Release: New report exposes $1.1 trillion U.S. food industry influence on national politics

Food Trade Associations Lobbying Against Minimum Wage, Supporting Ultra-Processed Foods, and Putting Small Farmers and Restaurants Out of Business

(Washington, DC) — A new report was released today by the nonprofit organization, Feed the Truth, on the food industry’s political clout and enduring dominance of Washington politics. Draining the ‘Big Food’ Swamp exposes how the $1.1 trillion food and agriculture industry flexes its political muscle through a web of trade association lobbying and campaign spending, while operating behind the scenes to undermine public health, perpetuate inequality, and consolidate power.   

“When it comes to industries calling the shots in Washington, Big Food doesn’t get nearly as much scrutiny as Big Tech or Big Oil. Yet Big Food has built a powerful network of trade organizations to influence elections and lobby on their behalf in ways that undermine our health and democracy,” said Lucy Martinez Sullivan, Executive Director of Feed the Truth. “These trade groups help corporations like Pepsi, Tyson, and ADM conceal their true agendas from the public and are vehicles through which corporations exert control over the food we grow and eat.” (Watch Lucy talking about this campaign here.)

The report found that of the almost 6,300 IRS-classified food trade associations, the largest 20 spent over 300 million dollars on federal lobbying over the last 10 years. Half of this spending came from only three groups: the National Restaurant Association, the American Beverage Association and the Consumer Brands Association.

Some of the implications of Big Food’s influence outlined in the report include:

  • The National Restaurant Association is in an all out push to block efforts to raise the national minimum wage (including the Raise the Wage Act currently moving through Congress) which is a critical tool to combat hunger, poverty and racial inequality in the U.S. 
  • A staggering 40 percent of American adults are obese thanks to an overabundance of ultra-processed foods and sugary beverages made cheap by huge taxpayer-funded agriculture subsidies for commodities like corn and soy. 
  • Federal farm subsidies – which increased by $24 billion in 2020 – continue to buoy global conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Bayer, as America’s family farms decline by the thousands each year.
  • The spread of COVID-19 among meatpacking workers and in their broader communities can be traced to the meatpacking industry’s lobbying of the White House and the USDA, which granted large meatpacking corporations and processing facilities permission to increase their production-line speeds during the pandemic. 

“By pouring corporate money into lobbying and campaign contributions, powerful companies in the food industry are able to influence legislation to benefit their bottom lines at the expense of the broader public interest,” said Daniel G. Newman, Co-Founder and President of MapLight, which worked with Feed the Truth to conduct research for this report. “Our democratic system is meant to work for all of us, not just those who can afford to spend millions of dollars on politics.” 

The report found that over 80% of the food industry lobbyists at the largest trade associations are “revolvers,” or individuals who now lobby the officials and agencies they once worked for. One of the most prominent revolvers is Tom Vilsack, former President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, who was just confirmed (again) as Secretary of Agriculture this week.  

With corporate political spending in the national spotlight as a result of the violent insurrection on January 6th and the vote taken by 147 Republican members of Congress against certifying Biden’s election, corporations like Pepsi and McDonald’s pledged to pause and review their political giving. Not only have the trade associations they fund remained conspicuously silent, Draining the ‘Big Food’ Swamp shows the top 20 food trade associations spent more in campaign donations to the Members of Congress who voted to overturn the election results than those that didn’t. Feed the Truth also launched a petition calling on PepsiCo, a major member of all three of the top trade groups, to get its money out of politics.

“We all deserve safe and dignified working conditions, regardless of our occupation, immigration status, or gender. COVID-19 has magnified how a handful of big food corporations continually put profit over the health and safety of their frontline employees, most of whom are Black, Latinx, and other people of color,” said Navina Khanna, Executive Director of the HEAL Food Alliance. “When working people have rights and control within their workplace, everyone benefits.”

“Feed the Truth is calling on food industry trade groups to open their books and publicly disclose who they represent, what issues they are lobbying on, and how much money they are contributing to political campaigns,”said Sullivan. “Transparency is the first step toward a more honest and just food system and a stronger democracy.”  

On Tuesday Feed the Truth sponsored a projection on the walkway between the two buildings of the U.S. Agricultural Department – photos and videos from this action by Robin Bell are available upon request. 


Glenn Turner,
[email protected], 917-817-3396
Shayna Samuels, [email protected], 718-541-4785


Read our new report: "Draining the Big Food Swamp"

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