Monday, May 16, 2016

New book reveals that food monopolies are everywhere

Public Release: 10-Mar-2016
New book reveals that food monopolies are everywhere
Michigan State University

Food monopolies are everywhere - and they're growing. A new book by a Michigan State University professor dissects the troubling trend and shows how it's happening on all levels of the food chain.

Most people know about fast food and big beer monopolies. Many people don't know, though, that many craft beers are actually owned by big breweries, and margarine - yes, margarine - is nearly a monopolized market, said Phil Howard, associate professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies, and author of Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat?

"At almost every key stage of the food system, four firms alone control 40 percent or more of the market, a level above which these companies have the power to drive up prices for consumers and reduce their rate of innovation," he said. "These trends are often hidden from most of us - and even from people who work in these industries - because acquisitions may not result in changes of brand names."


"In terms of margarine, the corporations' power is hidden from us through an illusion of numerous competing brands," Howard said. "There's a deliberate attempt to obscure how much shelf space is controlled by just a few corporations."


The book identifies dominant corporations and supermarket chains and shows the extent of their control over markets. It also analyses the strategies these firms are using to reshape society in order to further increase their power.

"The book covers how corporations influence vulnerable populations, such as recent immigrants, ethnic minorities and people with lower socioeconomic status," Howard said.

The book isn't all doom and dread, however. Some of the positive market trends include the effort to increase the variety of turkeys consumed at Thanksgiving.

In 1997, there were only 1,300 individual turkeys in the U.S. that weren't broad-breasted white. Today, there are tens of thousands of heritage turkeys being raised around the country. The increased variety gives consumers many choices in many price ranges.


Even though Howard points out numerous worrying trends in the food market, he's optimistic regarding its future.

"Some of these monopolistic trends sound overwhelming," he said. "It often looks unstoppable, but it's not."

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