Friday, September 10, 2010

Global food supply in jeopardy?

Rural voters who elected our independent politicians will surely be hoping they can get food onto our national agenda. The issue of human traffic may remain an election staple, but it is the movement of food around the world that is destroying the livelihoods of farmers in Australia and overseas.

Globally, small producers endure economic policies that pit them against the whims of consumers and profit-hoarding transnational corporations including Monsanto.

Last week the US-based Monsanto secured a 20 per cent minority interest in Western Australia's InterGrain and launched an advocacy and "education" campaign to promote the benefits of genetic modification to consumers. This move will continue Australia's integration into global circuits of food capital at the expense of small farmers, and escalate our ecological debt.

Per Pinstrup-Anderson, Cornell's professor of food nutrition and public policy, believes the world is not headed for a "global food apocalypse". There is an overabundance of food in the world - look at our growing waistlines. But the reality is millions of people die from hunger and malnutrition every year and unsustainable farming practices are destroying arable land.

Governments and policymakers need the political will to defend their citizens against short-sighted and unjust trade policies that favour agribusiness and treat food as just another commodity. Consumers need to care about where their food comes from and who produces it, and eat according to seasonal rhythms. It wasn't long ago that cherries heralded the approach of Christmas. Today, we can have our stone fruit 365 days a year, with little thought to the unjust trade policies that bring them to our table.

The global food crisis has implications far beyond hunger. In Chile, Latin America's "economic miracle", seasonal workers suffer health problems through pesticide use associated with the intensive agriculture that drives the country's burgeoning fresh fruit and vegetable export market.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexicans face growing obesity as cheap white corn floods across the border from the US and Canada, forcing smallholder farmers to abandon traditional varieties. In Spain, EU policies that deregulate milk production are driving dairy farmers off the land while plans to close local abattoirs threaten thousands of local jobs and increase the pain and suffering of livestock.

Here in Australia soaring water prices and a rush for arable land by international investors threatens the future of family farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin. The global farmland grab, the result of private investment in agriculture, was triggered by the global food crisis.

Until consumers embrace community food systems, and regain their relationship with those who produce the food we eat, farmers will continue to lose their livelihoods and their sons and daughters will continue to seek more viable professions in the city.

The international people's movement La Via Campesina ('the peasant way') represents 300 million small farmers who are campaigning to replace the outdated concept of food security with that of food sovereignty. The movement promotes a return to agro-ecology that recognises the multifunctionality of food and will reduce the greenhouse emissions of the industrial food system.

Despite the approach of the long-stalled Doha Development talks, there has been little public debate regarding Australia's agricultural trade regime.

It is time for consumers, producers and politicians to explore the benefits of short supply chains that guarantee healthy, locally-grown food that returns a fair price to farmers without pillaging the environment. After all, as Bob Katter tells us, pineapple doesn't grow in a can.

[Source ABC net Alana Mann]

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