Monday, June 21, 2021

Kwestin The Corporate World Food System And You Might Be A Terrorist...,

gpenewsdocs  |  FRIES: Pat, from farmers and fishers groups, to cooperatives and unions, the Long Food Movement calls on civil society and social movements to unite and collaborate. This as a forceful counter position to an agribusiness-led transformation of the food systems. Your report Transforming Food Systems by 2045 maps out what this kind of ground up collaboration could achieve. So, as the title suggests you are looking decades ahead. What was the impetus behind that?

MOONEY: Well we back in 2016, in fact, we began to talk about the need for a strategy that was not so short-term as it has always been. That it can’t just be are two or three years of thinking. We need to be thinking further down the road. And we were expressing our general frustration, many of us in civil society, that we’re always trapped into these cycles of funding which is so short that we really can’t do the horizon scanning that’s important. So we talked about, well, let’s build something different.

Let’s try to see if we can imagine not just what we would like to have down the road but how we would get to it. We all have the same kind of dreams of the way we’d like to see the world be. But can we really get there? Can we politically practically do it? So the exercise of the Long Food Movement was to not just dream of what we want but really do the politics of it. You know, what’s really viable in terms of moving institutions, moving money around to get where we want to be.

FRIES: The Long Food Movement is for decentralizing control and democratizing food systems as the key to feeding the world as well as (re)generating ecological and other systems vital to people and planet. You say achieving that will require policy frameworks at every level of governance – from local law to international agreements –that support and empower small holder and peasant farmers all over the world. Talk about policy frameworks that have moved in the opposite direction by supporting and empowering agribusiness. And the role of agribusiness in getting governments to make those policy choices. For example, what did agribusiness want and get from government say back in the days when biotechnology was the then new technology?

MOONEY: Back in the even the late seventies and the eighties agribusiness was saying, we have a technology here biotechnology, genetically modified crops, which will feed the 500 million, at that time there are 500 million malnourished people in the world. That would solve that problem. They would take care of that and that they had the only tools that would actually be able to do it. They said that they needed some help to do it though.

They needed three things basically. They needed government regulators to get out of the way; give them the freedom to act as they wanted to. Secondly, they needed to be able to be given regulation, a certain kind of regulation, intellectual property rights over life, over plants and livestock so that they would own it. And so no bad regulations but the regulations they wanted which give them more corporate power. And then thirdly, they needed to turn the public sector researchers in agriculture into basically servants for the private sector. So do the basic work for us and we’ll do the rest.

FRIES: Just to clarify the third point about what agribusiness wanted was to turn public sector agricultural researchers into servants for the private sector, so this was to get the sort of research they wanted. In other words, research that advanced the interests of high-input, chemical intensive agriculture and that eventually will feed into profits for the main agribusiness players. So, pro-GMO research.

MOONEY: The Green Revolution sort of research we’ve been hearing about for ever. And all the developments coming out of universities and government research stations around the world for agriculture as well. The research money in the public sector goes into again support services for the private sector, basic research for the private sector.

FRIES: What were some real world consequences of this policy framework that agribusiness wanted and got? Take one example, I am thinking here of corporate concentration in food systems. What happened there?

MOONEY: Well, we went from roughly 7,000 private sector seed companies in the world when I first got into this work in the seventies, to where we now have really what, five or six at the most. In many ways, it’s really only three or four companies that really control all of commercial production of seeds and pesticides together. So it’s vastly concentrated compared to what it was.

FRIES: So there’s been a lot of corporate takeover and buyout activity.

MOONEY: Yeah. On a massive scale. I mean, it’s been a huge convergence. Really it started in the seventies and it’s kept on going. It hasn’t stopped. It’s transforming itself. Who’s doing the converging has been changing over time. When I was first dealing with this, the biggest seed company in the world was Royal Dutch Shell. They bought more than a hundred seed companies and they thought they were going to be big in the market. They decided they couldn’t do it after awhile. Then they got out of it and more conventional crop chemical companies took over and bought the seed companies. Now, of course, we’re seeing a new development where it’s the big data companies that are moving in and taking over large sectors of the food system.

FRIES: And you think there is more to come. That this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

MOONEY: It’s coming because again the industrial food chain is changing. It’s no longer the chain with all the links in it that we used to have. Seeds used to be sold and owned separately from pesticides and from fertilizers. And farm machinery companies were stuck in the business of producing tractors. The traders and the Cargills of the world and the processors and the retailers were all different folks. With big data management and the ability to manipulate, not just digital information but also to manipulate digital DNA to actually adjust, technologically computer-wise adjust living materials makes it possible for the biggest companies with the biggest computers to step in and really try to govern the large chunks of the food chain.

So seeds and pesticides have become one basically with the farm machinery companies and the fertilizer companies. They could actually just become one big input sector. The grain trading companies are kind of lost in this whole exercise. They’re not quite sure that they’ve got anything that anyone else wants anymore. The processors and the retailers are coming together more. And the big data managers behind all of that, the Amazons and the Alibabas of the world, the Googles and Tencents of the world, whether it’s China or Germany or the United States are saying: well, we can actually manage that better than anybody else can. So you get Alibaba advising peasant producers in China on how to grow pigs and gardens as well as how to market their products, as well as setting them up for retail sales in the stores.

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