I watched We Feed The World the other night and it was more around the troubling subjects this year has been opening up for me. The film’s ironic opening and closing image shows corn cobs and husks being burnt for industrial fuel. Its title comes from the slogan for Pioneer Seeds, which appears to be the Monsanto of Europe. In the film, one of the company’s senior directors took a tour through Romania, observing that the small scale production there was a reminder of how European farming used to look about fifty years ago, and he hoped things would not change too fast there but the big companies are already moving in, and it probably won’t be long before their world changes for the worse. Some of the things that stayed with me from the film:
- The initial subsidisation of hybrid crops (the example given was eggplant – which looks better but tastes nowhere near as good as traditional eggplants) by the Romanian government so that farmers buy cheap seed, reap the profits, and then the subsidies are removed the next year, leaving the farmers without saved seed from traditional crops, unable to plant the reproductively sterile hybrid seed, and eating into their earnings to buy the more expensive hybrid seed. And thus starts the cycle of uneconomic overproduction that must surely lead to selling out to industrial giants. And doing what after that: working in some peripheral industry for a poor hourly wage?
- The wholesaling of Brazilian rainforest which is being systematically razed to plant genetically modified soya for European farm animals. The soil is good, but unsuitable for soya so all the nutrients must be brought in to make that happen. And it means that all the efforts to keep GM out of the European food market are in vain because the animals are eating it.
- Vast areas of southern Spain are covered in warehouses growing the amount of vegetables needed to feed Europe. More monoculture, more hybrids, and lots of impoverished farm workers from Northern Africa, driven out of their homes and livelihoods by— cheap greenhouse vegetables from Europe. A story very much like the one told in Chicken Madness, where African chicken farmers were being driven out of business by cheap frozen chicken from Europe and Brazil.
- Small scale fisherman are being removed from the equation by the EC which aims to make all fishing industrial-scale. Which means no more fresh fish for the markets, only the product of trawling deeper and deeper and selling anything and everything they can dredge from the ocean because there’s less and less of what we want. Fish that’s been sitting in the hold for a couple of weeks having died on the nets that are in the sea for 10 or 12 hours does not, the film said, compare with fish brought out of the nets by hand after a couple of hours and sold in the market later that same day.
- The CEO of Nestle is captured giving a chilling talk about water. What he regards as an “extreme position” is that water is required for human life, and should be a human right. But he, his company (which just happens to be the market leader in bottled water) think it should be considered a “foodstuff” and priced and sold accordingly. He also says that we’ve never had it so good; we’re better fed with more money than any time in history. Yes, we agree, looking at his sleek and well-tended self, you probably are. But not so much those Africans living in greenhouse-shantytowns in Spain, or the farmers starving in Brazil and drinking unclean water while locally grown food is exported for animal feed. Or all the farmers and agricultural workers driven out of business, together with all the businesses that used to serve them.
- Quote from the poultry breeder, whose mass produced chickens were shown from egg to packaging: “All the market’s interested in is the price. Taste is not really a consideration.” Nor are a lot of other things, from the looks of the world we’ve created.