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Corporate agriculture inhibits right to food for some

Given that food is a human right protected by humanitarian and international law, Brother David Andrews of the Congregation of Holy Cross asked in Spokane a question he deals with in his work with the National Rural Life Conference in Des Moines, Iowa:

“How hard is it to feed everyone? The world’s growers grow enough calories, but people continue to die of hunger,” he told an audience at Gonzaga University for the Catholicism and the New Millennium opening lecture.

David Andrews
Brother David Andrews

An advocate of sustainable food systems, he has attended meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Cancun and Hong Kong. He also serves on the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture and on the board of Heifer International.

Speaking on “Eating Is A Moral Act,” he pointed out that each time people put bread in their mouths they are part of the world—from the farmer who grew the wheat to the person who made the bread.

“We have the most in common when we eat and drink,” he said, disappointed that the United States has not recognized the United Nations document that declares food to be a human right.

It is a civil right “for the good of the order,” Brother David said. “It’s not just a right to choose what to eat, but to choose what kind of system we want to feed us—an industrial agricultural system or a sustainable ecological system.

“Human development and health need to be considered along with the bottom line in a holistic view of values,” he said. “Human development is physical, cultural, social and spiritual for individuals and for communities. Those factors comprise the ‘integral bottom line’ in contrast to the ‘bottom line’ that is only monetary.

“We must think about the whole person and whole community,” he said.

The two systems have different criteria: One produces in quantity and the other, with quality.

“Production for quantity focuses on growing too much and exporting the excess. It focuses on efficiency, cutting out waste, producing the most with the least cost,” he said.

When ethanol weighs in, it will affect decisions about growing the U.S.’s largest crop, corn. It may mean taking land that is left fallow for one or two years as a conservation method to replenish the soil, and planting every year—using marginal land that may be more prone to erode.

Brother David spoke of concerns when large corporations gobble up other large corporations and control the agricultural industry. These concerns have been raised at meetings of World Trade Organization, which is writing rules for world food trade with few regulations.

While that seems to be the trend, he said that there are people promoting another way, voices saying the food system can be different, because “the poor of the world deserve our action on their behalf,” he said.

“There are empty villages in the United States and around the world with their land for sale,” he said. “What will happen to communities that used to thrive?”

Sustainability is an alternative vision that recognizes the potential destructiveness of climate change from the focus on economic profits. It sees the need for appropriate technologies and human care as integral to the bottom line.

People are organizing for change through promotion of fair trade, just wages, community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets and buying local.

That approach is even catching the interest of Walmart and McDonald’s, which, he said, say they are developing sustainability programs.

“We are promoting carbon consciousness related to menus, so people can choose to reduce climate change,” he said.

The notion of sustainability is emerging as people become concerned about what’s in their food and what effect growing food has on energy, building designs and landscape,” Brother David said. “People oppose sweatshops in the field for farm workers.

“Students are asking for cage-free eggs, boycotting fast-food restaurants to win higher prices for tomatoes so farm workers can be paid more.

“Pope Benedict XVI calls for responsibility to God’s creatures, warning about treating them as a commodity to produce higher quantities of food. Animals and human beings have a mutual relationship in the Bible,” Brother David said.

He defines “food security” as assurance that all people at all times have access to nutritious, safe, acceptable, culturally appropriate food, produced in a socially just way. It requires people to reclaim sovereignty over food decision making in developing and developed worlds. The WTO challenges that concept, resisting limiting their investments.

The local food movement is one way to promote sustainability.

Communities are organizing farmers’ markets with direct marketing from the farmer to consumer. Industrial apple growers, for example, may be more concerned about how an apple looks than its taste or nutritional content.

We also need to watch laws that would cut local control over seeds by disallowing local initiatives to limit or prohibit genetic modification of seeds and plants, and patents of them by companies,” Brother David said.

“The food system needs to be accountable, locally and regionally based and environmentally sustainable to have democratic food security in contrast with a corporate food system,” he said.
The Business Alliance for Living Local Economies (BALLE) is a network of businesses focused on sustainable farming using the integral bottom line.

Food Policy Councils are working for food sovereignty in Canada, writing food charters to include the community, as individuals and groups articulate positions and strategies on issues that affect them.

Brother David’s goal is food self-sufficiency, bringing governance back to the people.
“Catholic social teachings bring us to believe in the importance of sustainable agriculture. Many Catholics are not aware of our social teachings beyond being kind to their neighbors. Those teachings call us to awareness of systemic issues,” he said.

Catholic social teachings include humanitarian change, subsidiarity—higher levels not taking from lower levels of community—solidarity in commitment to the wellbeing of others, distribution of goods for the wellbeing of all, the common good, the integrity of creation, the preferential option for the poor, encouragement of dialogue and collaboration, and the defense of nature.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brother David said, calls for strengthening urban-rural community, recognizing farming as a vocation, a way of life and an expression of faith following moral criteria.

He challenges people to watch the Farm Bill: Does it respect sustainability? Does it shift power from large-scale producers?

He urges people to see loopholes and inconsistencies in laws, support local environmental sustainability, help farmers and farm workers find common ground, challenge large subsidies to corporate farmers for mono-crop production, and to challenge politicians who are in the pockets of large corporations.

For information, call 323-6715.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © November 2007