The global food system is increasingly controlled by some of the largest corporations on earth. The control over seeds, land and water threaten small-scale farmers and exploits workers.

This system relies on fossil fuel-dependent fertilizers and pesticides. It poisons workers, the water, top soil, and air. It depletes precious aquifers and is increasingly fragile.

It’s time is coming to an end. And what will replace it is being cultivated by communities across the global and the food sovereignty movement.

In states across the nation, we have provided assistance to dozens of communities to oppose some of the most harmful tentacles of the corporate food system. Everything from sewage sludge “fertilizers,” factory farms, genetically modified seed systems, corporate distributors, to pesticide spraying. 

CELDF is aiding communities who have decided the current system of unsustainable agriculture cannot preserve land, health, wages or their vision of a sustainable future. 

Farms today are often run like shoe factories, seeking the maximum yield with minimum regard for the human and environmental consequences. As large industrialized farms focus on producing just one specialized commodity (corn, soybeans, dairy, cotton or cattle), the diverse family farms of 200 acre plots of land have all but vanished. 

For thousands of years, it was common to rotate crops, use time-honored seeds and raise animals in pastures. Today’s typical farm, however, consists of large-scale and mechanized monoculture, drum after drum of chemicals, and a market flooded with low-priced grain. Farmers have lost autonomy over how food is produced, often being kept in the dark even about the ingredients in their animals’ feed. This is an unsustainable model of agriculture.

Why does it matter?

There is an immense governmental system that props up unsustainable agriculture and food production at the expense of our communities. Agribusiness corporations use their “rights” under the law to prevent us from rejecting the damage offered up by conventional, large scale farming operations and mandating the type of agriculture that feeds our communities. And as the agribusiness industry increases its hold, communities are facing severe impacts to their water, soils, air, local economy, and quality of life, not to mention the loss of family and small farmers. Every week control over land becomes more centralized.

Farming our land away

The corporatization of agriculture values profit over sustainability.

Industrial food animal production has degraded water by leaking nitrates, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, hormones and other contaminants into ground and surface water, as well as filling the air with ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and other pollutants – causing a range of health and ecological problems. Monoculture farming directly impairs the land, reducing the amount of water and nutrients the soil can retain, risking another Dust Bowl. Agriculture claims 80-90% of water use in the U.S., and is depleting groundwater in parts of the Great Plains.

Farmworkers be damned

Our culture and agricultural system equates the word “farmer” with “landowner.” The people who have their hands in the soil and who actually grow our food are largely landless.  But these are our farmers. These people, disproportionately people who have been denied immigration documents by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are suppressed and treated like commodities themselves within the extractive food system. But these are our farmers, though landless they may be.

The system that relies on the exploitation of these farmers (farmworkers) is the same system that is centralizing its control over the globe’s seed, land and water.

Small property owners be damned

The farms of today are not only unsustainable in environmental terms, but in regard to the livelihood of small farms. While families may own the majority of farms, it is not the families who are in control. Corporations own the animals while farmers own the equipment, meaning the people in suits own the goods which make money and the people in overalls own the goods which cost money. Further, the revenues of family farms continue to decline while production costs rise.

By 2007, the top 9% of farms accounted for 77% of farm sales. Meanwhile, chicken farmers, who produce over 160 million chickens a week, often live below the poverty line. The estimated living expenses for the average family farm exceed $47,000 a year, though less than one in four American farms earns more than $50,000 a year.

The law of the land

Corporate lobbyists write the regulations with which their industry is supposed to comply, and all but the largest operations are exempt from regulating heavy metals, pathogens, antibiotics and the majority of air pollutants.

Why so unsustainable?

When residents try to prevent a corporation from engaging in unsustainable practices, they are threatened with a lawsuit for violating the corporation’s “rights.” Worse, residents confronting factory farm operations learn that their state government – with the help and at the behest of corporations – has legally protected factory farming. Laws such as Pennsylvania’s Right to Farm Act, and similar laws found in other states, define factory farming as a normal agricultural activity and prohibit municipalities from stopping or even regulating it. In Pennsylvania, the state legislature went even further, passing Act 38, which empowers the state Attorney General to sue a community if they try to stop factory farming.

What can you do?

CELDF has been at the forefront of this issue, helping residents, local groups and municipal officials ban factory farms near their homes and create the communities they envision. CELDF provides grassroots organizing, legal counsel and education to communities and other grassroots support.

In 2000, CELDF spearheaded the first anti-corporate farm ownership ordinance in Wells Township, Fulton County, Pennsylvania, which prohibits corporations from engaging in agriculture. Since then, we have assisted dozens of other communities to protect against unsustainable agriculture. Our ordinances have evolved, resulting in the current Food Bill of Rights, which provides for the humane treatment of livestock, prohibits trespass by GMOs, mandates chain restaurants and grocery stores to use food raised on local farms, denies harmful outside interference and provides for the Rights of Nature.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur on Unsplash