This Grocery Merger Would Be Bad News for Prices and Families

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by Mia DiFelice

We have enough to worry about these days, from conflict abroad and at home, to climate-fueled natural disasters. Going to the grocery store has become yet another daily anxiety for more of us than ever, as prices rise higher and higher

But if a proposed merger between two grocery giants goes through, prices will rise even more. 

In October, media outlets began reporting merger negotiations between Kroger and Albertsons, two of our country’s largest grocery store chains. The deal would net Kroger a cool $24.6 billion, with big payouts to the Albertsons CEO and its private equity owner. Meanwhile, the resulting Kroger behemoth could wield its new power to squeeze working families and entire communities.

Grocery Stores Gobble Market Power Through Mergers

Already, a handful of corporations dominate the grocery sector. Currently, over two-thirds of grocery sales in the U.S. go to five corporations, and a Kroger-Albertsons merger would make that four.

These corporations hide their outsized power in the market from consumers by buying up subsidiaries with different names. While you can shop at a Ralph’s, a Food 4 Less, or a Smith’s Food and Drug, the profits funnel into the same company—Kroger.

In recent years, mergers and acquisitions have become more outrageous. But judges and the federal agencies charged with protecting consumers seem not to care. In the past decade, they gave a pass to some of the largest mergers in history. Now, food giants tower over those of the trust-busting era that gave rise to our consumer protection agencies in the first place. 

Grocery Monopolies Choose Profit Over People

The U.S. first began busting trusts, or monopolies, back in the early 1900s because it recognized how they harm the economy. Market power allows corporations to profit at the expense of smaller companies, consumers, and regional economies. 

For instance, when grocery corporations grow, they often become the biggest or only buyer in a region. Grocery giants can name the price they pay for goods, ripping off farmers and manufacturers, who must accept whatever they can get to stay afloat.

On the other side of the grocery aisle, these giants can raise prices for shoppers with impunity. Last summer, Kroger’s CEO Rodney McMullen even bragged about hiding behind inflation to raise food prices and boost profits.

At the same time, superstores like Kroger and Walmart beat out smaller, local businesses by lowering prices on key items. These small stores, unable to compete, are forced to shutter.

However, the low prices don’t stick around. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission found that growing market concentration actually leads to higher prices. But by then, consumers have no other choice but to shop at the superstores.

The arrival of such a superstore can have other ripple effects throughout a region. It can lower wages by introducing its own rock-bottom pay schedules to the local labor market. And by shuttering competitors, it can reduce food access to just a single superstore. This especially impacts access for low-income city residents, who are less likely to own cars, as well as far-flung rural communities. 

Not Just Groceries — Monopolies Threaten Our Whole Food System

The Kroger-Albertsons merger is only the latest in a long string of threats to consumers throughout our food system. For instance, during the pandemic, meat corporations boosted retail prices while paying farmers less. One meat corporation even lied to the public about meat supplies to keep workers in plants — and money coming in — during the worst of the pandemic. 

While clerks and meatpackers risked death by COVID in their workplaces, many corporations limited hazard pay. Instead of keeping workers safe or compensating them fairly, they invested in stock buybacks to generate more cash for shareholders.

Meanwhile, food manufacturers have also consolidated. When it comes to the products we buy at the store, companies like Kraft-Heinz (the two merged in 2015), General Mills, and Campbell soup dominate multiple food categories like soft drinks, yogurt, and baby food.

And market power goes all the way to farm. A few corporations have taken over seeds, fertilizers, tractors, and more. At every step in our food system, from factory farm, to factory floor, to our kitchen tables, a handful of companies make the rules. 

This not only affects the prices at the grocery store, but conditions for workers, the quality of our food, and the sustainability of our climate.

We Can Stop the Advance of Grocery Prices and Market Power 

Even though the grocery giants always say mergers will help them lower prices for consumers, we know the one recently proposed will only hurt us. 

Not only must the Federal Trade Commission reject the Kroger-Albertsons merger — we need to stop corporate greed and consolidation throughout our food system.

To this end, Democratic lawmakers chave proposed vital legislation, like the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium Act and the Farm System Reform Act. They are working to reform our antitrust framework and re-envision our food system as one that works for everyone, not just corporations. To continue this work, they need to hold onto their majority in Congress.

In the run-up to the midterms, Food & Water Action is working tirelessly to mobilize voters and secure the strong turnout we need. This November, there’s a clear way to fight inflation and lower prices at the grocery store. Let’s elect leaders who will stand up to corporate giants and their relentless pursuit of profit.

Help us get out the vote! Reach out to three friends or family members and ask them to head to the polls. 

