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Radical U.N. Report Promotes Democratic Control of Food and an End to Corporate Domination
Posted on Mar 20, 2014
Eager to jump into the game, Dow Chemical is awaiting approval of a similar genetically engineered seed and pesticide duo called Enlist. The Enlist pesticide contains a chemical that was part of the cocktail of toxins used in the Vietnam War called Agent Orange. Patel lamented how “the power over fertilizers and seeds is concentrated in the hands of very few companies,” and that “they are able to bend the market to their will.”
In his report for the United Nations, De Schutter suggested as a solution the idea of “agroecology,” which he described as “a way to improve the resilience and sustainability of food systems.” Agroecology, according to Patel, is “a system where instead of supplanting nature, you work with it. So instead of relying on pesticides, for example, you would [rely on] plants that attract beneficial predatory insects that will take care of the pests, so that the management of pests is integrated into a diverse and complex ecosystem.” Patel said this method of food production would replace monocultures of corn, soy and wheat with polycultures of lots of different plants that have a variety of benefits such as soil improvement, pest control and shade. Most importantly, an agroecological food system would be, Patel said, one that is the most “climate-change ready” and “much more robust in terms of external climate shocks.”
Agroecology is also consistent with the idea of “food sovereignty,” a term embraced by food justice activists and groups like the 200-million-strong peasant farmer movement La Via Campesina to demand local and democratic control of food. So it is no surprise that the corporate-dominated industry is extremely wary when the words “food sovereignty” are bandied about. Yet, in his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, De Schutter boldly wrote, “Food sovereignty is a condition for the full realization of the right to food.” He explicitly took aim at big corporations, warning that “the current food systems are efficient only from the point of view of maximizing agribusiness profits,” and added that “[a]t the local, national and international levels, the policy environment must urgently accommodate alternative, democratically-mandated visions.”
Patel concurred that this notion of democracy “is the real heart of what’s radical in this report.” He told me that rather than “food sovereignty,” corporations and governments like the term “food security.” But “technically,” Patel said, “you can be food secure in prison and be given sufficient food to survive. But you have no say in that process, in how that food is grown or how society has decided how to end hunger.” In other words, democratic control of our food system is the only thing that can break corporate control of what we eat and how and where we grow our food, and that is exactly what De Schutter has reported to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Like other basic human needs such as water, shelter and health care, our food shouldn’t be subject to the drive for profit. In calling for democratic control of our food, De Schutter and Patel are threatening the business interests of some of the world’s largest and wealthiest corporations. Given that De Schutter’s report has been submitted to the highest international representatives of civil society, it has the potential to effect change, but only if there is enough pressure from below.
Patel told me the report is “only as good as the mobilization that is able to use it.” Although it provides “ammunition to groups like La Via Campesina in their ongoing fight to be able to democratize the food system,” he warned that there is much work to be done, saying, “we do need to keep organizing and to keep the pressure up and in fact to be dreaming much bigger than we’re allowed to be dreaming by the governments that purport to represent us.”
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