Is Food a Human Right or a Commercial Product?
Chapter 5 from the book 'Crimes Against Humanity - Climate Change and Trump's Legacy of Planetary Destruction'.
by Judith Blau.
Photo by Harald Reichmann
Here at the team of The Preserve Journal we have for a long time been big fans of Judith Blau and her exceptional work on Human Rights. When re-reading her outstanding book 'Crimes Against Humanity' for research late last year, we were once again reminded just how important the content of this book is.
We started dreaming of the possibility of sharing some of the insights and knowledge from the book with our readers, and we therefore reached out to Judith Blau herself.
And it is with immense pleasure that The Preserve Journal today proudly presents a full chapter from the book 'Crimes Against Humanity - Climate Change and Trump's Legacy of Planetary Destruction' by American sociologist Judith Blau.
You can read more about Judith and her work at the bottom of this page.
The full book can be found and purchased via this LINK.
The Preserve Journal has been granted direct permission to publish this full chapter from both the author of the book herself (Judith Blau) and from the publisher (Routledge).
Is Food a Human Right or a Commercial Product?
Food is an unconditional right of all people. It is assumed, even proclaimed so, in religious texts, spelled out in the Quran and the Bible, especially, but also in Baha’i and Hindi texts. For example, Quran2:168 states, “Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth”; Quran 2:172 is “Eat of the good things which we have provided for you”; and Genesis 9.3 is “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” The right to food is also enshrined in national laws as well as regional and international declarations and treaties. For example, the constitution of Belarus includes this provision: “Everyone has the right to a decent standard of living, including appropriate food, clothing, housing and a continuous improvement of conditions necessary to attain this.” And the Fiji constitution includes this statement: “The state must take reasonable measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of the right of every person to be free from hunger, to have adequate food of acceptable quality and to clean and safe water in adequate quantities.”(1)
Of course, food is a human right. We could not survive without adequate food, which is intuitively clear and comprehensively documented. (2) Americans are at risk because the right to food is not constitutionally protected in the U.S. In fact, it is estimated that one in six Americans go hungry and this includes 1.6 million children. We Americans have no fundamental right to food. Besides revising the U.S. Constitution, we must anticipate shortages of food and water as the heating of the planet accelerates. There are two huge challenges ahead. The first is ensuring that there is no hunger anywhere and that all peoples have enough to eat, and in this chapter I provide an overview of hunger and the right to food.
The second is ensuring that food is healthy, and I raise questions here about the healthiness of industrial agriculture that predominates in the U.S. I turn to a discussion of climate and agroecology in Chapter 6, contending that agroecology is superior to industrial agriculture in several respects. In this chapter, I sketch out our understanding of the principle that food is a right, and also contend that it is a positive right, and clarify how industrial agriculture has not only contributed to global warming, but has done so by disempowering farmers and risking food quality. This chapter is based on the principle that all people deserve food. With tumultuous weather ahead, in the decades to come, this principle will ensure that we all remain fully human—which is to say, civil, compassionate—and, yes—fully deserving.
