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In some respects, America’s market for beer has never looked healthier. Where fewer than a hundred brewers operated a generation ago, we now can count nearly 3,500, producing a mind-boggling variety of beers. Yet the market below this drinker’s paradise has, in certain respects, never been more closed. To go to our Beer page, click here.

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Photo by Wilson Ring/Associated Press.

 

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From loaves of bread to processed snacks to animal feed, grains make up an enormous part of the American diet and agricultural economy. In 2011, sales of wheat, corn, sorghum, cotton, hay, rice, and oats accounted for over $135 billion of all agricultural output, nearly 95% of agricultural output by sales. Yet here too, control over this industry is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few giant corporations. To go to our Grains page, click here.

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Over the past 40 years, Americans have eaten more and more produce. Consumption of both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables reached 675 pounds per capita in 2009, an increase of more than 8% since 1976. In fresh produce alone, the growth was even greater: in 2009, the typical American ate 54% more fresh vegetables than in 1976, and 25% more fresh fruit. These gains are driven in part by increasing awareness of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, as well as by policy that supports access to healthier food. Technological advances like cheaper transportation and better warehousing also have contributed to wider produce availability. But behind this encouraging tale, there’s a story of consolidation that is negatively impacting farmers, farm-workers, and the environment. To go to our Produce page, click here.

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Farmers have sold their food grains in markets for millennia. For almost as long, traders, bankers, and moneylenders have been involved in financing and shaping those markets. Over time, financial players have tried to control those markets so as to pay the farmer less, or to charge the consumer more. The oldest market regulations in the world were created to protect farmers and consumers from such “cornered” markets. In recent decades, U.S. government regulation of many agricultural markets was severely weakened for long periods of time, clearing the way for speculators and grain traders to make the markets more volatile and to capture windfall profits. To go to our Speculation page, click here.

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