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Food: whose power to control?. Geoff Tansey Power & Politics FOE local groups conference 11 September 2010. Food system basics. Biological - ecological History - global restructuring Human needs - multi-dimensional physiological psychological social cultural.

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Food whose power to control

Food:whose power to control?

Geoff Tansey

Power & Politics

FOE local groups conference

11 September 2010

Food system basics

Food system basics

  • Biological - ecological

  • History - global restructuring

  • Human needs - multi-dimensional

    • physiological

    • psychological

    • social

    • cultural

A dysfunctional system

A dysfunctional system

  • Just over 1 bn people undernourished

  • 2 billion micronutrient deficient

  • About 1.2 billion overweight - 300 million obese

  • Affects poor most, N & S

    • US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) - $37.7bn, 2008(prov)

  • 2.5bn people in agriculture (1.3bn smallholders)

    • 75% of poor (<$2/day) in rural areas

Sources: FAO, USDA, WHO & World Bank

Beyond terror the real threats to our world

Beyond terror -the real threats to our world

  • Climate change - destabilisation

  • Competition over resources, inc land

  • Marginalisation of the majority world

  • Global militarisation

Source: Abbott, Rogers and Sloboda, Oxford Research Group

Global wealth distribution 2000

Global wealth distribution, 2000

  • 10% of adults own 86% global household wealth

  • 50% own barely 1%

  • Average person in top 10% owns nearly 3000 times wealth of average person in bottom 10%

Source: WIDER Angle, 2/2006

Key words

Key words

  • Power

  • Control

  • Risk

  • Benefits

Food system actors

Food System actors

  • Input suppliers

  • Farmers

  • Traders

  • Workers

  • Processors / manufacturers

  • Wholesalers / retailers

  • Caterers

  • Consumers / citizens

  • Governments, policy makers, lobbyists

All you need is enough limited demand saturated markets

All you need is - enoughLimited demand - saturated markets

Increased competition


Increased productivity


Key trends

Key trends

Economic concentration

Global markets / global rules


Geo-political shifts

Tools for control

Tools for control

  • Political, military & economic power

    • Historically shaped today’s system

  • Science

  • Technology

  • Information

  • Management

  • Laws, rules, regulations

    • From national to global

1990s global food rules change

1990s - global food rules change

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (UN)

    • conserve, sustain, share benefits

  • International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (UN)

    • Farmers’ Rights, IPRs, sharing benefits, managed commons

  • World Trade Organisation

    • Trade liberalisation, agriculture, TRIPS, SPS

Patents power and

Patents, Power and

Importance of intellectual property

Importance of ‘Intellectual Property’

  • Underpins

    • ‘knowledge economy’

    • media & entertainment, software

    • pharmaceuticals / biotechnology

    • brand power & GM

  • Means to

    • Exclude others, capture and appropriate benefits

    • Shift market power

Changing face of research and development

Changing face of research and development

  • Access to knowledge / seeds

  • Freedom to operate / exchange

  • Skewing questions asked, solutions sought

  • Going which way - milestones?

    • Open access, distributed innovation, ecologically supportive or the pharma model

What type of future

What type of future?

  • Collapse (still a real danger: eg economic, nuclear war, disease, environmental disasters)

  • techno-dominance / corporate feudalism

    • Bifurcation (rich 2 billion use all tech available to enhance / maintain their lifestyles, rest contained by technologies of control or killed off in disasters - the “Liddism” of Paul Rogers)

  • ecological balance / diverse / resilient / fair

Business as usual is not an option

Business as usual is not an option

  • Move to a more agro-ecological farming approach from an industrial, fossil fuel based model

Prosperity without growth

Prosperity without growth?

  • There is as yet no credible, socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario of continually growing incomes for a world of nine billion people

  • Simplistic assumptions that capitalism’s propensity for efficiency will allow us to stabilise the climate and protect against resource scarcity are nothing short of delusional

Tim Jackson

Sustainable development commission food security

Sustainable Development Commission - food security

genuinely sustainable food systems:

  • where the core goal is to feed everyone sustainably, equitably and healthily;

  • which addresses needs for availability,affordability and accessibility;

  • which is diverse, ecologically-sound and resilient;

  • which builds the capabilities and skills necessary for future generations.

Food whose power to control

Fair shares

Fair play

Fair say

Thinking about systems change

Thinking about systems change

Choosing leverage points, levels and areas

Recognising connections

Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems - A Primer, Earthscan, 2009

Beyond current assumptions

Beyond current assumptions

  • Will we in the UK be able to eat what we want, when we want, from wherever we want? Should we be able to?

  • Is there any historical responsibility?

    • GHG emissions + ecological debt

Beyond technology

Beyond technology

  • Innovation needed is local / institutional / social / economic / political, not just technological

  • Many people around the world recognise this and are ahead of the political leadership

Changing paradigms

Changing Paradigms

  • A new ecological economics

    • SDC - prosperity without growth in N, different in S

    • NEF - The Great Transition

    • Worldwatch - Transforming Cultures

    • Sarkozy Commission - beyond GDP /GNP

  • Beyond reductionist R&D

    • Understanding complexity

    • ecosystems approaches

Reframing rules laws incentives

Reframing rules, laws, incentives

  • Linking nutritional well-being, farming and fairness

  • Reordering governance systems

  • Developing resilience mechanisms

    - eg stocks,

  • Changing the framework for the actors

Shifting power

Shifting power

  • Social, economic, political, commercial, gender, geo-political

  • Land - access and use - what is land for?

  • Property - real vs imaginary

    • The rise of patents, brands, plant variety protection et al

  • Food Sovereignty / democracy movements / biodiversity & seed fairs / Transition towns etc

Food whose power to control

Source: etc group, Who Owns Nature? Corporate Power and the Final Frontier in the Commodification of Life

Pick your focus

Pick your focus

Within a bigger framework for a just, sustainable and healthy [food] system on a small blue planet

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