FORMALIZING THE RIGHT TO FOOD
In the American context, the right to food was first formally laid out by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who in his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944, stated: In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can beestablished for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:
– The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or
shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
– The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; . . . (3)
FDR had earlier, more abstractly, referred to this right in his 1941 State of the Union speech in which he referred to four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. He defined freedom from want in this way: “translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.” (4) Franklin’s insistence that food is a right has never been pursued in mainstream American political life—neither by Democrats nor by Republicans. On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and it includes the right to food (Article 25): “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.” (5) Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted the UDHR. It
never became a treaty, although it was affirmed by all states and participating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the Vienna 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. However, two treaties approved by the General Assembly and that are based on the UDHR were sent out to states for ratification in 1966 and both entered into force in 1976. (All human
rights treaties are listed in Chapter 4, Box 4.1.) One of these two is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the other is the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 11 of the ICESCR highlights that food, along with clothing and housing, is a basic human right: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” (6) Article 11 and, especially, the right to food, has been more recently affirmed internationally in 1999 (7), as well as by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who stressed the right to have access to food, and additionally that people have the right to food that is appropriate, according to one’s culture:
the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear. (8)
Many state (country) constitutions protect people’s right to food or adequate nutrition. For example, Chapter 2 of article 27 of the Constitution of Kenya includes this phrase: “Everyone has the right to have access to. . . sufficient food and water.” (9) Regional bodies, including the African Union, (10) the Islamic Organization of Cooperation, (11) and the Organization of American States affirm the right to food in declarations or treaties. (12) To illustrate, in 2012 the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the “Declaration of Cochabamba on Food Security with Sovereignty in the Americas,” which affirms the right to food. Item 7 of the Declaration defines food sovereignty:
people’s right to define their own policies and strategies for the sustainable production, distribution, and consumption of food that guarantee the right to food for the entire population, respecting their own cultures and the diversity of peasant, fishing, and indigenous forms of agricultural production, of marketing, and of management of rural areas, in which women play a fundamental role.(13)
As noted in Chapter 4, the right to food was incorporated into OAS’s 1988 treaty, “Protocol of San Salvador.” (14) On July 1, 2013, the African Union unveiled its program to end hunger and malnutrition in all 54 states by 2025. (15) The hope was that achieving this ambitious goal will also protect people and their food supply from calamities accompanying climate change since most African countries are already experiencing unusual heat, droughts, and storms that threaten agriculture.
FOOD IS BASIC AND ELEMENTARY
Without food and water, no person can live long. Studies of hunger strikers have shown that 40 days without food and water is the limit of human endurance. (16) Those of us who live in rich countries take food for granted. Yet food, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), is hardly a given since crops are highly sensitive to extremes of temperature, drought, excessive rain, or, in other words, climate change. Even a 2ºC rise in global mean temperature would destabilize current farming systems and would have the potential to endanger food production, “especially the patterns and productivity of crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture systems.” (17) It is important to note that when scholars and practitioners, human rights activists, and NGO workers say “food is a human right,” they mean healthy food and clean water. It is imperative to have both. Climate change will adversely affect all this. The World Food Programme estimates that 20% more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 due to the changing climate, and that clean, potable water will be threatened due to rising sea levels, droughts, and extreme heat. (18) Even so, analyses show that there will be about 9.8 billion people in 2050, which is about 2.2 billion more than there are now, and that will require 70% more food calories than needed now, all the while when it is essential—imperative—to reduce poverty, achieve gender equity, house refugees, and combat extreme weather (droughts, excessive heat, and torrential rains). (19)
It won’t be easy.
Alas, it may not be the case that everyone will benefit more or less equally from improvements in agricultural productivity. Nor will everyone suffer when there is crop failure. Just as the already privileged enjoy superior economic gains while the already disadvantaged struggle with meager earnings, the privileged will not go hungry while the disadvantaged are at risk of having inferior food or having none at all. This is the case when the comparison is between rich and poor people or between rich and poor countries. (20)
EXAMPLES OF FOOD IMPACTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE
I will explore issues about food and climate change more in depth in later chapters, but this is a good opportunity to provide a background and to begin to highlight some important issues.
