we love capitalism, we hate russia & china (russia?)

Food Shortages? Nope, Too Much Food In The Wrong Places
Dan Charles, NPR, Apr 3 2020

In recent days, top Pindo government boxtops have moved to assure Pindpos that they won’t lack for food, despite the coronavirus. As he toured a Walmart distribution center, Pence announced:

Pindostan’s food supply is strong.

The Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for food, Frank Yiannas (a former Walmart executive) told reporters during a teleconference:

There are no widespread or nationwide shortages of food, despite local reports of outages. There is no need to hoard.

In fact, the pandemic has caused entirely different problems: a spike in the number of people who can’t afford groceries and a glut of food where it’s not needed. Dairy farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Georgia have been forced to dump thousands of gallons of milk that no one will buy. In Florida, vegetable growers are abandoning harvest-ready fields of tomatoes, yellow squash and cucumbers for the same reason. Kim Jamerson, a vegetable grower near Fort Myers, said:

We cannot pick the produce if we cannot sell it, because we cannot afford the payroll every week. Work has stopped on the yellow squash. I think we’re getting ready to stop the cucumbers. The bell peppers. Those unharvested vegetables will rot in the fields. Those crops will be plowed back into the ground. We’ll have to tear ’em up. Just tear up beautiful vegetables that really could go elsewhere, to food banks and hospitals and rest homes. It’s just a shame to have enough food, but not be able to get it to the people in need. A woman who’s got two kids, how can she live on unemployment, go into a grocery store and pay $0.90 for a cucumber? She just can’t do that. Part of the problem is that it takes labor to move produce from one place to another, and people are still figuring out who will pay for that. I can’t afford to pay workers to pick a crop that will be donated. I want the government to step in, provide workers or the money to pay them, and make sure food gets to where it’s needed. The government could send the food to the hospitals, the rest homes, to the food banks, to the churches.

The country’s food distribution system is a marvel in normal times, efficiently delivering huge amounts of food to consumers. But it relies on predictability, like a rail system that directs a stream of trains toward their destinations on set schedules. Now, some of the biggest destinations such as chain restaurants, schools and workplace cafeterias have disappeared, and supply chains are struggling to adapt. Jay Johnson, with JGL Produce, a vegetable broker in Immokalee, Florida, is the kind of person who makes this system work, matching buyers with sellers. He says:

You’re getting phone calls, text messages, emails, all day and all night. ‘What’s your price on this? What grade? Can you do a better deal?’ You’re doing all these micro-negotiations throughout the day. On Tuesday Mar 24, that all changed. Everything got quiet. Wednesday Mar 25, superquiet. Thursday, now we’re getting nervous. Normally, chain restaurants buy a steady supply of produce, week after week. But most have shut down, and did so just as Florida’s vegetable harvest shifted into high gear. Now you’re sitting there with all this production, perfect weather, and everybody’s like, ‘Oh no.’

He told vegetable grower Mike Jamerson, Kim’s husband:

We’re in trouble here, and it’s to the point where I’m going to fill my warehouse up, and I’m going to have to tell you to stop picking.

Something similar has happened to dairy farmers. Milk sales in supermarkets have increased, but not enough to make up for the drop in sales of milk to schools and cheese to Pizza Hut. Factories that make milk powder can’t take any more milk. So some milk cooperatives have told their farmers to dump the milk that their cows are producing. Michael Schadler, from the Florida Tomato Exchange, which represents some of the state’s largest growers, said:

The situation is especially dire for Florida’s tomato growers, who sell 80% of their production to restaurants and other food service companies, rather than to supermarkets. Think about all the sandwiches that people eat at lunch when they go out. Burgers, or salads at restaurants. Many of those food service items have tomatoes. Growers are walking away from big portions of their crop, writing off huge investments.

Meanwhile, food banks and pantries are having trouble supplying enough food to people who need it, including millions of children who no longer are getting free meals at school and people who’ve lost jobs in recent weeks. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding Pindostan, a network of food banks and charitable meals programs, says:

These programs normally receive large donations of unsold food from retail stores. In recent weeks, though, as retailers struggled to keep their shelves stocked, we’re seeing as much as a 35% reduction in that donation stream from retail. Food banks are trying to claim more of the food that is stranded in the food service supply chain, either through donations or by buying it. We are capturing some of that. I know we’re not capturing all of it, but we have a whole team of professionals whose job is to try to make sure that we capture as much of it as we possibly can. So we’re having conversations with major restaurants. We’re having conversations with major producers, with trade associations, the whole gamut.

Jay Johnson, the produce broker, says there are signs of hope. The food banks in Florida, he says, are starting to buy some of his vegetables and figuring out new ways to distribute them. They asked Johnson to pack some vegetables in smaller packs, so food banks don’t need so many volunteers to repack them. He said:

They’re understaffed, and they don’t have warehouse space, so they’re having to think creatively. I see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel here.

He adds that he won’t make money on those sales to food banks. Farmers won’t either, but at least they’ll be able to keep their workforce employed until hopefully, better times arrive.

