The ‘Big 10’ That Control Almost Everything We Eat
It wasn’t very long ago that I discovered in horror that there are only a handful of mega conglomerates that run most of our worlds food supply, and most everything you can buy at your typical grocery store. This is problematic and a complex issue for many reasons, and I’ll be covering those reasons here.
Food Labeling Laws In the US vs. EU
Each country has its own food labeling laws and legislation, and the EU is far more advanced than the United States/FDA in terms of its food labeling laws and requirements. After speaking to my contacts at FARE extensively on this, I’ve learned that the way our government currently is set up, the U.S. can’t simply enforce the same laws that the EU has in place, unfortunately. However, I want to point out that these same global mega-food conglomerates in the U.S. are labeling according to EU standards in the European Union, providing much better transparency to consumers on what allergens may be inside a product and contaminated, so we know it is possible for them to do the same in the United States for consumers, it’s just a matter of laws and the FDA in the United States requiring it.
Getting transparent food labeling laws is a huge goal of mine in the United States. I’ll have additional content on here around this subject, because it is much easier to eat safely in places such as Canada and Europe compared to the U.S. and people’s lives are on the line, and deaths could be prevented, in addition to costly medical bills and an improved quality of life for the 32 million Americans with food allergies, not to mention people with other health issues or just health-conscious consumers, due to corporations being required to list what allergens are in a shared facility. I strongly believe if the majority of people realized the lack of labeling laws we have, they’d want transparency into what they’re ingesting and what their family is ingesting on a daily basis.
Corporate Control Of Food & Common Household Food Brands
Common household food brand names we have all heard of such as Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever, General Mills, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, MARS, Danone, Associated British Foods (ABF), and Mondelez (previously Kraft), are some of the world’s biggest food companies in both size and revenue.
These companies are much larger than they seem at first glance, and this is done intentionally to have seemingly “competing” subsidiaries within their portfolios, so that the public won’t pair brands with one another, learning that it’s all one food conglomerate.
This deception of having many little brands allows public food companies to take corporate control of our food, and mislead the global food system to monopolize it. For example, Kellogg’s owns subsidiaries from health-conscious ‘Kashi’ to kid-friendly ‘Keebler’. And Nestle we know for their water and chocolates, but did you know that they also own Purina? To prove my point, I’ve listed only a select few of the brands that just one company owns, to accurately portray the scale of the food conglomerates’ deception and trickery.
Kellogg’s owns at least these subsidiary companies:
- Special K
- Natural Touch
- Morningstar Farms
- United Bakers Group
- Egyptian Companies
- Famous Amos
- Bear Naked
- Corn Flakes
- Frosted Flakes
- Austin cookies & crackers
*This list is up-to-date as of 2021, but changes often and quickly as companies acquire more in their portfolio and shift.
Kellogg’s 13 Billion In One Year
For the fiscal year 2018, Kellogg’s reported revenue of $13.54 billion. That’s right, over 13 billion in one year! I know it sounds like I’m focusing only on Kellogg’s here, but they’re just an example I’m familiar with, each ‘big 10’ company is this same way. I encourage you to look into who controls the food industry more on your own, and start thinking about supporting small food companies, local brands, and local farmers instead.
The food conglomerates chart of the ‘big 10’ shown at the top of this post and in this section originates from Oxfam American’s “Behind The Brands” campaign. This image is not the most up-to-date, either, as I see a few missing already in 2021 such as Enjoy Life Foods, the allergy-friendly brand which is now owned by Mondelez, and has been since 2015. However, I love the idea behind this food company diagram and believe it’s still very impactful to see the biggest food companies and their scale.
So, How Does This Connect To Food Allergies?
Behind the Brands is challenging the “big 10” food companies’ policies, encouraging them to do more for people and the planet, such as looking at how they’re negatively impacting climate change and poverty. Behind the Brands is also looking to harness the power of consumer action to convince the ‘big 10’ to do better, as explained in-depth on their organization’s About page. I urge you to take a look again at the food company diagram again and look for brands you buy and shop for regularly. You can also easily click on different brands you love on the Behind The Brand’s brand page, where they have an interactive, fun page dedicated to learning more about how the brands you love score overall among main categories like land, women, farmers, workers, climate, transparency, and water.
I want to support with my dollars the brands I want to buy from, and shop from food and beverage companies who care more about their consumers (i.e. me!) and the planet. I’ve found that smaller brands in general (food and non-food) are willing to tell me more about the ingredients and facilities’ allergen practices because they want their customers to be informed and make the decisions that are best for them.