The shells of clams, scallops, lobster, oysters, snails, mussels, and shrimp are all affected by ocean acidification just as coral reefs are (although some kinds of algae and sea grasses may benefit from higher CO2 conditions in the ocean). To be more precise, when CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur, resulting in the increased concentration of hydrogen ions. This increase causes the seawater to become more acidic and causes carbonate ions—an important building block of shelled creatures—to be less abundant because carbonate ions are an important building block of structures such as sea shells and coral reefs. It will also become more difficult for these animals to retain a hard shell as acid dissolves their rigid structures. (21)
Scientists are discovering that food—in the broadest sense of that word—is already impacted by climate change and this is not only irreversible but will get worse. Limiting warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels is, according to most scientists, surely the best option. (22) But in fact, the earth is warming faster than predicted, say, a decade ago. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, the extent of Arctic sea ice has fallen to a new wintertime low. (23) This has profound implications for fish. As the sea ice melts with warming, so too do ocean waters warm, and this means that fish—all over the world—head toward northern, colder waters. This has been observed by fishermen everywhere, from Bangladesh to Norway. (24) Not only are fish headed North, but so are lobsters, meaning widespread unemployment for fishermen, in Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. (25)
Corn yields in the central United States have become more sensitive to drought conditions in the past two decades, according to David Lobell, Associate Director of Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment. He predicts that if there were no more changes in temperature sensitivity, crops could lose 15% of their yield within 50 years, or as much as 30% if crops continue the trend of becoming more sensitive over time. (26) The same conclusion has been drawn about U.S. corn by other researchers. (27) Water shortages and warmer temperatures are bad news for corn; according to Lobell, a global rise in temperatures of just 1.8ºF would slow the rate of growth by 7%. (28)
Scotch, Coffee, Cherries, Wine Grapes
Many of the things that people enjoy and relish to eat and to drink will be affected. To begin with, Scotch whisky production is already adversely affected by rising temperatures and intense rainstorms. (29) Coffee is also at risk. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes: “Higher temperatures, long droughts punctuated by intense rainfall, more resilient pests and plant diseases—all of which are associated with climate change—have reduced coffee supplies dramatically in recent years.” (30) Cherries, of course, are divine-tasty, healthy, nutritious, and lovely to look at as well as to eat. Cherry trees are at risk in Japan and the U.S., two countries that have most prominently supported them. It is also the case that vineyards in which grapes are grown for wine now face serious problems with warming temperatures. (31)
Food Crops in North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Pacific Islands
The Scientific American has summarized predictions for food crops for different regions. For example, it shows that a spike in average temperatures for North America could hurt its agriculture sector: “as the number of days that are hotter than 30ºC (86ºF) increases, estimated future harvests of wheat, soybeans and corn could drop by 22 to 49%, depending on the variety of the crop.” (32) Latin America, according to the journal, is particularly affected by El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with massive fluctuations in the marine ecosystems off the coasts of Ecuador, Peru, and northern Chile, which are expected to have devastating consequences for fishing, but also for agriculture in the dry corridor of Central America. This reached crisis levels in 2015, with more than 3.5 million people who were food insecure and needed immediate food assistance, healthcare, livelihood recovery, and assistance that would increase their resilience. (33) Farmers in Europe will increasingly face deteriorating conditions—periods of drought as well as periods of intense rain. (34) European governments are encouraging farmers to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, with a shift away from industrial farming to agroecological farming (which will be discussed in a later chapter).
The predictions for the Middle East and Northern Africa are dire. The consensus is that the heat is intolerable now in the hottest months and that some areas will be uninhabitable before 2020. People will flee as climate refugees—that is, of course, unless there are some amazing developments, such as cooled underground homes. (35) The effects of climate change in Asia are already serious and will become more so as over 60% of the population live and/or work on farms. (36) But there is reason to be especially concerned about African agriculture because the continent is heating faster than the rest of the world; intercontinental transportation routes (for food distribution) are not well developed; deserts are more arid; and there have been fewer targeted aid programs from other countries than needed.(37) Most researchers agree that African agriculture faces a calamitous future unless steps are taken soon to reduce dependence on water and to abandon monocropping where it has been introduced. However, by and large pessimism is focused on the large farms and there is greater optimism about small farms on which farmers have relied on indigenous knowledge. (38)
Three United Nations agencies focus on food to reduce worldwide hunger. They have distinct missions while sharing the two goals of increasing worldwide food security and reducing poverty. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focuses on agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. The World Food Programme (WFP) aims to end hunger and achieve worldwide food security, with the overall goal of achieving global zero hunger. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was founded to support agricultural development projects for food production in developing countries. Box 5.1 summarizes some key facts about hunger.
DEFINITIONS AND FACTS ABOUT HUNGER (39)
• Malnourishment or undernourishment results from not having enough nutritious foods; hunger means not having sufficient food.
• Stunting is low height for age, caused by insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections. It often leads to impaired development.
• Wasting is low weight for height, and is the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease, and can lead to mortality.
