Towards a Better Food System – Nora McKeon

How we have landed ourselves with a global food system that generates hunger alongside of obesity, and what can we do about it? The universal EXPO 2015 that opened in Milan on May 1 with the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” is placing its bets on “best technologies” and “free trade” to do the job. The US Pavilion’s sponsors include technology vendors like Dow and 3M and proponents of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) like the U.S. Dairy Export Council, which is seeking to lower EU barriers to antibiotic-plumped U.S. products.

But the problem really lies elsewhere: over the past three decades, public responsibility for food security has been sold out to markets and corporations while the frontline actors—families, communities and small-scale food producers—have been disempowered. Unprotected by governments, smallholder family farmers are being driven off their land and out of their markets with the allegation that they are inefficient and archaic. Yet, it is they who produce some 70% of the food consumed in the world.

The same period has witnessed an astounding concentration of transnational agrifood corporations in global supply systems, thanks  to favorable trade and investment rules adopted with the support of solicitous governments. Programs like the U.S.-led New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition are pushing African governments to change national legal frameworks, facilitating the corporate take-over of natural resources and markets. With the rise of private standards and the decline of the state’s regulatory role, agrifood corporations are playing an increasingly important role in the regulation of the very food system that they dominate.

The corporate narrative depicts global food supply chains as “modern” and “productive”—as the only way to feed  the 9 billion who, it is widely proclaimed, will be at the table in 2050. In reality, the present food supply is more than adequate today and will be tomorrow. The problem is one of unequal and inequitable access to food, so the solution requires political will and not just a technical fix.


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