In this article, Tanya Khotin asks pertinent and ever-pressing questions about food security in a capitalist-driven economy.
Citi’s timely “must read” report “Current Global Food System is Not Fit For Purpose for a Net Zero Future” details extraordinary negative impact that our global food and agriculture system has on the world. (The impact on health is no less relevant; hope they will cover that next!)
Our food system has been called-out for its “profit-over-people purpose” for decades now… but not by global investment banks!
The first major book on impact of meat production on the environment was the 1971 classic Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. One of her mentees, Eric Hold Gimenez, a leader in the food movement, says this in response to the question of whether our food system is broken:
“Our food system is acting precisely as a food system during the period of late capitalism is supposed to work. It’s supposed to concentrate land and resources and power in the hands of the few and it’s supposed to offload all of the social and environmental externalities onto the rest of society. And that’s what it’s doing. It’s an exploitative, extractivist food system.”
What happened? Power of brands over people.
Industry consolidation, leading to oligopolies all along the chain (4 meat processors; 4 branded snack companies, 4 soft commodity traders, Russia/Ukraine with 20%+ of fertilizer, etc…. Mothers who can’t breast feed rely on just 3 baby formula companies!!).
Citi’s report highlights that most of the margin is downstream, not at the level of the farmer. Where there is greatest margin, there is greatest power; global brands have more power than their consumers, suppliers, employees, and policy-makers (policy makers who depend on industry support for their elections and re-elections).
And the impact of that is vast. Just two examples here:
Food oligopolies have a direct impact on food inflation (which in turn has huge social and political repercussions), and we have known this since at least 1981, and see it again now,
Food oligopolies have extraordinary influence on what we consume through their lobbying power to continue driving demand for unhealthful, addictive food (poorly and excessively packaged). This has only increased since Marion Nestle raised it decades ago. See this and this. Our dietary guidelines – used by schools, hospitals, benefit programs, etc., are greatly influenced by for-profit corporations and their industries.
So, solutions? (in addition to some excellent ones suggested by Citi):
Key points include:
- Lobbying against policies
- Investor awareness
- Government transparency
Read the full article, Is food a human right or a branding opportunity?, on Linkedin.