News Release

Pandemic Exposes Agribusiness’ “Plantation Economics”

RICARDO SALVADOR, via Ja-Rei Wang, JWang at ucsusa.org, @cadwego
Salvador is senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He wrote the piece “Agribusiness Is Using the COVID-19 Crisis to Slash Food-Worker Wages” and was recently interviewed on FAIR’s show “CounterSpin.”

Salvador said: “We recently have been forced to recognize how essential these workers are, by actually giving them that official designation. ‘Essential’ means, ‘Without you, the whole thing doesn’t work.’ But there are asymmetries here. … There’s a mismatch of supply and demand.” Workers are brought in from outside the U.S. and are exploited and not paid “the fair value of their labor. So that’s the structure of our food system. It’s very much modeled on antebellum plantation economics.

“Probably the single most influential agricultural lobby is the American Farm Bureau Federation. They say they represent farmers, but they actually represent agribusiness. And the president of that organization is Zippy Duvall. …

“The person who is carrying the water for all of this in the White House is President Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows. He very much says his whole career has been about small government. And by the way, I’ll remind everyone that we’re living in a time where, to quote Noam Chomsky a couple of weeks ago, every fiscal conservative is hiding their copy of Ayn Rand and lining up for benefits from the nanny state. There’s a lot of hypocrisy that we need to throw in these people’s faces, because that’s the urgency that the degree of exploitation and dysfunction that we’re living through demands.”

Salvador also highlighted the role of those who run meatpacking industry in the country, such as “Larry Pope, who heads Smithfield Foods, and Noel White, who heads Tyson Foods, because these are the folks who are making the decisions to force people to show up to work. They’re interested in maintaining share value more than they’re interested in preserving the health of their workers. They put out press releases saying that they value nothing more than the health of their workers, but they’re forcing them to work under highly unsafe conditions, given the etiology of this particular pandemic, the coronavirus.”