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Food Sovereignty or Food Dependence?

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Message Jim Goodman
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) documents 852million people world-wide as being food insecure, with approximately 25,000 deaths due to starvation daily. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that 11% of US households are food insecure.

The FAO states that "food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active, healthy life". USDA defines food security as "access by all people at all times to enough nutritious food for an active healthy life".

What happened to "safe" food meeting peoples "food preferences"? Not important according to USDA. Not surprising either, in this society, profits are more important than people.

While the FAO definition is more sympathetic to the needs of the hungry, food security is not enough. Via Campesina, the international organization of small scale producers, farm workers, rural women, landless peasants and indigenous communities prefer "food sovereignty" as a means to end hunger and respect the dignity of culture.

Food sovereignty includes:
*local food production, access to land, water, and credit for peasants and the landless
*access to locally adapted seed and protection from Genetically Engineered (GE) contamination
*recognition of the rights and contributions of women who produce most of the worlds food
*the right of farmers and consumers to decide what will be produced, how and by whom
*linking agricultural prices to production costs and protection from "dumping" of subsidized imports
*the right of the population to develop agricultural policy, not foreign governments , corporations or international banking institutions.

The US has accepted a fast food culture, embraced processed junk food and rejected quality food in favor of cheap food; the rest of the world fights for food sovereignty.

Iraqi farmers barely able to farm after decades of war, are forced under the US Provisional Authority's Order 81, to basically abandon their 10,000 year old practice of saving seed and purchase "improved" varieties every year. These "improved" varieties are, of course, owned by US corporations and Universities.

Forced off their land by subsidized corn from the US, Mexican farmers join millions of displaced South and Central Americans looking for jobs, any jobs in the US. Now in a double twist of fate, as demand for ethanol drives corn prices to record levels, Mexicans are left with no farmers to grow corn and high priced corn from the US as their only (unfordable) choice.

So, who is right? Should we condemn Zambia for rejecting food aid when a potential famine was looming? Were they right to reject GE corn that they felt was unsafe for human consumption, a genetic threat to their seed stock and their ability to feed themselves in the long term? Or was it ethical for the US to offer them only the corn that no one would buy?

Are the Anishinaabeg of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota wrong to fight the University of Minnesota's efforts to develop and release GE wild rice? GE wild rice?, isn't there something terribly wrong with that?

Indigenous people can feed themselves, they have done it for centuries. Patented seeds and chemicals will not raise them out of poverty despite the claims of the corporations that peddle them. Hands off their seed, their land, their lives and their resources.

Food sovereignty insists we let the Japanese eat as Japanese, the French as French and our own native people as their culture dictates. Food must not be a weapon, used to help the hungry in times of crisis and later to control their society through dependence on World Bank loans and food imports. Food dependence is just another form of slavery.

Feeding the hungry is the right thing to do, but we must ask, why are they hungry? Food security means food in the short term, but we need to let the hungry have a long term solution. Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara said "When I feed the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why are they poor they call me a communist".

Our democracy gives us the choice to live on soda and Twinkies if we wish. Our farmers can plant GE crops and give their animals hormones if they wish. Our scientists can isolate genes and patent them if they wish.

We can try and force all this on the rest of the world if we wish, but we should not be surprised when they reject it. They will reject our motives, they will reject our control, they will reject our arrogance. The world does not lack for food, the world lacks justice.
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Jim Goodman, a WK Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, is an organic dairy farmer and farm activist from Wonewoc Wisconsin. Encouraging local food production and consumption in the industrialized north, allowing the global south sovereignty in (more...)
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