Her Grandfather Left A Land Legacy That Mountaire Poisoned

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by Angie Aker

Gina Burton’s grandfather, Herbert, worked tirelessly as a sharecropper in southern Delaware. Through the years, he built his savings and purchased a large tract of land. The plan was to sell some of it for a profit, but keep enough to leave his children and grandchildren parcels that they could live on, prosper from, and enjoy together as a family. At first, the plan worked just as he imagined. He sold a portion of his land along the Indian River to Townsend, Inc., a smaller poultry plant. Then he divided up the rest of the land and passed it down through his family members. He passed away with the sense of accomplishment of having done something worthwhile to protect his family’s future. The lane separating Burton’s family properties from Mountaire’s fields is in fact named after Gina’s grandfather — ”Herbert Lane.”

Tragedy Befalls The Burton Family Soon After Mountaire Moves In

What Herbert didn’t know was that Townsend, Inc. would sell the land to Mountaire, which in 2000 moved in across the lane from where his grandchildren and great-grandchildren live, and expanded the operations to volumes that were unsafe for the surrounding families. He didn’t know that what would follow was toxic spraying in the air surrounding their houses, that high-volume chicken waste would leach into their groundwater, or that many in his family would fall ill, and in the case of his great-grandson (Gina’s son) die from asthma complications. Gina’s grandfather toiled for years, and Mountaire’s carelessness has threatened to turn his legacy into a curse. But Gina won’t let the story end there, and with Food & Water Action’s help, she plans to force the company to do right by their community.

Gina is a fighter. She works for the Delaware Department of Corrections. When asked why she spends her free time working to expose Mountaire’s bad practices and the damage it’s caused her family, there are many answers. Her son’s tragic death in 2014 from an acute asthma attack is obviously her number one reason. Her family’s many health tragedies, like her Aunt Martha’s loss of her legs, her mother’s colitis, and her sister’s many tumors and strange black spots all over her back are another. Gina herself also suffers from gastrointestinal issues. Other area families wonder whether their strange health issues and the deaths of their family pets could be because of Mountaire’s contamination of their air and water.

The Fight Against Mountaire Comes Down To Right And Wrong

Beyond the immediate effects her family has suffered, Gina also has a deep sense of duty to hold the company accountable for doing wrong to so many, and she speaks with passion about why:

It’s about doing people wrong. If you know you’re harming somebody and you know it’s not right, then I mean that’s a cause or reason to fight.

Mountaire, a poultry processing facility in Millsboro, Delaware, produces 2.4 million gallons of chicken waste each day. The waste – comprised of manure, feathers, carcasses, organs, blood, dirt and massive amounts of wastewater – is stored in lagoons and sprayed onto nearby disposal fields that are right across the lane from where Gina Burton’s mother, sisters, nieces, nephews, Aunt Martha, and other family all live on the land that her grandfather provided for them. Gina recounts a recent story about someone being curious about what was being sprayed over those fields:

One day we came home from church on a Sunday and somebody had taken the end off the sprayer and it was straight green solids coming out — turds coming out… It was within feet of my mother’s front yard.

Working With Food & Water Action and Food & Water Watch Has Made a Difference

The groundwater aquifer below the plant is the sole source of drinking water for the surrounding community — and tests have shown contamination since at least the year 2000. Interestingly, Mountaire Farms was the fifth-largest contributor to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign — arguably an investment in the government’s continued inaction in addressing the undeniable contamination coming from the company.

In the face of that kind of financial and political power, Gina says that working with our affiliated organization, Food & Water Watch, has been instrumental in helping her fight back and defend her grandfather’s legacy. Gina credits the boost in her fight to teaming up:

Food & Water Watch are experienced… They had the resources, they knew the legal aspects of it. They had contacts. I went to school for criminal justice but I did it on a law enforcement aspect, not an environmental aspect. You need to connect with people who are more experienced.

Mountaire has been able to dominate the media coverage through strategic advertising and donations to community causes, something that Gina says would be difficult to combat if she were fighting them without the help of Food & Water Action and Food & Water Watch.

The Type of Pollution Mountaire Commits Isn’t An Isolated Problem

What Mountaire is doing in Delaware isn’t isolated. Slaughterhouses, which are only one link in the polluting industrial meat production chain, are ruining family lands all over America, and poisoning people who have a basic human right to clean air and water in their homes.

Whether it’s community meetings, press conferences, educational outreach, or exploring legal options, Gina works night and day to try to make her grandfather’s legacy right again. She knows how hard he worked to achieve the American dream, and she works just as hard to defend it. Mountaire is clearly in the wrong, but Gina is an extraordinary hero for fighting for her community and a champion to inspire us all to fight even harder, too.  

Chip in to help us support fighters like Gina taking on corporations who think they’re too big to be reigned in.

Every donation helps us fight for a livable future.

