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The True Cost of Industrialized Food


line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>The objective of much of our industrial food system is to provide a profit to shareholders and CEOs. Coca-Cola's advertising budget was more than $2.9 billion in 2010, money well spent from a stockholder's point of view: profits that year were $11.8 billion.

spend relatively little on food — about 7 percent of their total spending, as compared to 13 percent in France, 23 percent in Mexico, and 38 percent in Vietnam. Most individuals in the U.S. devote less time, energy, and money to feeding ourselves than they ever have historically.

hidden costs of the corporate food supply chain in multiple ways, not all of them financially.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Small- and medium-sized farmers pay extremely high hidden costs. Their farms have been steadily disappearing as land is further consolidated into the hands of fewer people. The U.S. has lost 800,000 farmers and ranchers in the last 40 years. Between 1900 and 2002, the number of farms in the U.S. shrank by 63 percent, while the average farm size increased by 67 percent. The dairy industry has undergone an even starker decline: in just over 35 years, between 1970 and 2006, the country lost 88 percent of its dairy farms, while the average herd size per farm increased from 19 to 120 cows.

black farmers and land owners suffer. Farmworkers and other laborers all along the food supply chain also pay by receiving inadequate wages; they are twice as likely to live below the poverty line.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Recent outbreaks of Listeria and stomach acid-resistant E. coli are other manifestations of the costs to our health. Food-safety experts blame the industrialized production of grain-fed cattle and poultry for the emergence of these dangerous bacteria strains.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Spraying toxic pesticides on our food has become the norm, so much so that we have come to view it as part of "conventional" agriculture, though there's nothing conventional about it. Introduced in large scale only after World War II, using surplus warfare chemicals, pesticides are now applied at a rate of 1.1 billion pounds per year in the U.S. That's 22 percent of the world's total use. These chemicals move throughout our ecosystem, making their way into groundwater and our drinking supply, traveling down streams and rivers, and eventually reaching the ocean. In just one example, fertilizer running off fields and down the Mississippi River has created such an imbalance that there is a "dead zone," where nothing can survive, in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey. Pesticides also wind up on our plates and in our bloodstreams. In 2005, the Environmental Working Group tested the umbilical cords of 10 babies from different U.S. hospitals and found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in their blood, including a number of pesticides.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>If all of these costs showed up in the prices we pay at the store, things would be very different. If prices reflected the oil that powers the jet to bring a banana thousands of miles, together with the air pollution that results, the workers' health care costs after handling pesticides, and the future loss of soil health due to monocropping, this fruit would certainly be a luxury item in the North rather than part of an average American breakfast.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here, and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website.

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