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As the Holiday Season approaches, new report highlights how the US food system has become more monopolized during the first 18 months of the COVID pandemic

November 23, 2021

A new issue brief from Food & Water Watch highlights an important aspect of the US food system, particularly since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic. The opening comments from the issue brief, The Economic Costs of Food monopolies: The Grocery Cartels, states:

While the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a blow to many parts of the economy, one sector saw record-breaking profits: the grocery industry. Many major supermarket chains reaped double-digit growth and surging stock values in 2020, as people locked down and ate more meals at home.

Americans, however, faced rising food costs and widespread shortages of some staples. And while the cost of meat shot up, prices paid to farmers actually declined, spurring a federal investigation. Most atrociously, frontline workers who stocked grocery shelves or worked in meat processing plants sickened and died from COVID-19. Yet many corporations limited hazard pay and instead invested in stock buybacks.The COVID-19 pandemic pulled back the curtain on the idea that the current food system offers abundance, efficiency and resilience. 

The grocery cartels that the Food & Water Watch identify are Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Albertson’s Companies, which control roughly 70% of all grocery sales in the US. 

There is a second tier of the grocery cartel, which includes Meijer Inc. As we have noted in previous postings, the wealth of Doug & Hank Meijer grew from $10.2 Billion since the pandemic began in March of 2020, to $16.9 Billion through October 2021. The owners of Meijer Inc. saw their wealth grow by $6.7 Billion during the first 18 months of the pandemic. Meijer Inc. was able to achieve these massive profits for the same reason as the four national grocery cartels – paying farmers less while raising prices and paying workers poverty-level wages during a time that more people were staying home to eat meals.

The report from Food & Water Watch does offer up some recommendations on how to combat the grocery cartels in the US, suggesting:

  • Stop agribusiness and food chain mergers
  • Enforce existing anti-trust legislation
  • Create and expand more Grocery Cooperatives
  • Create & support local food processors

One strategy that is missing from the recommendations is to support and promote more organizing amongst those who work in the field, in food processing, retail grocery stores and restaurant workers. We have seen in recent months the number of strikes and boycotts that are taking place, action which directly benefit food workers. In addition, this week is International Food Workers Week. The Food Chain Workers Alliance is behind this effort. “What started as an awareness campaign in 2012 by organized food and farmworkers leveraging end-of-year holidays around the need to raise the minimum wage and improve working conditions from farm to table, the campaign has become more relevant than ever in 2021.”

If we are serious about changing the current food system, then we not only need to create alternatives to the Agribusiness system, but by practicing food justice and food sovereignty. However, we must support food workers, at all levels, particularly now as they fight to win increased wages, the right to unionize and to improve working conditions. Ultimately, we have to support those who literally put food on our table.

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