Multinational Corporations Lack Of Respect Towards The Food Allergy Community
Most of the ‘big 10’, if not all of them, have been called out for being disrespectful to the allergy community in their actions at some point. You can look up different situations around Kellogg’s in 2016 adding peanut flour to a number of products in a spiteful move– I prefer not to because it makes me so disturbed.
I share the same disturbance with the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita Brands International. Sound familiar? Chiquita bananas most often come to mind with their yellow and blue recognizable sticker. I won’t go into it in-depth here at all, but if you’re passionate about getting food companies in the USA and beyond to better serve the planet and their workers, here is a good explainer article to get you started, and another similar article from Washington State University. After writing this, when I see an item in the grocery store, I know there’s likely a huge history behind it that I don’t see or know about. I have the curiosity to learn more now.
I’ve learned that Kellogg’s won’t label for ‘may contain’ or give information to consumers on shared equipment or facilities, but since it isn’t required of them to do so in the U.S., I can’t fully 100% blame the companies. This is why we need to apply pressure to have our U.S. labeling laws changed to support consumers because these massive food conglomerates dominating the market need to be held accountable.
The FDA & Food Companies In The USA
In my opinion, the FDA needs to up its standards for food labeling practices in the U.S. to ensure people know what they’re ingesting, especially if it’s life-threatening and if the death of a person can be avoided. We shouldn’t have to personally experience the loss of someone due to a life-threatening food allergy in order to demand positive change, it needs to be preventative, too many have been lost already when it could’ve been prevented due to food labeling transparency.
Some of the sub-companies Kellogg’s owns is more transparent with consumers on the allergens in their facilities, such as Famous Amos. I do appreciate that, but wish it were common, required, and standardized across the board. More often than not, if something happens to be a peanut-free facility, they’ll slap a label on it saying “no peanuts in the facility” but there’s no actual meaningfulness behind making facilities allergen-free in a purposeful way to help keep people with food allergies safe.
I’m not going to go into the dark, endless blackhole subject of if the majority of the processed food they’re profiting off of is made with integrity to be as healthy as it can be for consumers. We all know it’s a business and their goal is to make the biggest profit they can. You’d hope companies existed because they wanted to put good out into the world, at least that is my hope, especially with large brands with this much power and reach. But I’ve learned that isn’t the case with these ‘big 10’ companies that own everything.
In addition to Kellogg’s, General Mills has also put peanut flour in a bunch of previously peanut-less products, even after the allergen community voiced their concerns for the safety of consumers who have trusted the products for decades. Actions like this feel like a jab to the community, and signal to me that they don’t care about the people buying their products. The fact that this was brought to their attention and they still decided to put peanut flour in sauces and cereals while peanut allergies are on the rise shows me that they don’t care about consumers.
It’s a similar situation to airlines still serving tree nuts and peanuts or refusing to make accommodations around food allergies. It’s a jab to the allergy community and disrespectful because they’re saying they value a specific food or tradition over someone’s life. These are the 10 largest food companies in the world, and they control an enormous chunk of consumer food products, so it is rather troubling that their values for consumers are atrocious.
I Believe In The Power Of The People
A Small 3-Minute Action You Can Do Right Now
Luckily, there are empathetic and caring people, like us in the food allergy community, who can create the positive changes we want to see. Here are 3 quick ways to start:
- Next time you’re at the store, support 2-3 food brands you love and love the mission of, and try to shop directly from them. If you don’t support a brand you absolutely love, suddenly, they may go away!
- Take 3 minutes and leave these brands a thoughtful and specific review online. Email it to them as well, explaining why you are a fan of their business, product, and ethics. A little positive encouragement goes a long way, and reviews really do impact a business.
- Identify a food or non-food product in your home now that you know the company values don’t align with your own values on and find an alternative company to support that better aligns. I’ve slowly had to do this for products I’ve bought that are tested on animals because I have a rescue beagle and do not want to be supporting companies doing cruel animal testing.
Invisibly Allergic Food Allergy Blog
Now that you know the 10 food companies that own everything, who owns Kashi, now that you’ve seen the companies that own other companies chart, show support with your money next time you shop.
If I don’t value the mission or actions of a company, I try to not give them support with my $$ (ahem cough cough Amazon cough). It’s easier said than done, but we truly do vote with our dollars. Another way to show support is looking into organizations who are already doing a lot of heavy lifting on issues you’re passionate about, such as the few I’ve mentioned here like Oxfam America. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel if someone else is doing it right, so try to get involved with them! What are some of your favorite brands because of their good ethics? Have you found a food company diagram worth sharing? Post here in the comments!
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