U.S. Food System: Can We Really Make a Difference?

What’s been done already?

It’s so overwhelming to think about our current food system, yet alone try to change anything! But it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to animal welfare and factory farming. There have, in fact, been some important improvements. So, before I dive into the “not so pleasant” realities of the current U.S. food system, I’m going to start by mentioning a few of the achievements:

  • So far, the European Union and eight U.S. states have outlawed the use of gestation crates for sows. Several retailers have also agreed to ban pork products coming from facilities that use gestation crates to confine breeding sows. Recently, HSUS submitted a shareholder resolution requesting that Dominoes report to shareholders on the feasibility of using pepperoni and ham that comes only from “gestation-free” facilities.
  • In the United States, at least 92 percent of egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. In July 2011, the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers reached an agreement to support federal legislation to improve conditions for caged hens and eventually phase out the use of battery cages. The European Union has already passed legislation to phase out battery cages by 2012.

The BIG Problem

Although these are all steps in the right direction, there is still a ton of work to do.  In my opinion, it’s all just getting way too big! Our current food system seems to encourage industrial agriculture over small-scale farming.

Right now, four companies control 84 percent of beef packing, 66 percent of pork production, and one company, Monsanto, controls patents on more than 93 percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn grown in the U.S.  According to the Food and Water Watch report Factory Farm Nation: How America Turned Its Livestock Farms into Factories:

The decline in buyers and processing plants has left fewer selling options for livestock producers, which puts them under increased pressure to take whatever price they can get, even if it does not cover their costs. Over time, this forces small operations to grow in order to recoup low prices with higher volume (more animals) or leave the business entirely. In farm circles, this phenomenon is described as “get big or get out.”

Agribusiness continues to gain influence, while the farmers, consumers, animals, and the environment suffer.

Ways to take action!

The food movement is gaining traction. Enough traction, in fact, that the newly formed U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) has launched a new multi-million dollar public relations campaign  as an effort to “reshape the dialogue” about the American food supply. Influential writer Michael Pollan and documentaries such as Food, Inc. are bringing the issues surrounding farm and food policy to the masses, and  it appears that big agriculture is beginning to feel the heat.

Here are a few ideas on actions you can take to help drive the food movement forward.

Occupy Wall Street: If you’re concerned about the current food system, consider joining forces with the OWS movement.

 To change the food system, we need systemic change in financial institutions, regulation, corporate influence; we need a shift in power. For a movement that has long been waiting for its moment, uniting in common cause with Occupy Wall Street may be the way to finally build enough power to create the change we need.

–          Siena Chrisman, Why the food movement should occupy Wall Street

Farm Bill 2012: The biggest piece of legislation influencing our farm and food system is up for review in 2012. There is talk that the Agriculture Committees are trying to write the farm bill this week, behind closed doors.

Be a Smart Consumer:

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