Government Influence on the Food Industry

Leaders in food politics have failed to regulate and enforce the system properly, leading to the outbreak of food borne illnesses and the rise of food industry titans. The unchecked producers and processors of food consistently escape the blame of consumers and regulatory bodies, despite lacking proper research regarding food products.

The economy of food has grown exponentially from the time that the USDA and FDA were founded to regulate organizations in the industry. Food and farming accrue billions in GDP revenues yearly and make up for nearly 13% of common household spending (USDA). The rise of social media and the digital age have brought many issues to light regarding how food is produced and processed.

Issues surrounding the food industry encompass every aspect, from the chemicals and drugs approved by the FDA for use on animals to the many hazards on farms and in slaughter houses. The government has taken a passive approach to regulating the food industry, allowing industry titans to leverage their way into positions of power and corrupting many processes regulating the production of healthy food.

Consumers are currently in a compromising position. Government agencies regulating food policy are not immune to effects of political lobbyists. This has been seen through their influence on the 2015 dietary guidelines. Experts claim that “the final guidelines are evidence that USDA and HHS do not rely on science to form their nutrition policies” (Markham Heid – “Lobbying Skewed 2015 Dietary Guidelines”).

The dietary guidelines are merely the tip of the food politics iceberg. The industry lacks resources to enforce the laws put in place regarding food and food safety. Industry leaders emerged throughout the 20th century as corporations influenced the farmers through various methods of establishing control. These leaders control not just the means of production, but also have significant influence over their regulation as well.

This dangerous combination of control allows food industry titans to emerge and assert power over many small farms across the United States. This is done through the control of the seeds and chemicals used to enhance crops and animals. Companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, DuPont are multi-national corporations which have the power to dominate the entire market (Frank Morris).

The consolidation of the farming industry is daunting for smaller players in the industry. Large companies have industrialized the natural farming industry in various aspects. It is a large processing industry that ships food across the world from one country to another, ensuring visibly fresh fruit, meat and vegetables.

Farming has changed from the natural ways to increase yields and to “meet market needs” (Blake Hurst – “Omnivore’s Delusion”). Hurst is a prominent industrial farmer and member of the Missouri Farm Bureau. He has seen crop yields increase by up to “50% during [his] career”. These changes have occurred in various areas of the industry, but the regulation of the drugs and chemicals used for pesticides and growth enhancement are at the forefront of the industry’s problem.  Through the introduction of Nitrogen enhanced crops, pesticides and “hybrid GMO’s,” farmers can feed many more people per acre at a lower cost.

The US government monitors the introduction of these drugs as they come to market. The Bureau of Chemistry, later the FDA, is responsible for legislation regarding the improvement of food safety but the “federal involvement in food safety remained minimal” (Marion Nestle – “Food Safety”). This lack of involvement meant that food producers and processers operated unchecked.

Past instances have shown the government and food industry producers to “downplay concerns” regarding “microbes that contaminate food during production or processing” (Marion Nestle – “Food Safety”). Instead of taking responsibility, the guilty parties often decide to blame others who handled the food or the restaurant or kitchen where it was prepared.

The current climate of the US government is uncertain, especially the food industry. Large multi-national companies are merging and the market is falling under their control. Regulatory agencies must shift their focus to favor the small farmer and make it possible for them to remain sustainable without falling victim to the large corporations’ power. Bringing farming back to its natural roots and allowing for unbiased regulation can be done through consumer purchasing and voting power.

Awareness of the facts, which are backed with proper research, should be provided for consumers. This would require information from the farmers, as well as the companies processing the food for distribution. With proper research and documentation, consumers will be able to make informed decisions about the food they purchase in grocery stores.

Chemicals and GMO’s are not the only concerns consumers should be aware of. Many industrial farmers use conventionally disgusting feed sources, which have been known to contaminate food and cause animal sickness as well as food borne illness. Cattle and chickens are typically “given plant-based feed: Corn…and soybean meal.” But some are fed items such as “processed feathers…poultry litter-floor wastes from coops, including feces,” etc. (Consumer Reports – “You Are What They Eat”).

The corporations responsible for handling and processing the food we eat are led by individuals who frequently turn a blind eye to research, favoring profitability. “The history of food processing is littered with ingredients that were initially presented as safer and more desirable, yet subsequently outed as the opposite” (Joanna Blythman – “Inside the Food Industry: the surprising truth about what you Eat”) This trend must change for the food industry as it exists today to be sustainable and healthy for all consumers.

The standard for establishing guidelines and policies for the food industry must be backed up by science. The industry has produced food without proof that chemicals and GMO’s, or even cloning, have no ill effects on human health in the long term. This is a problem that goes hand in hand with political lobbying. The effects of both ignorance and manipulating favor reward the greed of companies that are mass producing food products with increased revenue.

Current regulation of the US food industry has led to the spread of food borne illness due to the lack of resources and proper motivation provided to the regulatory government agencies. The economy of the food industry will continue to dominate the consumer if there is not proper action taken regarding industry regulation of production. Sustainable farming has given way to industrial farming as farmers across the US struggle to maintain their land due to increased pressure from consumers, corporations and regulatory bodies.

TIME’s article on the US dietary guidelines is accurate in saying: “’The real key is that the [dietary guideline regulation] process is transparent and provides opportunities for public participation, and we think the current process does that,’ says Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy for the independent Center for Science in the Public Interest” (Markham Heid – “Lobbying Skewed 2015 Dietary Guidelines”). This should go for every aspect of food. From the production, to processing, to the preparation for consumption.

Transparency allows for the public consumer to analyze the industry and to vote as informed individuals on the issues surrounding food politics. Hopefully, politicians in the future hear the voice of activists speaking on behalf of the consumer. This might allow for government agencies to restructure to better provide safe food for the general consumer. Publications like this and many that have preceded it are merely a small step in the right direction in the process of restructuring the food industry.

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