Anarchy of capitalist food production exposed as dairy farmers ordered to dump milk
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Apr 6 2020

In scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression, dairy farmers across the US have been ordered to dump perfectly good milk into their fields and lagoons where it will seep into the earth. The inability of the capitalist system to scientifically plan and coordinate production has left producers no choice but to dump millions of gallons of milk, with no end in sight. Images of farmers dumping their milk has provoked outrage among workers, as grocery stores across the country are still limiting purchases of essential dairy products. While being told to shelter in place, millions of people are obliged to make return trips to the grocery store in order to purchase perishables such as milk, putting their families and essential workers at risk. This comes at a time of mass layoffs, with millions of families being thrown into food insecurity and compelled to rely on food banks for sustenance. In an interview with the Guardian, Jerry Brown, media spokesman for St Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, a coalition of 700 food banks, reflected on the unprecedented demand for their services in Pindostan:

The 2008 recession doesn’t touch this. It’s a different ballgame.

The implementation of social distancing guidelines has collapsed several traditional milk markets such as schools and restaurants. Pindo public schools were the number one consumer of liquid milk according to Pam Jahnke, editor of the Midwest Farm Report. Unable or willing to make the societally beneficial investments to freeze and store the milk for later use or distribution, the market demands it be discarded in order to keep prices artificially inflated. The capitalist system has no answer for the crisis of over-production. In her editorial Jahnke advised readers who wanted to help farmers:

Pray that COVID-19 dissipates. Pray that life begins to return to somewhat normal patterns. Pray that this milk dumping situation is just a temporary story. Pray for all the farm families that are trying to make their way through this.

While the almighty hasn’t yet intervened, travel restrictions and tariffs have crippled supply chains and slowed trade, especially between China and Pindostan. Before the restrictions were implemented, China was the number one importer of dairy products in the world. Even though this pandemic was foreseen for months, food and dairy processors took no steps to prepare for possible disruptions. Instead of preparing their facilities to switch from wholesale to retail production by ordering the necessary equipment and packaging materials, processors have been scrambling to shift workers from wholesale plants towards retail plants, laying off workers in the process. These shifts have ensured the continued spread of COVID-19 among the workforce. In Greely, Colorado an estimated 900 workers called off work on Monday after several COVID-19 cases were confirmed at the JBS USA meat processing plant. The plant, deemed an essential facility, operates 24 hours a day and has three shifts employing some 4,500 workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The UFCW has worked with company management to keep the line moving during the pandemic and done nothing to make sure workers are protected on the job. Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, speaking to the Denver Post, grudgingly conceded:

Maybe folks are sick. I don’t want to speculate until we get the information.

Unwilling to provide a safe work environment, processors have meanwhile had a difficult time keeping up with the increased demand from farmers looking to dispose of their products as restaurants and schools turn away deliveries. In addition to workers falling ill at plants, causing slowdowns, the increased retail demand has resulted in shipping delays. Long-haul truck drivers who transport the bulk of consumer goods in Pindostan have either been unable to pick them up or forced to wait hours for their deliveries due to increased traffic congestion at the plants. Because of this and a shortage of drivers, agriculture groups have been lobbying states to increase truck weight limits on highways, increasing the danger of accidents or rollovers. Speaking in a radio interview with Farm Report, Ryan Elbe, a dairy farmer in West Bend, Wisconsin, confirmed that his family farm had already dumped 250 million pounds of milk by Apr 1 and would continue dumping for at least another week. Elbe told reporters he expected his family would be compensated for their milk, however he did not know by whom or when. Elbe confirmed that his family received a phone call from the Dairy Farmers Alliance (DFA) on Mar 31, instructing Golden E Dairy that due to an “over-supply” of milk in the market they would have to begin the dumping process. The DFA is a dairy cooperative in which concentrated animal feeding operations, that is farms that have a minimum of 1,000 animal units as defined by the Dept of Agriculture, are organized under the umbrella of the DFA. Billed as “grassroots cooperatives,” farmers have no input or say in how their milk is produced or where they can sell it. Instead the DFA operates as a cartel in which “farmer-leaders” are elected and overseen by a 49-member board of directors.

The DFA has been the defendant in several class action lawsuits brought by farmers alleging everything from price-fixing to monopolization of the market. In 2013 and 2014 the DFA settled two lawsuits out of court, while admitting no fault. The settlements required the DFA to pay farmers $140m in one case and $50m in the other. The DFA claims it serves more than 14,500 dairy farmer-members representing 8,500 dairy farms in 48 states. It is unclear if all of its farmers are going to dump their milk, but Elbe was able to confirm that every farmer-member in the co-op that he spoke to had received the same call his father had. The same day, Mar 31, that the DFA ordered its membership to begin dumping milk a Federal Bankruptcy court in Kansas City, where the DFA is headquartered, signaled its approval for a DFA bid to buy out Dean Food Company assets for $433m. Dean Food had declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Nov 2019. Shortly thereafter, DFA submitted several bids to purchase a majority of the assets of the company, the largest dairy processor in Pindostan. The purchase would include the “assets and properties” related to 44 fluid and frozen dairy facilities. For the bid to be approved it will need to be signed off on by the Dept of Justice, as it would mean the largest dairy cooperative in Pindostan would also become the largest milk processor in the country. It is not just the Pindo dairy industry that is facing a crisis of over-production, an absurd situation given the chronic hunger suffered by millions in Pindostan and globally. This crying contradiction is a product of the capitalist profit system, which subordinates any consideration of human need to the drive for profit. This same absurd situation is being replicated globally. After the shuttering of restaurants in the Netherlands the potato crop is at risk of going to rot as storage tanks remain full from last year’s harvest. Speaking to Reuters, Dutch potato farmer Dirk De Heer said he had hoped he would be able to sell his crop at €0.18/kg. After finding no other buyers, De Heer has been left with no choice but to sell his crop to a dairy farmer at €0.01/kg.

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