With the worst US drought in a generation threatening to kick off a new spike in the global food crisis, food and farming are finally penetrating the collective American consciousness. People are starting to ask hard questions about how we grow our food and why the global food system is leaving so many people hungry.
Biotech and industrial ag spend millions to protect the status quo
Just as the drought has uncovered the need to reform the neo-liberal economic policies relating to agriculture and food, the once small local and healthy food movements are rapidly expanding, challenging the status quo.
The concern of US biotech and agro-industry is plain to see. Collectively biotech companies, industrial agriculture, and mega food processors are spending tens of millions to make it impossible for the local, healthy food movement to fight back. For example, the biotech giants are working to push through riders to the 2012 Farm Bill that will protect them from legal challenges from farmers, and the same biotech firms along with industrial food interests are fighting Proposition 37 in California, which would require foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled.
A successful campaign to label GMO foods in California would likely force labeling across the US, because companies will not want to produce different packaging just for the huge California market. GMO labeling in California is so strategic because, according to Jeffrey Smith of The Institute for Responsible Technology, just a 10% drop in GMO food purchases nationwide would significantly hurt the bottom lines of the biggest food processing companies, forcing them to look for non-GMO ingredients. Once people know that GMOs are in most of the food they buy at the supermarket (estimates range from 70-90%), many of them will want to know what GMOs are, and finally we will have the chance to tell the world the true health consequences, not to mention erosion of food sovereignty, that GMOs cause.
There may never be a better time to push through policy changes to support a new food paradigm. The drought and global food crisis have presented the food movement with a unique moment to take its message to the people. If you ever wanted to get involved, now is the time.
Grassroots makes gains in taking back our food system
While the political fight for healthy, local food is far from over, the grassroots fight is on its way to revolutionizing the US food system; the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently quadrupled its estimate of the local food industry’s annual revenue to $4.8 billion, and in July USDA reported the number of registered farmers markets totaled 7,864, more than four times as many as the 1,744 that were registered in 1994.
Great news, but this is no time to get complacent. The rapid growth in local food is as encouraging as it is dangerous to the movement. Industrial food and agriculture is working hard to coopt the organic movement, by buying successful companies like Stonyfield, trying to water down what it means to be “organic”, and making it harder for small-scale truly organic, local farmers to stay in business.
We need to stay the course and be more vigilant than ever in buying foods that are truly organic and that support our local farmers.
Groundswell supports global fight for local, healthy food
Industrial agriculture and the globalized food market it perpetuates are highly fragile and vulnerable because they are so dependent on a small number of crops (i.e., not diversified), subject to market speculation, increased shift of food resources for biofuels and meat production, and to climate change.
Developing countries that are highly dependent on cheap food imports from industrialized agriculture can no longer count on low prices, or even getting enough food at all. Huge numbers of households are becoming permanently food insecure, requiring quasi-permanent, humanitarian assistance. Even before the food crisis hits full stride humanitarian agencies are already grappling with several major food and nutrition crises in the world, particularly in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. These efforts are hugely expensive, costing $1.6 billion dollars for the Sahel alone so far.
There is a silver lining. Just as in the case of the US drought, the global food crisis that began in 2007/8 is forcing people to recognize that the neoliberal food paradigm (i.e., comparative advantage/grow export crops, rely on cheap subsidized food from the West, and provide temporary food aid to support rural people left behind by the Green Revolution or affected by climate change/drought) is no longer a viable system and has to be replaced.
Groundswell and its partners are working hard to raise awareness about food system issues in the US and in the seven countries where we work. Raising the alarm abroad is more important than ever, because as industrial agriculture meets more resistance in developed countries, it will almost certainly work even harder to exploit developing markets – we have seen this before with products ranging from outlawed pesticides to more tightly regulated cigarettes.
There is in fact a major push for a “new” Green Revolution in Africa, where global corporations like Monsanto are urging African governments to put aside sustainable and traditional agriculture and food systems for monoculture, mechanized agriculture dependent on GMO crops and chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Of course we know where this leads: perhaps a decade of bumper – albeit toxic – crops followed by declining yields and burnt out soil. This is not conjecture; one just needs to go to fields in the US, Asia and Latin America to see where a new green revolution will take us!
Ask yourself, “What sort of investments should we, as individuals, governments and organizations, make in agriculture at home and abroad?”
Groundswell invests in agroecological approaches focused on small-scale farmers. This is the sort of agriculture we support in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, and El Salvador. It’s the only way to build a just, healthy, localized food system that helps health the Earth! Join us. Support us.