We do not recognize how consolidated, concentrated and vertically-integrated our food supply has become.   For instance,

Just 192 large egg companies own about 95 percent of laying hens in this country, down from 2,500 in 1987, according to United Egg Producers, an industry group. Most of those producers are concentrated in five states: Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and California.

Nor do we recognize the corruption which such monopolization breeds. For example:

The monopoly (really an oligopoly) within the tomato industry, and the power which it granted this one set of agri-businessmen, created the environment for criminal corruption. Nearly 95% of all tomatoes grown in the U.S. are processed by four companies in California.

Step into a grocery store these days and on almost every aisle there’s an item tied to a federal investigation: dairy distributors, egg producers, citrus firms and seed developers are all the targets of federal lawsuits or investigations. Starting next month, the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will hold meetings to gather complaints and hear concerns over lack of competition.

“I don’t think people have any idea when they see all these brand names in the stores that so many are coming from the same place,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a food safety organization. “It raises the stakes — if one company is doing something wrong, it affects a lot of food.”

Just this week, a federal court determined that Pilgrim’s Pride knowingly tried to manipulate the price of chicken in 2009 and awarded nearly $26 million in damages to 91 Arkansas poultry producers who supplied Pilgrim’s Pride.  The Magistrate ruled that Pilgrim’s Pride actions were corruptly made in an effort to affect the national supply and prices of chicken.

And now, a new lawsuit challenging the corrupt and collusive practices within the dairy business has been filed.

Last week, Hagens Berman filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against several large players in the dairy industry, including the National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Agri-Mark, Inc., and Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) alleging the groups conspired to fix the price of milk throughout the United States.

CWT is a massive trade group representing dairy producers throughout the country who produce nearly 70 percent of the milk consumed in the United States.The lawsuit alleges that between 2003 and 2010, more than 500,000 cows were slaughtered prematurely under CWT’s dairy herd retirement program in a concerted effort to reduce the supply of milk and inflate its price nationally. According to the complaint, “the increased price allowed CWT members to earn more than $9 billion in additional revenue.”

As I have written before:

The preservation of our independence and national security rests in our ability to revitalize family farming. A monopoly by commercial agribusinesses and corporate farms endangers our food to accidental and intentional contamination. Before 1940, only twenty percent of tomatoes were produced in California; today, ninety-five percent are. There is one hamburger plant which grinds fifty million burgers per week by itself. Another salad packaging plant, twenty six million servings of salad pass through its washers. One negligent employee, or worse, a terrorist could endanger millions of Americans. We have recently seen massive outbreaks of E.coli in spinach, salmonella in peppers and peanut butter. A great number of small and medium-sized independent farms are the only assurance of a safe and secure food supply. . .

We need widespread ownership of farms, processors, and distributors. Let me rephrase, we need locally-owned farms, distributorships, and processors. Competition must be re-introduced within the markets, especially the agricultural sector. From the farms to the processors to the distributors, Alabama can lead the way with our historic tradition of great agriculture. With the proper policy, Alabama can create an environment which could reignite an entrepreneurial spirit for aspiring Alabamians across this state.

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