Pandemic Profiteering: How Corporations Are Capitalizing on the Crisis

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.

Food, Water, And Climate Are Under Attack. We Must Protect Them.

by Mark Schlosberg and Peter Hart

With the Western United States engulfed in megadrought and climate change supercharged weather disasters increasing everywhere, the future can seem bleak. This is especially true given that our dysfunctional Congress has failed to pass any meaningful climate legislation. 

But now isn’t the time to surrender. It’s time to double down to advance a bold food, water, and climate agenda. This moment calls for visionary plans that will inspire people across the country and meet the challenges we face.

We need to organize around the real solutions that will address our food, water, and climate problems. 

A Proven Theory To Address Climate Change And Resource Problems

At Food & Water Action and our affiliated organization, Food & Water Watch, we’ve never backed down from a fight. Our theory of change – how we believe real change happens – is two-fold. First, we propose bold policies that will solve real problems that people face. And just as importantly, we organize around those solutions, even when others say they are politically unreasonable. 

It’s how we’ve:

  • Changed the national debate on fracking and won a ban in New York, Maryland and communities nationwide. 
  • Blocked water privatization attempts in dozens of communities.
  • Begun changing the debate around factory farms. 

At the federal level, we cannot afford to waste time on industry schemes like carbon capture and so-called ‘renewable’ biogas. These are delay tactics that will lock us into decades of fossil fuels, incentivize the spread of factory farms and subsequently pollute our water. We need to advance legislation that takes on the fossil fuel industry, big agribusiness, and water privatizers. That’s exactly what we’re doing. 

Climate Change Is Inseparably Connected With Food And Water Concerns

The issues of food, water and climate are deeply connected. The historically punishing drought in the West, for example, is driven by climate change. Climate change, in turn, is being fueled by greenhouse gasses from factory farms and fracking and drilling. Industrial agriculture is also a massive water user and polluter in dry western states, as is the fossil fuel industry.

So we have a reckless cycle: 

  • Fracking and factory farms use and pollute water. 
  • The greenhouse emissions they create drive climate change. 
  • Climate change leads to drought and less water, which also affects food supply. 

All the while, a small number of giant corporations and wealthy titans profit while ordinary people suffer.

This Climate Change Cycle Can Only Be Broken Through Systemic Shifts In Policy

We need to break this cycle. And that’s what we aim to do with three landmark pieces of legislation in Congress. Passing the Future Generations Protection Act, the Farm System Reform Act, and the WATER act will not happen in the current weak Congress. But laying the groundwork now is critical. Real federal solutions are essential to avoid worsening climate chaos, depleted water systems, and a further consolidated food system that hurts everyone, including family farmers. 

THREE LANDMARK BILLS

The Farm System Reform Act (FSRA) will make our food system safe, healthy, and sustainable. This critical legislation will ban the construction of new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones. The FSRA will phase out existing factory farms by 2040. It will also ensure we’re enforcing environmental laws on existing factory farms, including holding Big Ag companies responsible for their pollution. 

Our aging water systems are crumbling. Meanwhile, giant corporations are scrambling to privatize public water systems to profit from the basic human right to water. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to the current water-funding gap. It will achieve this by rolling back a small portion of the Trump’s administration’s corporate income tax cuts. The WATER Act will significantly fund the protection of our drinking water and create almost one million jobs. Ultimately, the WATER Act will help renew our commitment to public water, ensuring everyone has access to affordable water service.

The Future Generations Protection Act (FGPA) is groundbreaking legislation that would move us toward the fossil-fuel-free future we need. The FGPA will: 

  • Ban greenhouse gas emissions from all new power plants
  • Ban fracking
  • Ban crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids exports 

It’s the only bill in Congress that would ban fracking nationally – a critical step to ending climate chaos.

Your Support Is Needed In The Fight To Preserve Our Resources

The first step is having the right solutions to the problems that face our generation. Now that we have those, we need your support at all levels to build the power over the long-term to enact them. Will you add your name to show Congress the power these solutions have?

Urge Congress to support the Future Generations Protection Act!

