Vandana Shiva was on Moyers & Company on July 13th talking about her fight against genetically modified (GM) seeds and other attempts by industrial agriculture companies, like Monsanto, to monopolize the production of food not only in her native India but also here in the US. It’s a great interview and gives a basic overview about our broken our food system. GM seeds and industrial agriculture is making us all sick and less able to afford healthy food while the corporations game the system and rake in huge profits and tax subsidies.
In the first part of the interview Shiva talks about the control of the food system by the big corporations who gain profit from it but show little to no concern for the people who have to buy the food or the small farmers who grow the food who are forced to buy seed from the big corporations:
BILL MOYERS: You say that corporations have hijacked our food system. How so?
VANDANA SHIVA: Well I come from a country where there were no corporations in the food system until 20 years ago. They weren’t allowed to be. Our rules said food was too precious. It was an important source of livelihood. So we had to protect our small farmers. Every law protected the small farmer, land rights, markets, prices, everything worked so a small farmer could have a living. Food processing stayed in what we call the cottage sector, the small scale sector. That’s why we didn’t have junk food and processed food. Globalization changes the rules. And agriculture agreement is written by a former official of Cargill to represent the U.S. public.
BILL MOYERS: Cargill–
VANDANA SHIVA: Is the world’s biggest grain trader. The second is the intellectual property treaty controlled and written by Monsanto. And then you have the so-called food safety agreement called The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. Every one of these are very highly complex names. Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, Sanitary and Phytosanitary. All of them are basically saying, “Let there be a monopoly of a corporation to have– to write the rules so that only they can be players in the food system.”
And the final step is the retail, where food reaches our table, Wal-Mart wanting to have foreign direct investment in retail. A big issue in India’s parliament, a very big issue on the streets of India. So from the seed to the table, corporations are saying, “We want to be the only players.” Five in seed, five in grain trade, five in processing, and five in retail. That is a corporate hijack of our food and a corporate dictatorship over our food system.
She also mentions the studies that show that GM seeds don’t increase yields as companies like Monsanto promised.
Toward the end of the interview, she talks about the real consequences of the industrial agriculture we have here in the US:
BILL MOYERS: You know, many people will hear you as they have the others who come on this, at the table and describe what’s going wrong in the world. And they always– they often write me on the web or stop me on the street and say, I heard that diagnosis. But what can I do?
VANDANA SHIVA: I think first thing is each of us has to daily ask a question, “Where am I complicit in a war against the Earth? Where are my daily actions part of a devastation of the planet and with it, a devastation of the lives of people.” Because the two go hand in hand. A war against the Earth is a war against people. Peace with the Earth is peace among people.
Getting rid of the inequalities, the violence, the exclusions. And I realize that food is a place where we can all begin. Food is a place which is so loaded with dishonesty and is what keeps a false economy of food alive. The subsidies that go to industrial agriculture.
BILL MOYERS: Subsidies we taxpayers–
VANDANA SHIVA: Taxpayers pay. A high-cost system, which uses a lot of wealth of society, then uses our wealth to cheat on the prices and make costly food look cheap. So our choices are distorted. We go and eat the junk food that then creates the high cost of disease, the high cost of obesity, the high cost of diabetes at an early stage, the high cost of environmental devastation.
And so we need an honest system. And we can begin by creating that honesty and that peace by relating more directly to the food we eat, to the people who grow our food.
To me, the beauty is, every time I come back to this country, there are more farmer’s markets. There is more commitment to local food supply. Even in the city of New York, people are saying, “We’ll make local food. We’ll grow local food.” It is an easy step, but it is a very far-reaching step.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve spent time in this country, you know that in inner cities it’s almost impossible to buy fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.
VANDANA SHIVA: That’s the challenge we have. It’s not that there isn’t a food stamp system. Public money is being spent on feeding the poor. But then it’s insuring that the only access the poor have with the money they get, again from public money, is to bad food. We could divert this to good food. There’s no rule in the book that says healthy food should be a luxury for the rich. Healthy food is a right for all.
Here is the clip of the interview:
It is my firm belief that the monopoly on the food system by industrial agriculture is what is behind the rise in obesity, diabetes, and other health issues related to nutrition. Putting chemicals in your body isn’t cheap in the long run.
I would rather pay a little more for chemical free, non-processed food then many thousands in medical costs because the food I did eat is hurting me.
This isn’t about you or me making poor choices. In some cases we have no choice due to the work of the big corporations who use their deep pockets to game the system for their benefit.
This needs to change.