An estimated 42 million people in the U.S. aren't sure where their next meal is coming from.
Most of the agricultural production in the U.S. happens in just a small number of large-scale farms; in fact, the most recent USDA census found that the largest 4 percent of farms controlled 55 percent of all U.S. farmland. In turn, these farms are supplied by just a sprinkling of biotech companies.
A 2013 Oxfam study singled out 10 food and beverage companies as essentially controlling what the world eats: Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.
Patented Monsanto seeds, for example, are responsible for 80 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. and for more than 90 percent of the soybeans. These crops are then sold either directly to food companies like those on Oxfam's so-called Big 10 list or to a similarly limited number of crop processors. "If you just look to see who are the big players in crop processing, it's the same players over and over," said Robert Gronski policy coordinator for the advocacy group Catholic Rural Life. "It's Cargill, it's ADM [Archer Daniels Midland]. And if you look at livestock production, it's Cargill again. So it's not quite a monopoly, but it's an oligopoly, and that affects to a great extent the type of food that comes to market."
Last year, 44 percent of the money farmers made came from corn and soybeans, most of which was not grown for direct human consumption, but rather to feed livestock or to make ethanol and cheap sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. The federal government has been offering farmers subsidies for corn and soybeans since the 1970s
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 29.7 million people (all of them in communities where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line) live in food deserts — neighborhoods at least a mile away from a grocery store.