Our global food system hinges on secrecy. The anonymous nature of where the food in our supermarket was produced brings one layer of secrecy. But even if you can solve that puzzle, how it was produced—and more specifically under what working conditions it was produced—remains completely hidden. This is the curtain that author Tracie McMillan pulls back in her remarkable new book, The American Way of Eating.
In the spirit of investigative journalists like Barbara Ehrenreich before her, McMillan documents her experiences picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California, working in the Wal-Mart produce section in Michigan, and in the kitchen at Applebee’s in New York City. The book is receiving a ton of high praise and deservedly so, with Rush Limbaugh a notable exception.
I am in Marseille, France this week, home to some of the biggest water multinationals, to participate in two parallel events on water in a resource-constrained world. From March 12–17, the 6th World Water Forum brings together multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, governments, water professionals, water technologists, development organizations and of course the multinational corporations involved in water. Many development organizations participate in the event because the discussions here influence national and regional decisions that affect poor and marginal groups around the world.
On the outside, I will also be participating in the Alternative Water Forum, a parallel event for water advocates promoting water solutions that are inclusive, fair and rights based. IATP has been involved since 2002 in the planning of these alternative water events.
Much of our advocacy inside the WWC-organized forum has been in response to the refusal by the ministerial of the forum to recognize water as a right. In fact IATP’s campaign on the right to water began in response to the 2nd World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration in 2000, which said that “water is a need,” despite demands to have it recognized as a basic human right.
The issue has come a long way since then as a result of struggles around the world, and work by committed individuals in CSOs and governments at various levels. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly (resolutions A/RES/64/292, A/HRC/RES/15/9, A/HRC/RES/16/2, A/HRC/RES/18/1 and WHA 64/24).
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are in the fifth day of a 6-day fast to draw attention to the unfair treatment of farmworkers in Florida tomato fields. The target of the fast, supermarket retailer Publix, has refused to join the Fair Food Program. The program's demands include paying tomato pickers a penny more per pound. Retailers will also ensure safe and healthy work conditions and support ending child labor in the fields. Publix has refused to meet with CIW to discuss the Campaign for Fair Food.
Cheap labor is one ingredient that makes food retailing profitable for corporate America. The refusal to ensure safe work conditions and fair wages for farm workers is a core problem in a food system that claims to feed the world. Perhaps the claim should be adjusted, to reflect that farm laborers and their families are excluded from the world that industry claims to feed.
The plight of farm laborer is virtually missing from most mainstream conversations about food. It is as if food magically appears from farms located in far and distant places. Another twist of fate happens and food appears in the grocery aisles of supermarkets across America. The American public must begin to understand that the industrial food complex is not magical, but a series of complex interlocking relationships between multinational companies that are supported by an even more complex set of public policies that often pit consumers' health and wellbeing against corporate interests. Frequently, the interests of the general public, family farmers and poor people are forsaken in the name of profit. Caught in the web of corporate interests and federal policies, farmworkers are purposefully ignored.
It’s all too easy, especially in the United States, to take water access for granted—turn on the tap, and fill up a glass—but across the world, lines are being drawn as governments and financially interested multi-national corporations ask the same question: Who will control the world’s water and how will it be allocated? India’s draft national water policy, released in January, is the latest example of a policy that, if passed as currently written, will continue to marginalize small-scale farmers and low-income communities, ultimately failing to reinforce water as a fundamental human right.
In a new report, IATP’s Shiney Varghese analyzes India’s draft policy and why, even though at first glance “it appears […] a holistic approach,” it comes up short—both in protecting people and the environment—and may set a dangerous precedent for water management worldwide. The People’s Campaign for the Right to Water has organized an e-petition, opposing “the very concept of water as an economic good” and India’s draft national water policy.
Read the new IATP paper, Corporatizing Water: India's Draft National Water Policy, for more, or see Shiney Varghese’s recent op-ed, “Turning off the tap on water as a human right” in India’s national daily, The Hindu. Take action by signing the Peoples Campaign for Right to Water e-petition.
On January 23, over 20,000 people poured into the streets of Berlin to say that they have had enough of industrial agriculture. The demands made in Germany can be heard all over the world starting with fair treatment of farmers and consumers, safe food, an end to food speculation and a respect for nature and the welfare of animals.
Tomorrow, in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement is calling for protests to support 60 family farmers, small and family-owned seed businesses, and agricultural organizations that are challenging Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed in federal court.
Like the Germans, it time for us to say, “We’ve had enough!” of Monsanto’s agriculture. From super weeds to pest resistance in corn, genetically modified seeds have failed. Now Monsanto is turning to even more dangerous products with new varieties that will only increase the amount of herbicides in the environment.
At the heart of industrial agriculture is a long running conflict between corporations and farmers on who will control food production. Occupy Wall Street has come out on the side of farmers and all who eat to say, “We’ve had enough!”
This piece by Sophia Murphy and Timothy A. Wise was originally published on the Triple Crisis blog.
The spikes in global food prices in 2007-08 served as a wake-up call to the global community on the inadequacies of our global food system. Commodity prices doubled, the estimated number of hungry people topped one billion, and food riots spread through the developing world. A second price spike in 2010-11, which drove the global food import bill for 2011 to an estimated $1.3 trillion, showed that while global leaders may now be alert to the problems, our agricultural systems remain deeply flawed.
In his December Commissioner's Column, Minnesota's Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson touts the benefits the state sees from the strong and expanding Farm-to-School movement taking place thanks to organizations like IATP, the Minnesota School Nutrition Association, and of course state agencies like the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health.
Our students are enjoying fresh, wholesome, locally grown produce. Our farmers are enjoying a new, domestic market for their products. Our local communities are enjoying new business activity, and our state is enjoying greater agricultural literacy. It doesn’t get much better than that.
My mother was a kitchen girlMy father was a garden boyThat’s why I’m a farmer now
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) held a Farmers March in Washington, D.C., on December 4 to highlight issues of corporate control of the food system. Farmers, community gardeners, food workers and activists spoke on issues such as fair prices for farmers, sustainable farming, local food and the growing specter of hunger in America.
Unregulated commodity speculation and corporate greed have contributed to a global food crisis that includes the 45 million Americans currently receiving food assistance. (See recent interview with with Jim Harkness, president of IATP.) And how are national political leaders responding to this crisis, which was created by the banks? With proposals to cut food assistance, which would only intensify food insecurity. In other parts of the world, the response to such policies has been food riots and national uprisings. As the peaceful and thoughtful OWS Farmers March demonstrated, we don't need to go down that road, but if we hope to avoid it, we had better act immediately to reform our corporate-controlled food system.