Issue 281, Friday 28 September 2012 - 11 Dhu al-Qa'dah 1433
Environment - Food for profit vs. food for life
By Sarah Marshall, University of South Florida
What happens when the infrastructure currently in place, not only relies upon, but also benefits from crises? Would that not be an incentive to perpetuate or even exacerbate such turmoil? Well, it looks as though that is the case, as a large percentage of the global food system is currently in the hands of multinational corporations.
With the onslaught of global climate change, droughts are becoming a common occurrence, such as the one currently taking place in the US described as “the worst US drought in over half a century,” yet developing nations are still being hit the hardest.
In developed nations, citizens tend to be much more disconnected from their food and are only exposed to the state of agriculture in terms of their wallets when food prices spike, yet millions of people around the world still rely directly upon their crops for sustenance. For many, an inability to grow means an inability to survive.
The economic system of supply and demand dictates price distribution for commodities, though the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also has a major say. Access to food is apparently not a human right, but something else that has been put in the hands of the free market.
Large corporate infrastructures generate immense profits when agricultural food production slows, because it means that prices soar. On paper, for stockholders, this is a beautiful picture; but what about those starving as a result of such price increases? Unless things are regulated to feed the world’s people, especially the farmers whose life’s work has done just that, there will be chaos, similar to, if not worse than that of 2008. In fact, food prices were deemed a contributing factor to the Arab Spring, which symbolizes great social and cultural shift in the region.
Protesting over pensions is one thing, but when it comes to food, no one is exempt. Agriculture is the basis of human superiority on the food chain and allowed us to settle, create villages, and eventually build social structures. Yet, this system is extremely fragile because it is contingent upon the balance of the earth’s natural systems. What does it say about the current environmental state of things when natural disasters are becoming increasingly commonplace and multiple countries are reporting major crop failures?
All the while, biofuels have sucked up forty-two percent of this year’s subsidized corn production in the US as a result of the mandated Renewable Fuel Standard. Though the intention of such a mandate was seen as environmentally conscious decision, is fuel ultimately more important than food?
Major news sources are reluctant to call the current situation regarding droughts and food prices a “crisis,” but only time will tell whether uprisings will ensue.
According to Reuters, “The FAO said that swift international action could still prevent a catastrophe from developing. It has urged countries to review their biofuel mandates and also warned against panic buying and restrictions on exports.” The mid-September crop report will determine whether a G20 summit will be necessary to address the food price issue currently plaguing corporate stockholders as well as the world’s impoverished citizens.
A globalized world of interconnected economic systems ensures a domino effect when it comes to booms and busts. Localising the food system in order to become independent from the fears of global market failure is a major step in reversing the fearful trend of market reliance. Transnational corporations simply cannot be trusted to prioritise people over profits. It is time to grow your own garden and find out how to acquire food that is grown within 150 miles of your town. This ensures freshness and an alternative to the market-reliant grocery store system, most of which would be empty within a few days if the transportation infrastructure were interrupted.
As environmental catastrophes continuously disrupt business-as-usual practices, alternatives must be found, because true food security means independence from the flawed system of out-of-season products shipped from all over the world; independence from GMO-infested produce; independence from corporate-ruled global food production.
Sarah Marshall, University of South Florida