• 795 million people do not have enough to eat, although there is enough food to feed everyone on the planet.
• Hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
• About one in eight people, or 13.5% of the overall population, remain chronically undernourished in the developing world, down from 23.4% in 1990–1992.
• As the most populous region in the world, Asia is home to two out of three of the world’s undernourished people.
• Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with highest prevalence (percentage of the population) of hunger.
• Hunger or poor nutrition cause nearly half (45%) of deaths in children—3.1 million—each year.
• One in six children in developing countries exhibits wasting.
• In some developing countries, one in three children exhibits stunting.
• 66 million primary school-age children go hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone; to reach these 66 million children, WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed.
• There are five types of malnutrition: Protein deficiency (Kwashikor), iron deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, iodine deficiency; and zinc deficiency. Of these, protein deficiency is the most serious, generally leading to death.
• According to United Nations agencies, famine can be declared only when certain levels of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20% of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope, acute malnutrition rates that exceed 30%, and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
It is important to put the information in Box 5.1 into perspective. There is plenty of food to go around and for everyone on the planet to have enough to eat. Although the world produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago, close to a billion people go to sleep hungry every night. The reason for such hunger, according to Jean Ziegler, as the Special Rapporteur on The Right to Food, is converting crops into biofuels, which he contended constitutes “a crime against humanity.” (40) Ziegler may have been right, yet not completely. More recently, the United Nations World Food Programme highlights other factors as well. It contends that harmful government policies and market failures can cause mass starvation even when there is enough food because it is too expensive and people simply can’t afford it. It also stresses that droughts and natural disasters can exacerbate hunger, and that it is human-driven factors—notably spikes in food prices and conflict—that cause widespread food insecurity, and in extreme cases, famine. (41) In 2017, people in four countries faced famine—Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia— with war and conflict largely responsible. People elsewhere—South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia—are now at risk due to the devastation of crops caused by the invasion of armyworms, brought on by a severe drought—a consequence of climate change.(42) Indeed, we can acknowledge that, for example, the prevailing political and economic crisis in Yemen has led to widespread hunger. Yet confounding the effects of this human-made crisis has been climate change. Yemen has no more water. And this is also the case with Cape Town, which is on the verge of running out of water. (43) In other words, planetary warming and weather-related catastrophes are bound to exacerbate the conditions that lead to hunger, famine and drought.(44) It is only recently that obesity has become such a major health concern, posing, too, a baffling question about prevalence and epidemiology. Why is it the case that in rich countries the poor have much higher rates of obesity than the rich, while in poor countries the rich have higher rates than the poor? (45)
Apparently, the answer is that in rich countries the poor tend to eat what is cheap, such as French fries and fried food, while the rich in poor countries have left the farms and moved to the cities where they are less likely to exercise and more likely to eat Western food. (46) It is important to understand the tragedy that some people do not have enough to eat when so much food is wasted. Each year, 1.3 billion tons of food—about a third of all that is produced—is thrown out or rots in transit, including about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 40–50% of root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20%
of oilseeds, meat and dairy products. This means that a significant amount is uneaten and thrown into garbage dumps, and then discarded, it produces methane, which contributes to global warming. (47) It is true that much food is thrown out and this occurs in rich countries, not in poor. Yet in rich countries very little is wasted in transit, while much food is wasted in poor countries while in transit, which, as Jon Mandyck and Eric Schultz explain, is due to inadequate cooling in storage and poor transportation. (48)
THE “GREEN REVOLUTION”: A BETRAYAL