The Truth About Bogus Factory Farm ‘Biogas’

By Phoebe Galt and Peter Hart

Factory farms are a huge pollution menace. These industrial facilities are responsible for an array of serious threats to our air, water and climate. Factory farms are responsible for an enormous amount of methane pollution — a potent greenhouse gas supercharging the climate crisis. Now, industry wants to profit off that pollution. They’re calling the scheme “renewable natural gas,” but we prefer the term “factory farm biogas.

The most recent assessments from the EPA report methane emissions from agriculture have increased about seven percent since 1990. Emissions from factory farm manure have risen an astonishing 71 percent. The main contributor to this spike appears to be the common factory farm practice of mixing animal waste with water. 

Lagoon at Pennwood Dairy Farms. CCBY-USDA

After creating this problem, the factory farm and fossil fuel industries are promoting a bogus biogas “solution” — one that we’re all paying for. It involves trapping the methane before it is released into the atmosphere, using expensive and often dangerous digesters. Then they turn it around and market it as “clean energy.” This business is booming with venture capital and government subsidies, and it enjoys mostly glowing coverage in the media. After all, turning waste into energy is a good thing, right? 

It’s time to set the record straight.

Methane? More Like Methain’t

If methane emissions are the problem, factory farm biogas is hardly a solution.

The main culprit here is actually the factory farms themselves. Factory farms produce and concentrate huge amounts of waste in one location. So addressing factory farm pollution has to start with addressing factory farms themselves.

But it’s not only the presence of poop — it’s the way factory farms handle it. Many facilities mix manure and water in large waste pits. Industry prefers to use the term, “lagoons,” but that’s quite a stretch. The anaerobic conditions in those pits are what create most of the methane. As the latest EPA data explains, solid manure management techniques practiced on non-industrial farms produce far less methane. The growth of factory farms and with it the growth of stewing waste cesspools have created the industry’s methane problem. Some projects, like one we’re fighting in Delaware, go even farther, creating methane where there was none before. Poultry litter doesn’t emit methane until companies modify it to “capture” the gas for profit.

Factory Farms Drive Climate Change — Biogas Doesn’t Help

The industry’s biogas “solution” addresses only a tiny fraction of methane pollution — created by its own poor practices. Despite pouring millions of public dollars into these projects, digesters do not appear to be having much effect on actually reducing pollution. One news report noted the Obama administration and an industry group aimed to reduce agriculture’s climate pollution problem by promoting digesters. The result? Since then, factory farms have only gotten bigger, and emissions have risen 15 percent.

So a factory farm digester is not even close to a solution. At best, it transforms a small fraction of the pollution created at these facilities into pipeline-grade gas and digestate. We’ll get to that later. But in doing so, the methane refinery creates a different stream of pollution:

  • The methane that will inevitably leak from pipelines and other dirty energy infrastructure;
  • The pollution created by trucks that carry the gas to be injected into pipelines;
  • And the pollution that is created when the gas is finally burned (releasing CO2).

Digesters use public money and incentives to prop up two of the biggest polluters — Big Ag and Big Energy.

Biogas Won’t Clean Up Factory Farms Either

What industry doesn’t tell you is there’s also the matter of the leftover poop after anaerobic digestion – what’s called “digestate.” Refining gas out of it doesn’t make that poop magically disappear. In fact, digestate has been found to contain higher concentrations of pollutants than manure, and is more water-soluble. This means the threat to clean water — a well-documented problem caused by factory farms — will persist even with biogas digesters. 

Leftover digestate is generally overapplied to fields, and can either spill directly into waterways or leak into water tables from there. Those who live near factory farms know that the field application of manure has long been a menace for nearby communities. It poses real threats to people’s drinking water and health.

Frackers Love Biogas

There’s another industry as eager to hype bogus biogas as Big Ag — fossil fuel corporations and related utility companies. This might seem a little surprising at first. If factory farm gas were really a form of clean energy, it could replace gas from drilling. Wouldn’t that be bad news for the companies that make money fracking? They know better than to worry. Even the rosiest industry predictions tell us that biogas will only ever displace a small fraction of fracked gas usage.

