A VERY IMPORTANT READ today published at Take Part. The article “Bolivia: A Country With No McDonald’s” (which has been true since 2002) focuses on the concept of food sovereignty, a term defined by Via Campesina in 1996 as:
People’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
Reading this, I immediately recalled the seemingly endless mono-culture fields of soy and corn planted across the Pampas in Argentina, each with little signs advertising the type of Monsanto products used. The development of agribusiness there (and throughout Latin America) has been bitterly — and rightfully — opposed by local residents who are experiencing increasing health problems. As shown by a 2013 Associated Press report, these problems are clearly linked to the unregulated usage of pesticides sold by Monsanto.
A small victory came at the start of 2014 when a labor appeals court in north-central Argentina ruled that the construction of a Monsanto GMO seed plant was unconstitutional, and halted work at the site. (It should be mentioned as well that this came after more than 100 days of activists blockading the construction site).
But Bolivia is the first country to actually adapt the principles of food sovereignty as a part of its constitution. As writer Steve Holt explains in the article:
Food sovereignty, or local control, has even been codified in Bolivia’s laws, thanks in part to the work of the country’s first indigenous president, Democratic-Socialist Evo Morales, who took office in 2006. When the country’s constitution was rewritten in 2009, 12 articles were added to specifically lay out a vision for food sovereignty. Two more laws, passed in 2011 and 2012, further codified the nation’s apparent resistance to industrial agriculture and an economy too heavily weighted toward commodity crops. Morales, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in February, slammed U.S. fast-food chains, calling them a “great harm to humanity” and accusing them of trying to control food production globally.
This ethos of locally produced agriculture is antithetical to the government’s approach here in the US. Take for example the history of lobbyists appointed to senior positions in the Food and Drug Administration. Case in point: Michael R. Taylor, a former Monsanto lobbyist who was appointed a senior adviser to the FDA on food safety in 1991. Upon completion of his tenure, he became one of Monsanto’s vice-presidents.
And at the beginning of this year, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto on genetically engineered seed patents, giving the company the ability to sue farmers whose fields are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto materials. This means that farmers whose fields are contaminated simply by wind dispersal (even if they did not wish to have any Monsanto seeds on their property) are now liable.
As always, though, what the US does well in spite of the government, in spite of the seeming juggernaut of multinational corporations, is enterprising at the municipal level, developing initiatives that benefit local economies. As the graph below shows, there’s been almost a 360% growth of local farmers markets since 1994.
What are your views of food sovereignty, and what steps have you taken (if any) to ensure your own food security?