Combining the best and/or worst aspects of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food / Omnivore’s Dilemma, U.K. author, Felicity Lawrence has written a new book (Eat Your Heart Out: Why the Food Business is Bad for the Planet and Your Health) detailing her investigation into the impact that multinational food chain companies have upon our food supply.
During her investigation, Lawrence arrives at some startling conclusions:
- A “half dozen heavily subsidized commodities – soya, rapeseed/flax, palm oil,corn, sugar and rice – are broken down into their individual parts and endlessly reconstituted and sold back to us as processed foods or turned into animal feed to produce the factory meats that have conquered our diets in the past half-century.”
- Lawrence coins this shift towards assembly line food production as “food Fordism”.
- The Brazilian rain forest is being cleared for farmland on an unprecedented scale. Companies like Cargill and ADM have worked with the Brazilian government and farmers to create a rapidly growing soya bean industry within the Brazilian rain forest.
- Her description of how foods like soya have to be chemically manipulated to make them suitable for human or livestock consumption might just put you off your next soy milk Starbucks latte.
- The U.S. – European tariff agreements that were part of America’s post WW2 Marshall Plan allowed heavily subsidized US food, animal feed and fertilizer exports to enter the European markets and take over market share. “In other words, the raw ingredients for today’s global food system have been kept cheap for transnational corporations by government policy.” “And where U.S. subsidies go, western diets have a habit of following. American imports have created whole new patterns of consumption.” “Demand has been a function of price, availability and production.”
- The U.S. government subsidized it’s agricultural commodities to the tune of $165 billion. Soya, corn, rice, wheat and cotton account for 90% of that money.
- The real beneficiaries of these subsidies have not been the American farmer, but the agricultural commodity trading companies – Cargill, ADM, Bunge and the Louis Dreyfus Group, collectively referred to as ‘the ABCD companies’ .
Lawrence casts an especially jaundiced eye at Cargill.
She quotes Brewster Kneen, the company’s unauthorized biographer, as saying “Cargill is the undisputed ruler in the global grain trade and extends its tentacles into every aspect of the global food system.”
A description of Cargill’s history describes how it “initially built up its power in the 1870s, in the speculative era of the American agricultural frontier when U.S. grain, along with sugar, began providing the fuel for workers in an industrialising, urbanising Britain.” She goes on to compare it to Britain’s fabled East India Company. Cargill’s own description of it’s own operations proudly boasts of the activities that Lawrence warns us of.
According to Cargill’s company brochures: “We buy, trade, transport, mill, crush, process, refine, season, distribute around the clock and around the globe.
And: “We are the flour in your bread, the wheat in your noodles, the salt on your fries. We are the corn in your tortillas, the chocolate in your dessert, the sweetener in your soft drink. We are the oil in your salad dressing and the beef, pork or chicken you eat for dinner. We are the cotton in your clothing, the backing on your carpet and the fertilizer in your field.”
Yikes….But don’t worry, apparently things turn out all right in the end.
While Lawrence may have presented a bleak look at the current global food supply, she boosts our spirits with the following:
“History shows that empires rise and fall, however, and that the fall when it comes tends to be fast. Food empires are likely to be no different. We are now entering a period of rapid transition. The postwar food system, dependent on prodigious quantities of crude oil for its production, has not only pushed us to our biological limits but is hitting the environmental buffers”.
“After half a century in which they shaped the nature of global diets with the disposal of their agricultural surplus, the Americans have done a sudden about-turn. With the price of oil constantly breaking new records, they want their surplus back to keep their cars on the road. The U.S. government has started pouring subsidies into the production of ethanol from corn. Grain prices have been soaring. the standard commodity parts are no longer cheap, but we are left with the legacy of the old economic order, with diets that were created out of excess.”
Double yikes…..Global warming and high oil prices are supposed to save us from the evil food conglomerates.
That doesn’t sound good at all.