In an attempt to figure out who owns whom, I’ve been looking at the big manufacturers and seeing where they have their fingers. Are they really, like the food pundits believe, have their fingers in everything? Here’s what I found out…
First of all, there really are the “biggies” and everyone else. Christopher Cook is right when he says “As money and holdings change hands, these firms expand and deepen their control over market sectors and distribution channels , making consolidation seamless.”
It’s almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins, especially being a consumer. If you’re a farmer, I’m guessing you see a whole ‘nother side of the problem – monolithic companies that provide your grain, fertilizer, chemicals, mechanics, and finally, a place to sell your “wares” on the market. It’s not an open market, by any means.
My husband is from a farming family and I remember when we first started dating he said “I hate ADM.” After figuring out that ADM was Archer Daniels Midland (who of us on the Left coast has really heard of ADM?) I started investigating. Under http://www.adm.com, in Products and Services, they have alone: Food, Fuel, Feed, Industrials, Grain Merchandising, Transportation, and Global Services. ADM bills themselves as “supermarket to the world” and they aren’t kidding. A quick scan of their product catalogs (for the manufacturer’s) is enormous. According to Cook, “nearly every product in the supermarket that has corn in it (l-lysine, corn syrup, citric acid, etc) comes from ADM.”
So, to get this straight – a company like ADM merchandises the grain (which they get from farmers under contract to them), supply the grain to livestock via their feed division, create fuels from the corn grown, supply transport for the farmers (livestock and otherwise), and the process nearly all the ingredients in the food we eat. One might say this is efficency. Yet, couple this with the practices of growing that are destroying the quality of the land, the ideas of treating food as pieces rather than a whole (l-lysine rather than the piece of meat or corn it came from), and then overprocessing foods to input their products… and I think you get a mess.
ADM isn’t the only company – check out Cargill, ConAgra, and Tenneco (Packaging Company of America).
I don’t think there’s anything sinister going on here; the only thing that’s going on is big business. It’s meant to, by its nature, make a profit. It’s going to take any road to get there. The question is, what does it mean to me? Honestly, I’m still figuring some of that out. Right now, just being aware of four large companies controlling nearly every aspect of packaged food in America, from farm to table, is a little scary. They can’t help it – they have their best interests at heart and not mine.
I thought it would be interesting to do a chart of the big four (or five or six) and all their holdings – see what they had their fingers in so I could see, consciously, what and where things were. I’m still contemplating it. I’m sure it won’t be the next great american novel.