Saturday, September 21, 2013

Can we take back the power over our food chain? a reflection on food sovereignty

Food scandals are getting more and more frequent, the wrong meat in European lasagna, Chinese children dying of poisoned milk power. As a result, food sovereignty is becoming an emerging issue. Some month ago i received an interesting book, entitled food for thought, on food, power and human rights, by Gunnar Brulin and Malin Klingzell-Brulin, from a friend who interviewed the worker's unions.

It is a book that shows how the big companies have been taking over the power of our food chain, making us consumer powerless. We don't know anymore where the food comes from where and by whom it has been processed.

The authors of the book work for the Swedish food worker's union, and take the reader on a travel around the world, meeting those who produce the cheap food for us. From the Marabou (the famous Swedish sweets producer) precarious jobs (contract jobs only) in Sweden, to the coke drivers in the Phillipines with 12-15 working hours, passing through the shrimp production with child labor in Thailand, or the Ghanian producer suffering from dumping products. The book shows us how workers in the food industry have less and less power. This is pretty critical for our food chain, as theses people are the one responsible for the quality of our food. If we loose control over these jobs we loose control of the quality of food. But the book is not only negative, it also illustrates some small battles can be won, showing that a better food chain is possible, as for example with RSI victims working for Nestle in Brasil.

What i learned from this book is, that it is possible to take the power back of our food chain. "It is not easy to achieve sustainable production chains. It requires that the purchaser in the retail sector pay a reasonable price for food. Quality comes at a price. The different part of the chain need to be transparent and monitorable. It also requires that the workers themselves, via their trade unions can ensure that their working conditions are decent. Better jobs security means safer food. Government and other organization must be able to guarantee that production compiles with official standards and is environmentally sustainable." (taken from the conclusions of the book p 213).
"The right to food concerns everyone's right to a livelihood. The food shortage, hunger, is an issues for the UN and the ILO where nations, employers and trade unions can meet and make decisions that government promise to follow. It is crucial that there a jobs with a living wage. The trade unions member were have met are involved in food productions globally and locally. There doesn't need to be a conflict between these, if they compete on fair terms.  " (taken from the conclusion p. 220)

Next to enlightening stories and conclusions, the book has also a great appendix showing facts about our globalized food chain, from the seed and fertilizer company to the consumer, showing where the power truly is.

Sad that such a good book is so hardly accessible (you can order it from the union directly). If the Swedish workers' union were serious about transforming the food system, a first step would be to get his enlightening book to a wider public. Maybe it could be an idea to set it online for free? 

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