The global food industry creates everything from hunger and devastation of rainforest to obesity and large emissions of greenhouse gases. Profit interests rule and a few giant companies completely dominate. Now we have to take back control of the food and shorten the path from farm to fork, writes Lisa Tover from the association Framtidsjorden.
According to the UN statement on the universal human rights from 1948, everyone has "the right to a standard of living sufficient for their own and their family's health and well-being, including food". Despite the reports FN that an estimated 820 million people suffered from malnutrition in 2018, an increase from 811 million in 2017. According to World Food Program The corona pandemic is feared to double the number of people living with acute hunger - from 135 million to 265 million. This is despite the fact that the total amount of food produced in the world is well and good enough for everyone.
The global food industry as it looks today has put it right. It causes hunger, starvation, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, forced labor, loss of biodiversity, obesity, poisoning and cancer from toxic pesticides, and more. Either you have to make an effort to avoid sugar, fat, chemicals and processed semi-finished products, or you have to make an effort to succeed in getting enough calories to survive. Is it really going to be that difficult?
A fundamental problem is that a few, gigantic companies dominate the international market. The interest in profit rules, with few or no regulations, which paves the way for further concentration of power and oligopoly. In companies' pursuit of more market shares and greater profits, it is small farmers and biodiversity that are hardest hit.
Large agricultural companies are behind world politics
From 1986 to 1994, international negotiations were under way to liberalize trade in areas that had previously been difficult to agree on, such as agriculture. The US chief negotiator in the so-called Uruguay Round was employed by the company Cargill both before and after the negotiations. Cargill is one of the world's largest conglomerates in the agricultural sector and has been accused of human rights violations, illegal land grabbing, food poisoning and deforestation. The chief negotiator made sure that the agreement was as beneficial as possible for the company, not for producers and consumers. The round ended with the formation of the World Trade Organization WTO.
Following the founding of the WTO, the value of global food exports increased fivefold. This market is in the hands of a few giants, including the aforementioned Cargill. They have an enormous bargaining power as they can in principle set whatever purchase prices they want vis-à-vis the producers. Nor do they take responsibility for whether the products they buy come from land that has been illegally encroached on or devastated - or what working conditions the employees have.
Food should not be included in free trade agreements
Free trade agreements can have their advantages, between equal parties. But they should not include food. And they should not be agreed between two countries in extremely different stages of development, with different conditions and different amounts of power to get their will through.
What happens, for example, when large-scale, industrial, cost-effective agriculture in the US and the EU begins to compete with small-scale family farms in Asia or Latin America? Imported products from the EU and the USA become cheaper while local, natural products are eliminated. If domestic farmers are to survive, they must adapt. In many cases, this means starting with a monoculture of, for example, sugar cane, palm oil or soy, because that is what the large international agricultural companies demand.
Sugar cane is used to produce ethanol, which is used as a biofuel. Palm oil is a common ingredient in hygiene and beauty products. Soy is mainly used for animal feed. This means that farmers cultivate hectare after hectare with products that the rich countries demand, instead of cultivating for their own consumption. Often they are employed and work under slave-like conditions.
Bad for everyone - except for a few
The system is bad for everyone except those who make huge amounts of money on it. But the newspaper The Guardian took part in a study in May 2018 which showed that far too many politicians in the EU have their own interests in the industry to safeguard, before they start thinking about public health and environmental degradation. German Deutsche Welle published in January this year a documentary that demonstrates the same thing.
Swedish producers are also affected by this game and the Swedish degree of self-sufficiency has plummeted over the past 20 years, in favor of a few export goods. In the suites of the corona pandemic, it becomes extra clear how vulnerable global trade is, but empty store shelves also show how dependent we are on it.
The EU's agricultural subsidy program, CAP, is to be renewed and on that theme the climate movement Fridays for Future published an open letter on its website on May 22nd. They pointed out that the agricultural sector is not only a problem, it is also vital and could provide many solutions if only the priorities were right. Instead of industrial animal husbandry, large-scale mass production and monoculture, it should be possible to get an income that can be lived on even as a climate-positive smallholder. Farmers should not only be paid for the finished product, but also for added value - such as the promotion of biodiversity, reduced emissions and carbon sequestration.
There is also another system. It is small, but established and growing. It's called food sovereignty. Food sovereignty means that farmers themselves must be able to decide what they want to grow - and grow for their own consumption in the first place. Farmers should be able to grow and consumers should be able to eat nutritious, natural food, which has value and gives pride. There should be short distances between earth and table, you should know where and who the food you eat comes from.
Food should not be produced at the expense of the planet and nature, but in harmony with them. Food production should not exploit poor people in rural areas, but value them. Without them, no food. Without food, no life. It is time that we change the system once and for all.