As food companies globalize, so too does the reaction to oligopoly power!
Whether in their own names or through joint ventures, strategic alliances and subsidiary arrangements, most of the major transnational agro-food companies now operate globally. Complex corporate relationships shift often through mergers, acquisitions and partnership agreements, and can be difficult for outside observers to untangle. Nonetheless, it is obvious that corporate oligopoly power now shapes the food system on every continent, and that North American and European firms are aggressively consolidating their holds on all phases of the global food chain.
These firms lobby development agencies, banks and governments in poor countries to promote export-oriented agriculture instead of growing food for local consumption, supposedly because it will generate currency to pay their foreign debt. The same companies then sell subsidized grain from the U.S. and Europe to those countries, further hindering local production and thereby increasing poor countries’ dependence on volatile international food supplies.
This process of eliminating local production systems may make good business sense to a transnational company, but it has disastrous consequences for social stability, rural development and poverty alleviation. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen made clear, the solution to the problem of hunger lies in viable local food systems based on secure land rights and other entitlements, not simply in the introduction of food aid or “dumped” grain.
Fortunately, however, there are activists, academics and food system experts around the world who realize that there is too much at stake — from the safety and quality of the food we eat, to the livelihoods of those who produce it, to the integrity of the political system that oversees it — to allow ourselves the luxury of surrender! Farmers, labor unions, lawyers, environmentalists, government watchdog groups, responsible investors and consumer organizations around the world have been working for years to hold transnational food companies accountable for the negative consequences of their oligopoly power.