policy that actually benefitted the people of Haiti. But this is done for the sole purpose of profiting US companies while destroying Haiti’s food sovereignty.
It could actually help if the US donated funds for Haitian farmers to distribute their own rice to the people. Instead they send rice, which in Haiti they call “Miami rice.” When the country is flooded with free rice, the local farmers can’t compete, they can’t sell their crops, and so they lose their land. The land is bought up by foreign investors who are building industrial parks and hotels. The Bush-Clinton Foundation is one of the entities buying up huge areas of coastal land to build hotels. The dispossessed farmers have to find jobs, either in these hotels, or they have to go to the city where conveniently there are Free Trade Zones with sweatshops that make clothes for US companies like Hanes and Cherokee. The minimum wage of $4.45 per day, which is often not honored, is less than a family can survive on.
This pattern is repeated across the globe.
Capitalist food production is a tool of exploitation domestically as well. In the US, industrialization of food production has resulted in the creation of a large, low-paid, mobile workforce. Because of the vital necessity and strategic importance of what farm laborers produce, they are kept insecure, unstable, divided, and under severe, constant repression. Farmworkers are one of the most marginalized and heavily dominated sections of workers in the U.S.
It is everyone’s right to have safe, sustainable food. And it is possible. What stands in our way is a system that functions solely for the benefit of a few, putting their profits ahead of the needs of the people and the planet. Regulating or reforming this system will not change its fundamental nature. Corporations are a problem, but they are not the root of the problem. They are a symptom, manifestations of a competitive and inherently expansionist economic system. For us to have healthy and sustainable food, we must do away with capitalism.