Thursday, February 28, 2013

Capitalism - Flogging a dead horse

Most people are several generations away from the actual hands-on experience of producing their own food and this leads to many misconceptions such as over-romanticizing it but armers have a CEO mentality. They make decisions based on return on investment. The food system is in a crisis because of the way that food is produced. Most people's food budget is spent on processed food, which is where the big food processing conglomerates like PepsiCo, Nestle and Kraft make their money. The industry has worked with food scientists to develop foods using fat, sugar and salt that affect brain chemistry and are literally addicting, making people continually crave junk food. The ingredients that give junk food their taste and texture are relatively cheap. These sweeteners, oils and chemicals are big business. When food becomes a commodity, it goes where profits can be made.

 Today, twenty food corporations produce most of the food eaten by Americans, even organic brands. Four large chains, including Walmart, control more than half of all US grocery store sales. One company dominates the organic grocery industry, and one distribution company has a stranglehold on getting organic products into communities around the country. Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke recently said higher food prices and food price speculation should be welcomed. Big supermarkets have squeezed farmer’s margins and much of the retail competition has been eliminated. The type of ‘long life’, ‘always available’ food on display has been pumped full of chemicals from field to shelf, or is shipped half way around the world from poorer countries that produce cash mono-crops for export to rich nations, which in turn impacts their own agriculture and contributes to poverty and hunger and the destruction of local, bio-diverse, self-sustaining communities.

 Since 2008, through the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the big 4 – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s have made over £26.5 billions profit. Tesco takes £1 out of every £7 spent in the UK. Capitalist  'efficiency' means market domination (30% for Tesco), squeezing that market at both ends by shafting the supplier and customer, exploiting low paid workers to maximise profits, damaging the environment with megastores, and contributing to the devastation of local high streets by reducing diversity and putting small stores out of business.

The super profits of Walmart and indeed giant supermarkets like Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons in the UK are made on the backs of their low paid workers. Justin king, the CEO of Sainsbury’s, receives £3.2m a year; Tesco’s Philip Clarke gets £6.9m; Dalton Philips of Morrisons receives £4m.

 In the early days of capitalism workers’ food was frequently adulterated to lower costs and increase profits. Karl Marx wrote of the ‘incredible adulteration of bread’ in Victorian London, and used a report of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to reveal that the London worker, ‘had to eat daily in his bread a certain quantity of human perspiration mixed with the discharge of abscesses, cobwebs, dead cockroaches, and putrid German yeast, without counting alum, sand, and other agreeable mineral ingredients’. It was the same story in America. A committee  in 1859 launched one of the first studies of American food purity and their findings make for less-than-appetizing reading: candy was found to contain arsenic and dyed with copper chloride; conniving brewers mixed extracts of “nux vomica,” a tree that yields strychnine, to simulate the bitter taste of hops. Pickles contained copper sulphate, and custard powders yielded traces of lead. Sugar was blended with plaster of Paris, as was flour. Milk had been watered down, then bulked up with chalk and sheep’s brains. Hundred-pound bags of coffee labeled “Fine Old Java” turned out to consist of three-fifths dried peas, one-fifth chicory, and only one-fifth coffee. Though there was the occasional clumsy attempt at domestic reform by midcentury — most famously in response to the practice of selling “swill milk” taken from diseased cows force-fed a diet of toxic refuse produced by liquor distilleries — little changed.  “Oleo-margarine,” a butter substitute originally made from an alchemical process involving beef fat, cattle stomach, and for good measure, finely diced cow, hog, and ewe udders.  This “greasy counterfeit,” as one critic called it, was shipped to Europe as genuine butter.

Capitalism is presently demonstrating that nothing has changed. Whether it’s best beefsteak or a horsemeat burger it is a commodity produced for the sole purpose of making a profit. If it takes adulteration to do so, then so be it. We live in a capitalist country, within a global capitalist economy, where the pursuit of ever-greater profit is all that matters, even in relation to food, one of humanities basic needs. The cause of the ‘horsemeat crisis’ is the capitalist economic system and its core principle of making as much money as possible. Capitalism only works for a very small group of people and they are called capitalists. Those capitalists make a lot of money, and they can only do that by exploiting the rest of us – they pay us less than the value of our labour, they sell us products for more than their actual worth, and they sell us ‘beef’ that is actually horsemeat. During a recession wage levels are held down as a matter of course, which means costs must be trimmed elsewhere in the production process. The capitalists have forced-down supplier costs to maximise their own profits, which means the cheapest, least nutritious contents go into the supposedly "value" meals sold in such large quantities in areas of poverty and deprivation.

Humanity faces serious, highly interconnected environmental problems. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that drugmakers sold about 30 million pounds of antibiotics in 2011 for use in food animals such as pigs, chickens, and cows. This was a record high and nearly four times the amount sold to treat sick people. Using antibiotics to make food animals grow faster and to compensate for the overcrowded conditions in which they are raised breeds drug-resistant bacteria. These "superbugs" can end up in our air and water, in our meat and poultry and, ultimately, in us. If they cause infections, the diseases can be more difficult and costly to treat and more likely to result in death. Each year, antibiotic-resistant infections are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations.

Imagine going to the grocery store and buying 10 bags full of food. Now imagine throwing four of those bags into the trash. Seems crazy, right? But this is what’s happening every day in homes, businesses, and institutions throughout the United States. Forty percent of the food produced in the US is wasted every year, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report. It’s happening at all levels – on the farm, during processing, in restaurants, and in the home – due to cosmetic preferences, misleading date labels, over-purchasing, and excessive portion sizes. This unnecessary waste is destructive to the environment.

It doesn’t really matter what you call it, capitalism is about money. Everything people need to live – homes, household appliances such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners, TVs and smart phones, clothes and the car at the door – are all commodities. Quite simply, a commodity is anything made for human use. Commodities are produced in order to make profit, and are bought by people wanting to make use of them. This system of production and sale for profit is called capitalism. The one and only purpose for producing anything is profit. It’s what commodities are primarily for, to supply a human need only so a profit can be made.

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