For fossil fuel interests, this is almost a too-perfect scenario. The fracked gas industry is calling biogas their savior. They can promote biogas as ‘clean’ energy knowing it will be delivered in the same pipes that transport fossil gas. Factory farm gas does not replace fracked gas – it complements it, and further entrenches the dirty status quo.

Factory Farms And Their Waste Are No Climate Fix

Help us stop false solutions like factory farm biogas. It’s not clean energy and it’s not a path out of our climate crisis. We don’t need to rely on fairytales that paint fossil fuels and factory farms as heroes — we have the capability to rely on renewable energy now. Electing leaders with the political will to take necessary strides into a clean energy future is how we get there.

Your friends should know about this.

The Winners And Losers Of Rising Grocery Prices

By Phoebe Galt

Do the higher prices on your grocery receipts lately mean that the growers producing your food are profiting more? Or that the increases reflect rising costs on their end? That’s not the biggest reason for the spike. Some participants in the path from farm to table are profiting big-time, while others are barely scraping by. Let’s take a look at the winners and those left holding the bag when it comes to rising grocery bills.

The Winners In The Food Profit Game: Big Ag

Over the past two years, the cost to feed a family of four on a thrifty budget has increased by 33.5%. Animal products, produced predominantly on factory farms, are sporting some of the largest price increases. Meanwhile, the largest meat, dairy and poultry corporations are seeing record profits.

Tyson Foods, Perdue and Cargill are all seeing double-digit revenue growth. Today, there are over 25,000 factory farms in the US. These industrial operations produce as much as possible as quickly as possible, all at the lowest cost to the corporation. That fast track to profit is a recipe for disaster for the rest of us.

Those Left Holding The Bag: Smaller Farmers

While Big Ag is raising prices at the grocery store, they’re also squeezing farmers for profit. For instance, more factory farms mean fewer farmers. In the five years from 2012 to 2017, fifteen percent of America’s dairies closed. That’s 10,000 rural businesses shuttering their doors and countless thousands of employees losing their jobs. These same trends are mirrored in the poultry, beef, and pork industries.

Farmers who do remain are struggling to make ends meet. For every dollar Americans spend on food, farmers take home only 14.3 cents. Whether buying seeds, slaughtering livestock or finding buyers, independent farmers struggle to remain afloat in a market Big Ag dominates. Contract growers who operate factory farms under Big Ag’s stranglehold aren’t doing much better. They are trapped in extractive contracts with corporations. Those parent companies own the animals, set the terms and dictate all aspects of raising the animals, from the buildings they are confined in to the feed they eat.

Those Left Holding The Bag: Rural Communities

Big Ag is gutting America’s rural communities all while raising prices at the grocery store for consumers. Factory farms are linked to declining rural economic prosperity, including job loss and population decline. On top of wreaking havoc on local economies, they’re also tremendous environmental hazards, producing 885 billion pounds of manure annually.

Flies, stench and toxic drinking water are the norm for those who are forced to live, work and play near factory farms. Small-town businesses from bookstores to independent grocers are closing shop, as large corporations push them out of the local economy. Rural counties nationwide are experiencing massive population declines. Some of the biggest declines come from counties where factory farms have moved in.

Those Left Holding The Bag: Our Planet

Grocery prices mirror trends in Big Ag’s climate emissions — both are on the rise. Factory farms are responsible for a whopping percentage of the methane emissions warming our climate. New EPA data reveals that factory-farmed animal manure emissions have risen 71 percent since 1990. And the manure is only half the problem. Industrial factory farming relies on the massively carbon-intensive overproduction of feedstock. This is produced with petroleum-derived fertilizers, pesticides, and practices like tilling that displace large amounts of soil carbon.

As factory farms continue to expand unchecked, the industry’s effect on the mounting climate crisis only intensifies.

We Must Stop Factory Farms

For too long, our politicians have put Big Ag and their Wall Street investors above Main Street. While corporate fat cats and their investors rake in the dough, farmers, rural communities and our planet are losing out.

Factory farms affect all of us, and consumers are feeling the impacts of a consolidated, profiteering industry more than ever. We must ban all new factory farms and transform our food system so it works for people and our planet — not Big Ag.

Join us in fighting for the Farm System Reform Act with a message to Congress.