By Ollie Bell
The Covid-19 crisis is exposing the inherent weaknesses in the capitalist system. The privatisation of the healthcare system in Ireland and globally means that hospitals are underprepared to deal with this global pandemic. But what is also clear are the contradictions within the system. Images of empty shelves and long queues outside of supermarkets went viral, and seeing these posts could give the illusion that we are dealing with food shortages. But in reality the opposite is true.
It has been reported that in Wisconsin and Ohio farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk into lagoons and manure pits. The Dairy Farmers of America have estimates that farmers in the US are dumping as much as 3.7 million gallons of milk everyday; an Idaho farmer has been reported to have dug ditches to dump one million pounds of onions; one chicken processor has been forced to smash 750,000 eggs every week; and in South Florida tractors are plowing fields of ripe cabbage and beans back into soil. With restaurants and bars closing to stop the spread of Covid-19, many farms have lost most of their buyers, forcing them to destroy massive amounts of food.
On the other side of this, we have food banks in the US that are facing shortages due to Covid-19. Food banks are dealing with workers hit hardest by the mass lay-offs caused by the pandemic. In Pennsylvania, food banks are spending an extra $1 million a week but still turning away families, and one pantry in Alabama is set to go $3.6 million over budget by August. While some farmers are donating some of their surplus to food banks and charities, most won’t, because the logic of the market prevents this.
The dumping of food also has environmental implications. Huge swaths of land are cleared to produce the food that is needed everyday to provide for nine million dairy cows in the US. Most dairy comes from big commercial farms that cause destruction to the environment by consuming and releasing large quantities of water, chemicals and pesticides, not to mention methane from the cows themselves. With climate change becoming an increasingly vital issue, the role that capitalist food production plays needs to be addressed.
Capitalism is a system built on contradictions. It encourages the overproduction of food for profit, while leaving millions to starve globally. In order to combat food wastage, we would need to have a system that would look at what people all over the world need and plan ahead accordingly. This would be possible only under a socialist planned economy where major agri-businesses would be brought into public ownership and profit-making eliminated.