The Food Revolution and the War for Our Minds
BY JONATHAN R. LATHAM, Rural America In These Times
By conventional wisdom it was excellent news. Researchers at Iowa State University demonstrated in 2012 that organic farming methods can produce yields almost as high as pesticide-intensive methods. Other researchers, at the University of California—Berkeley, reached a similar conclusion. Indeed, both findings met with an enthusiastic reception. The enthusiasm is appropriate, but only if one misses a deep and fundamental point: that even to participate in such a conversation is to fall into a carefully laid trap.
The strategy of Monsanto’s PR—and that of about every major commercial participant in the industrialized food system—is to promote a single overarching big idea: that only industrial producers in the food system can produce enough for the world’s future population.
To be sure, agribusiness has other PR strategies, such as claiming agribusiness is “pro-science” and its opponents are “anti-science,” but the main plank has for decades been to create a cast-iron moral frame around the need to produce more food.
If you go to the websites of Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Bayer and their bedfellows, they immediately raise the “urgent problem” of who will feed the expected global population of 9 or 10 billion in 2050.
Likewise, whenever these same organizations compose speeches or press releases, or videos, or make any pronouncement designed for policymakers or the populace, they hype the same urgent problem. It is their Golden Fact, their universal calling card. And as far as people who are unfamiliar with the issue are concerned it wins the food system debate hands down, because it says, if any other farming system cannot feed the world, it is irrelevant. Only agribusiness can do that.
Yet this strategy has a disastrous foundational weakness. There is no global or regional shortage of food. There never has been and nor is there ever likely to be. India has a superabundance of food. South America is swamped in food. The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe are overflowing with food. In Britain, like in many wealthy countries, nearly half of all row crop food production now goes to biofuels, which are in essence a scheme to dispose of surplus agricultural products. China isn’t quite as overwhelmed with food, but it still produces enough to export and grows 30 percent of the world’s cotton. No foodpocalypse there either.
Even some establishment institutions will occasionally admit that the food shortage concept—now and in any reasonably conceivable future—is bankrupt. According to experts consulted by the World Bank Institute there is already sufficient food production for 14 billion people—more food than will ever be needed. The Golden Fact of agribusiness is, at bottom, a lie.