Food hasn’t been a big topic at the first two presidential debates but that doesn’t mean that the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates don’t have a plan to help support farmers.
The trend of consolidation in agribusiness is wiping out small farmers and influencing the food choices made to consumers. Only three companies control about half of the global agrochemical market: Bayer, Syngenta, and BASF. The rise in GM crops along with the ruling the genetic resources are subject to Intellectual Property Rights protections has only exacerbated the problem.
Of the 25 Democrats running for president, only a few have released plans on food and agriculture. The few that have seem to agree that breaking up big ag should be a major step in protecting rural farming in the United States.
Consolidation farming has skyrocketed in the past 3 decades. In 1991 only 31 percent of United States farm production came from farms with at least $1 million in sales. That number grew to more than 50 percent by the year 2015. In 2000 the biggest four Big Ag companies sold 51 percent of soybean seeds in the US. By 2015 that percentage went up to 76.
“I think a farmer that produces the food we eat may be almost as important as some crook on Wall Street who destroys the economy,” Bernie Sanders said earlier this year. “Those of us who come from rural America have nothing to be ashamed about, and the time is long overdue for us to stand up and fight for our way of life.”
Sanders proposes a number of antritrust proposals, including breaking up existing agriculture monopolies, placing a moratorium on future mergers, and baning “vertically integrated” agribusinesses.
“For far too long, government farm policies have incentivized a “get big or get out” approach to agriculture,” says Sanders’ campaign website. “This approach has consolidated the entire food system, reducing farm net income, and driving farmers off the land in droves. As farms disappear, so do the businesses, jobs, and communities they support.”
Sanders’ plan also calls for farmers “Right to Repair” their own equipment and reformation of patent law to protect farmers from predatory patent lawsuits. The presidential candidate also would like to classify food supply security as a national security issue.
Senator Elizabeth Warren also wants to break up agribusiness mergers like the Bayer-Monsanto merger. Warren also supports a “Right to Repair” law for farmers that enables them to fix their own machinery and she wants to make it optional for farmers to contribute to checkoff programs.
Although Vice President Joe Biden has been less specific about his plans, he has called for “strengthening antitrust enforcement.”
Author and Democratical presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has stated that “the corporatization of agriculture” has been detrimental to US health and small farmers’ well-being.
Senator Cory Book has gone so far as to introduce a bill that would freeze mergers in the food and agriculture sector. He has also sponsored legislation limiting the use of checkoff funds.
Consolidation has meant limited choices overall for farmers. Famers only have two choices when buying seeds: Bayer or Dupont. There are also limited choices for chemicals and fertilizers, companies that farmers can sell to since most are locked into contracts with major corporations like Tyson and JBS. The result is the farmers have very little power to negotiate and therefore have to farm in ways the benefits corporations, not themselves, consumers, or even the environment.