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Food Production Must Serve Human Need, Not Corporate Greed

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AGRICULTURE
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There has been an adverse trend in the food and agriculture sector in recent times with the control of seeds and chemical inputs being consolidated through various proposed mergers.

If these mergers go through, it would mean that three companies would dominate the commercial agricultural seeds and agrochemicals sector.

While big agribusiness players like Monsanto rely on massive taxpayer subsidies to maintain their highly profitable business models, there are immense external social, health and environmental costs for the public to bear.

At the same time, across the globe healthy, sustainable agriculture has been uprooted and transformed to suit the profit margins of these transnational agribusiness concerns.

If we continue to hand over the control of society's most important infrastructure -- food and agriculture -- to these wealthy private interests, what might the future look like?

There is no need for idle speculation. Foods based on CRISPR (a gene-editing technology for which Monsanto has just acquired a non-exclusive global licensing agreement for use) and synthetic biology are already entering the market without regulation or proper health or environmental assessments.

And we can expect many more unregulated GM technologies to influence the nature of our food and flood the commercial market, usually under the lie (pp 5-8) that the end-product is 'substantially equivalent' to organisms that have not been genetically tampered with in a lab.

Despite rhetoric about the humanitarian motives (feeding a hungry world) behind these endeavours, the bottom line is profit and control.

And despite talk about the precision of the techniques involved, these technologies pose health and environmental risks. Moreover, CRIPRS technology could be used for unscrupulous political and commercial ends.

There could be severe social and economic consequences too. The impacts of synthetic biology on farmers in the Global South could result in a bio-economy of landlessness and hunger. Readers are urged to read this report which outlines the effects on farmers and rural economies: 'synbio' has the potential to undermine livelihoods and would mean a shift to narrower range of export-oriented mono-cropping to produce biomass for synbio processes that place stress on water resources and food security in the exporting countries.

Can we trust private entities like Monsanto (or Bayer) to use these powerful (potentially bio-weapon) technologies responsibly?

Given Monsanto's long history of cover-ups and duplicity, the answer must be no.

Moreover, the legalities of existing frameworks appear to mean little: national laws that exist to protect the public interest are regarded by certain players as little more than hurdles to be got around by lobbyists, lawyers and political pressure. So what can be done?

Agroecology is a force for grass-root rural change that would be independent from the cartel of powerful biotech/agribusiness companies. This model is already providing real solutions for sustainable, productive agriculture that prioritises the needs of farmers and consumers and rolls back the adverse effects of the corporate-controlled Green Revolution.

As much as people strive to become independent from unscrupulous corporate concerns, however, and as much as localized food systems try to extricate themselves from the impacts of rigged global trade and markets, there also has to be a concerted effort to push back corporate power and challenge what it is doing to our food. These corporations will not just go away because people eat organic or choose agroecology.

The extremely wealthy interests behind these corporations do their level best to displace or dismantle alternative models of production and replace them with ones that serve their needs.

Look no further than attempts to undermine indigenous edible oils processing in India, for instance, or look no further than the 'mustard seed crisis' in that country in 1998.

And look no further than how transnational biotech helped fuel and then benefit from the destruction of Ethiopia's traditional agrarian economy.

Whether it's on the back of military conflicts (Iraq), 'structural adjustment' (Africa) or slanted trade deals (India), transnational agribusiness is driving a global agenda to suit its interests and eradicate impediments to profit, and that includes displacing alternative systems of agriculture that are independent of it.

Profit is the bottom line. 'Crisis management' under the guise of 'innovation' fuel the corporate-controlled treadmill they seek to impose.

The problems associated with the food system cannot be dealt with on a single-issue basis: it is not just about the labelling of GM foods; it's not just about the impacts of Monsanto or its products; and it's not just about engaging in endless debates about the science of GMOs.

As long as the domination of the food system by powerful private interests is regarded as legitimate, we are destined for a future of more contaminated food, ill health, degraded environments and an agriculture displaced and uprooted for the benefit of self-interest.

Despite the promise of the Green Revolution, hundreds of millions still go to bed hungry, food has become denutrified, functioning rural economies have been destroyed, diseases have spiked in correlation with the increase in use of pesticides and GMOs, soil has been degraded, global food security has been undermined, and access to food is determined by manipulated international markets and speculation -- not supply and demand.

Food and agriculture have become wedded to power structures that have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions.

The problem isn't a lack of food. The problem is the system of international capitalism that is driving a globalised system of bad food and poor health and the destruction of healthy, sustainable agriculture as well as systemic, half-baked attacks on both groups and individuals who oppose these processes.

At the very least, there should be full public control over all GMO/synthetic biology production and research. And if we are serious about reining in the corrosive power of private corporations over our most vital infrastructure, they should be placed under democratic ownership and control.

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