Pandemic Profiteering: How Corporations Are Capitalizing on the Crisis

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by Peter Hart and Mia DiFelice

From the beginning of the COVID crisis, corporate oligarchs manipulated markets to maximize profits. The giants that control the meat industry stoked bogus fears of a shortage to jack up prices on consumers — with lies so egregious that we filed suit against one of the worst offenders, pork giant Smithfield.

Of course, the problems mounted. Inflation spiked across the economy. Shops swung between long waits and huge shortages. Big companies blamed supply chain shocks and increasing production costs, which were certainly part of it.

But when a handful of corporations control markets, they can essentially name their price — and shovel obscene profits to CEOs and Wall Street speculators.

Oil Companies Are Winning

The squeeze on working families intensified with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, global dependence on fossil fuels reached a breaking point. U.S. gasoline prices soared while gas supplies to Europe plunged into chaos. 

In response, politicians and their media enablers demanded a dramatic increase in fracking. But energy giants quietly rebuffed these drilling demands. Not for any new concern for the environment — but rather because they are pulling in billions in record profits. Twisted market logic meant that limiting supply would pay off for their Wall Street investors.

From January to March this year, CEOs of eight fossil fuel corporations saw their share values grow by nearly $100 million. Windfall profits have not resulted in lower prices or better conditions for workers. Instead, these CEOs sold their shares for millions of personal profit.

The horror in Ukraine has created a new global energy crisis. Unfortunately, too many political leaders are clinging to the wrong solution. They want to “fix” a fossil fuel crisis by pushing more fossil fuels. That political support has given frackers a license to spring for long-term gas export terminals. American company EQT even called their mega-polluting gas export scheme “the Largest Green Initiative On the Planet.”

As a result, 25 new LNG projects are currently underway in our country. Fossil fuel companies are not only profiteering from today’s misery — they’re locking us into decades of pollution and emissions. We can’t let this continue. The International Energy Agency warned just last year that fossil fuel production must stop growing immediately if we’re to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

Cornering The Market At The Supermarket

At the start of the pandemic, broadcasts and news feeds were fixated on one recurring image: empty grocery store shelves. Periodic shortages kept some consumers on our toes, while many were simply forced to go without.

As with oil and gas, we face giant corporations that would rather gobble profits than prioritize the needs of families. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen the cost of meat rise while small farmers’ and ranchers’ profits fell. While COVID ran rampant, we saw corporations limit hazard pay for workers, while investing in stock buybacks to line the pockets of executives.

The meat industry is one of the core players in this problem. A mere four corporations process 85% of all beef and 70% of pork in the U.S. This extreme concentration gives these companies the power to control supply chains, prices and wages. Experts suspect they’re using inflation and supply chain problems as a cover to boost profits. In fact, net profit margins for those top four companies are up over 300%.

Plus, lean supply chains in any industry are dangerous for crises. With one disaster, a few broken links send huge ripples throughout a system without the backups and resilience to recover. For example, a COVID outbreak in a single Smithfield hog plant took out 5 percent of the nation’s hog processing capacity. 

Corporations Are Selling Us Misery

It’s never been clearer: When the essentials for life itself are controlled by corporate cartels, the future of our communities, our families and our planet are at their mercy. For decades, corporate America has told us that bigger is better, that consolidation would lower prices and eliminate inefficiencies. 

We know this is a lie. 

The latest heartbreaking example: the wealthiest nation on Earth is running out of baby formula because of problems at a single factory, thanks to a market controlled by four corporations.

At Food & Water Action, we know that these problems have solutions. That’s why we’re fighting to break up the grocery cartels and stop corporate water profiteers. It’s why we’re demanding an end to the polluting factory farms that harm communities and farmers. Why we fight on the ground across the country to stop the fossil fuel projects driving the climate emergency. In an era of compounding crises, we must fight to transform the present and protect the future.

We can’t fight Corporate America without you.

Iowa Democratic Party Ratifies Bold Platform Opposed to Carbon Capture, Pipelines, Factory Farms

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For Immediate Release

On Saturday, the Iowa Democratic Party voted to ratify a new party platform, taking a bold stance against carbon capture, pipelines and factory farms.

Polling in March by Food & Water Action found that 73% of Iowa voters (including 78% of Democrats) would be less likely to vote for a candidate that supported eminent domain for the carbon pipelines proposed across the state. With Saturday’s platform vote, Iowa Democrats became the first confirmed state party in the nation to formally oppose carbon capture and its associated carbon pipelines.

