In my last blog, I will deviate, but not entirely, from the theme that I had been following in my previous blogs. By focusing on the rise of behemoth companies and food chains, I want to highlight the plight and uphill battles that small-scale, traditional and organic farmers face when juxtaposed next to McDonald, Walmart, and the likes, in this ever competitive global food economy.
When I visited my friend’s aunt during fall break, driving to farmers market with her reminded me not only of my home (Nepal), but also the sad fact of how healthy food options here in the US is a luxury and a privilege. With chains like McDonald offering deals like “McPick 2 for $5” on one hand and organic produce costing more than a dollar for just an apple on the other hand, it is no surprise that healthy options are out of the expenditure equation for most of the mass population. And thus, despite the push for awareness regarding healthy diets many people are obliged to resort to cheapened (as Professor Fabos had mentioned in class), mostly sugarcoated, GMO products from the never-ending aisles of Walmart and thus most organic or traditional farmers are dissuaded from implementing sustainable methods in their fields.
Therefore small-scale farmers are unable to compete with juggernaut corporations like Walmart and Target. Among several negative consequences that arise from this dynamic, the ones that stand out to me are:
- Loss of traditional and sustainable farming methods
- Health effects that arise from consumption of GMO products
- Exploitation of farmers who give their produce for almost nothing in return
And even though it has been proven time again that GMO products can cause infertility, promote gastrointestinal and immune disorder, increase the use of herbicide (its effects would require a whole new blog post), and the list can go on, governments are nonchalant about these consequences. In fact, “the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, doesn’t require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without even notifying the agency” and most of the “health and environmental risks of GMOs are ignored by governments’ superficial regulations and safety assessments.
When the governments themselves are oblivious to the health of the people, it is no surprise that mega corporations parasitically suck farmers dry, from grabbing lands to paying abysmally low costs. Raj Patel in Stuffed and Starved paints an eerily gloomy picture of how Nestle makes profit off of Ugandan coffee farmers who are on the verge of slumping below the poverty level. I will never be able to look at a Nestle product the same now with the knowledge that they pay 14 cents per kilo (which is laughably low) of coffee beans to Ugandan farmers while they themselves make profits out of US$ 26.40 per kilo. And this is just a picture that captures one company, one set of farmers and one commodity. In a larger global scale, the exploitation and profits are magnified by insensible degrees.
So it was a breath of fresh air when Costco announced that it would be lending money to farmers for their organic produce after it witnessed high demands for those produce, even though it is only a pilot program. And Whole Foods is also embarking on a similar journey. But do these initiatives effectively mitigate all the problems mentioned above? Personally, I don’t think so and I don’t expect them to carry all the weight on their shoulder. We have to remember that corporations like Whole Foods, although great in their own way, are projected towards and can only be afforded by select bourgeoisie and thus do not effectively solve the larger problem at hand.
So the ability to tackle this multifaceted problem that plague not just the US but places all over the globe should be undertaken by the governments. Some of the points that I took away from one of my discussion classes was the need for the governments to provide subsidies to organic and traditional small-scale farmers so they can compete effectively. On personal levels, we should overcome our obsession with perfect and glossy products and support our local farmers. Corporations like McDonald’s should be responsible to notify customers about where the products they use are sourced from (my friend from France told me that McDonald’s there have started doing so).
Of course, my blog post does not hold the answer to everything. But it is a small step and I believe every single action, though it may seem inconsequential in a larger scene, is at least a step towards betterment.
Jeffery Smith. “10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs.” Institute for Responsible Technology. 25 August 2011. http://responsibletechnology.org/10-reasons-to-avoid-gmos/
Ryan Grenoble. “Costco is Selling So Much Organic Produce, Farmers Can’t Keep Up.” The Huffington Post. 13 April 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/costco-organic-produce-farmers-partnership_us_570d0a80e4b01422324a1f6c
Angel Gonzalez. “Largest Organic Grocer Now Costco, Analysts Say.” Seattle Times. 1 June 2015. http://www.seattletimes.com/business/retail/costco-becomes-largest-organic-grocer-analysts-say/
Christine Wang. “McDonald’s McPick 2 for $5 Menu to Feature its Classic.” CNBC. 26 February 2016. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/02/26/mcdonalds-mcpick-2-for-5-menu-to-feature-its-classics.html