Four food companies control 80% of all U.S. grocery stores

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a woman and a child in a supermarket

Watch out for conspiracy theorists: here’s something new to obsess over. A new joint investigation by The Guardian and Food & Water Watch has determined that a few large companies control about 80% of American food. Not just the grocery store. Not just slaughterhouses. Not just snacks. All of this, from the seeds to the grain section. Do you remember reading in American history class how, in the golden age, a few guys controlled all the banks? It’s a bit like that.

In a separate story, The Guardian posted some of the highlights (or maybe weaknesses):

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The full survey includes interactive graphs that show how much of the market for various products, ranging from dried pasta to canned tuna, is controlled by specific mega-companies. Even sectors you think are immune, like craft beer, are monopolized by companies: between 2011 and 2020, Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired 17 independent brewers. Large corporations also control supermarket private labels, as many small local chains have been swallowed up by larger national chains.

What does this mean to you, the ordinary consumer who just wants to buy a can of spaghetti and a can of tomatoes to make dinner? Well, you could pay more for it. Corporate consolidation drives up prices, both in grocery stores and in the commodity market. And while these companies charge more to consumers, they pay less to farmers and workers. It’s a deeply screwed-up system, which isn’t helped by the fact that corporate interests support food lobbies that overwhelmingly support Republicans, who aren’t very interested in government regulation of the industry.

So what can you do about it? Buy local, experts say, if you can. But that’s also part of the problem: It’s so huge that even if you walk into it with the best of intentions, you almost can’t help but contribute.

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