While many party activists met in Des Moines, over 50 Iowans gathered in Ames on Saturday, giving two hours of testimony at a People’s Hearing against the expanding factory farm crisis plaguing the state. 2019 polling found that nearly two-thirds of Iowa voters stand behind legislation to stop factory farm expansion, but absent state legislative action on the issue, Iowa continues to see rampant growth of the destructive industry. From 1982-2017, Iowa lost nearly 90% of its hog farms, while nearly 10,000 factory farms have moved in, taxing local economies, water supplies, public health, and the climate. With Saturday’s platform vote, Iowa Democrats once again threw their weight behind a moratorium on factory farm construction and expansion.

Food & Water Action Senior Iowa Organizer John Aspray issued the following statement:

“The Iowa Democratic Party has adopted a bold platform reflecting many of the demands coming from their constituents who want meaningful change. Iowans know that our land, air and water are worth more to us than the empty promises of prosperity offered by Big Ag and Big Energy. Our state is more than a dumping ground for factory farm manure and a corridor for pipelines to pass through.

“At the grassroots level, Iowa Democrats are taking a stand against the corporate abuses that have run rampant in our state for too long. We urge Democratic candidates and elected officials  to follow suit. With midterm elections right around the corner, we look forward to ushering in a new wave of elected officials that stand up to carbon pipelines and the extractive corporate agriculture industry.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Biden Set to Double Down on Polluting Ethanol as Iowans Fight Off Ethanol Industry Carbon Pipelines

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For Immediate Release

Today, while touring an ethanol plant in central Iowa, President Biden is expected to announce a suspension of a summer ban on E15. Iowa’s ethanol industry is embroiled in a political melee over three proposed carbon capture pipelines which plan to extend a lifeline to polluting ethanol facilities through the construction of hundreds of miles of hazardous pipeline across the state.

Recent Food & Water Action polling found that a plurality of Iowa voters, across all party lines, oppose the carbon pipelines proposed for the state, and 80% oppose using eminent domain to build them. It is unclear whether President Biden’s announcement today will mention these dangerous projects or the billions of federal taxpayer dollars that support them.

Food & Water Action Senior Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit issued the following statement:

“If Biden wants to curry favor with rural Democrats, he need look no further than the smokestacks of the ethanol refinery he’ll tour today. His visit comes as Iowans of all political leanings rally together to fight the ethanol carbon pipelines proposed for the Midwest. The anti-pipeline movement’s opposition is reaching a fever pitch; Biden’s silence on this issue would be deafening.

“Proposals to clean up the ethanol industry with a network of hazardous carbon pipelines across our state and private land are like putting lipstick on a pig. Biden should use his executive authority to transition off polluting energy sources and give the public real clean energy alternatives to dirty fossil fuels, not displace them with polluting biofuels on the public’s dime. And in Iowa, our elected officials must listen to the people demanding a stop to these carbon pipeline projects, and end the threat of eminent domain to build them.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

New Poll Finds Iowa Voters Overwhelmingly Oppose Eminent Domain for Carbon Pipelines

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For Immediate Release

A new poll, released today by the national advocacy group, Food & Water Action, found that Iowa voters overwhelmingly oppose the use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines. The poll, commissioned by Food & Water Action, was conducted by Change Research. Its release comes one week after a public hearing on the issue, where over 150 landowners, legislators and advocates rallied at the capitol, demanding the state legislature act this session to ban the use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines. Poll results highlight that eminent domain is top of mind for registered voters heading into the midterm election.

Voters object to carbon pipelines and the use of eminent domain to build them:

  • A plurality (44%) are opposed to the three carbon pipelines proposed for Iowa. Only 35% support them, 21% are unsure.
  • A supermajority (80%) oppose allowing private corporations to use eminent domain to build them. This opposition crosses party lines.
  • 80% of voters who are favorable towards Kim Reynolds oppose the use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines.

Voters want their legislators to fight the use of eminent domain to build these pipelines:

  • 73% of voters say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported using eminent domain to build carbon pipelines. This includes 78% of Democrats & leaners, 70% of Independents, and 69% of Republicans & leaners.
  • 70% of voters support Iowa legislators in the General Assembly blocking the use of eminent domain for these pipelines. This includes 72% of Democrats & leaners, 69% of Independents, and 69% of Republicans & leaners.

Food & Water Action Senior Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit issued the following statement:

“Iowans are united against unsound carbon capture scams and the hazardous pipelines that accompany them. We are opposed to carbon pipelines and categorically opposed to the seizing of land necessary to build them.

“Iowans know that the proposed projects aren’t intended to help our state — instead, these schemes are designed to funnel profit into the pockets of huge corporations, taking our land and using our tax dollars to make it happen. We are staunchly opposed to the use of eminent domain in order to fulfill the greedy aspirations of private corporations.

“Voters will not take inaction as an answer. Iowa’s State Senators must address the predominant concerns of constituents by banning eminent domain for carbon pipelines this session — or else feel the consequences at the ballot box.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]