The global food industry is dominated by a handful of multinational corporations. This is bad news us all, writes James Ayers.
To quote Raj Patel in his excellent book Stuffed and Starved, 'the hunger of 800 million people happens at the same time as another historical first: that they outnumbered by the one billion people who are overweight'.
How has this contradiction come about? Why does one of the world's largest food companies, Nestle, own Jenny Craig? Is the rise of the fast food and weight control industries together with the global epidemic of heart disease and diabetes a mere coincidence?
Some would argue that they are just the consequences of the choices we make as individuals,a nd in Western society, there is a small amount of truth in that. However do 800 million people choose to go hungry or do they all happen to be inflicted with bulimia? I don't think so. And even in the word's richest country, over 35 million people don't know where their next meal is coming from1
You see, the same forces that have enslaved the world via globalisation and debt, also control vast swathes of the food production, processing and distribution systems. And where they don't yet own the land on which food is grown, their control of key bottlenecks in the international market for food means they can dictate what is grown, where and when,around the globe.
As we all know, New Zealand is currently being transformed into one giant diary farm thanks to 'market forces'.
Controlled by a tiny minority of the world's population, and guided by the profit motive (and perhaps something far more sinister) a handful of transnational corporations not only produce and sell the food we eat (supermarkets), shape and constrain how and what we eat (fast food), they manipulate how we actually think about food (media). Before they can poison our bodies, they need to poison our minds. Or in the case of GE, perhaps it's a case of poisoning the regulators' minds first and then the bodies of all of us.
Here in New Zealand we may not have heard of companies like ADM, Cargill or Bunge, but it is these, along with more well-known operators such as Nestle, Woolworths and McDonald's that are increasingly controlling and manipulating what we eat.
Two years ago I personally challenged McDonald's in a local Christchurch outlet to supply me with a compete list of the ingredients that make up a Big Mac. I was shocked to discover that there were over seventy ingredients, mostly chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens! Of course you won't find these ingredients listed on McDonald's packaging - so it took a rather 'in their face' approach to get them to divulge what I, as a customer, am entitled to know.
What this McDonalds episode highlighted to me is the growing corporate influence over the institutions and regulations, which are supposed to protect us. Whether it's food safety authorities, food labelling regimes, political representatives or international trade 'agreements', it is a reality that the choices we have are becoming less and less, and the decisions made about what we eat are being made by few and fewer.
Unfortunately the future of food availability and choices is bleak. Food prices are already rising dramatically. Small, integrated farming communities are being replaced by huge, energy-intensive corporate factory farms, relying on petroleum-based insecticides and fertilisers as well as tractors.
The growing switch of large scale food crops to bio-fuel (a finger in the dyke solution to the oil running out), climate change and monoculture means the world's poor will be starving to death in increasing numbers so that the rich can fill the gas tanks of their SUV's and jet-skis.
Many people believe that food should be a right for all, not a privilege for a few that happen to have money. Even the slave traders of centuries past were wise enough to keep their slaves fed. Unless we turn back the clock, when the food we eat was grown locally and organically, eaten in season, and shared with our neighbour, then civilization as we know it will not last much longer. Bon Appetite
James Ayers can be heard on The Corporate Nemesis, Plains FM 96.9, Christchurch, every Tuesday at 11am.