Between the 1930s and the late 1960s, agriculture in the developing world was transformed through the “Green Revolution,” pioneered by Norman Borlaug, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and was credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. It involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, and modernization of management techniques, with the distribution of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers. The results were mixed. On one hand, the Green Revolution led to higher yields than was possible with traditional farming techniques, and genetic manipulation made it possible for farmers to grow crops that were disease resistant as well as shorter (that is, not top-heavy). (49) On the other hand, there were growing objections from farmers from around the world: 1) every genetic intervention was “imperfect” and that led to more intervention, and more imperfection led to even more, which triggered higher costs; 2) fertilizer was expensive; 3) adoption mostly benefited farmers with larger land holdings; 4) it required more water and pesticides, sometimes not easily available or too expensive; 5) it led to a loss of biodiversity; 6) it required fertilizer, which was too expensive for some farmers; 7) it required farmers to buy seeds each year; 8) it depleted water resources; 9) it put traditional varieties of crops at risk (50); 10) pesticides cause leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and many other forms of cancer; 11) chemicals introduced in weed killers may cause liver disease, or at least they do so in rats (51); and 12) chemicals are found to cause excessive weediness in fields. There have been many criticisms of the Green Revolution, but perhaps the earliest and most important were those of Rachel Carson. She highlighted the dangers of pesticides in her 1962 book Silent Spring, (52) which led to the banning of DDT and other pesticides in the United States and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. She has had a long-lasting influence, as stressed by Al Gore in his introduction to the 1994 edition of the Silent Spring:
Rachel Carson’s influence reaches beyond the boundaries of her specific concerns in Silent Spring. She brought us back to a fundamental idea lost to an amazing degree in modern civilization: namely the interconnection of human beings and the natural environment. (53)
This interconnection is an ancient idea, which highlights the dignity and skills of farmers, and respects nature.
SHIPPING CHICKENS BACK AND FORTH
Amazingly, things have come full circle. In recent decades, agriculturalists have found or highlighted innovative ways of restoring the interconnection between human beings and the natural environment. In particular, in the next chapter I will highlight the Food Sovereignty Movement, Agroecology, and the Local Food Movement. But first, I would like to mention here one of the most bizarre practices of food production that exemplifies industrial agriculture. It is likely that the chicken leg you ate last time came from a chicken raised in the United States but was butchered and cut up at a processing plant in China and shipped back to the United States for you to eat. This is the arrangement struck between the United States and China, and finalized on August 30, 2013. (54) For one thing, this arrangement flies in the face of long-established—really ancient—farming practices in which the farmer and her or his animals have remarkably close—yes—relations, which is to say that although farmers may have slaughtered the animals, they took great care of them while they were alive. Treating animals, even birds, like mere products or objects is highly objectionable to many farmers. For another thing, whole chickens and chicken parts transported a total of around 14,000 miles, whether by air or sea, contributes to planetary warming. Aircraft emit carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), all of which contribute to GHG, (55) and, likewise, cargo ships also contribute to GHG-1.12 billion tons of CO2 per year, which is roughly 4% of the world’s overall output of CO2. (56) Fish are also shipped, but the majority are chickens. This export–reimport agreement between the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture and the Peoples Republic of China was finalized on August 29, 2013 after a comprehensive four-year audit of the relevant sections of the food safety system in China, and was finalized on March 4 to March 19, 2013. (57) The agreement is not clear as to how the chickens and fish are shipped, but let’s imagine it is by air. That would mean that each chicken and its parts and each fish are air transported about 15,000 miles. It is important to keep in mind that airplanes account for about 5% of global CO2.(58) It wouldn’t take long by air, but it would take a huge toll on the environment. Shipping by sea would take about 30 days each way. Say the ship went from New York (with whole chickens) to Guangzhou and from Guangzhou to New York (with chicken parts) for a total of about 60 days. According to a United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) report, international shipping by boat in 2007 was responsible for 3.3% of global CO2, which is predicted to rise to 6% of the total by 2020. (59) Yes, this practice, whether by air or ship, is highly objectionable because transportation over such long distances contributes to global warming, and, besides, the purpose of doing this is highly questionable. It also casts aspersion on American agricultural practices and the way that food—and nature—has been commodified, or turned into purely marketable items, bought and sold, available mostly to those with money. Also, it is the concept of what is live—from carrots to cows—is merely valuable as a commercial product—that is, vegetables are not grown, they are produced, and chickens are not raised, they are mass produced. Vegetables and chickens (and pigs) are produced like widgets or gadgets, to be bought and sold, which is to say that food becomes produced for a profit, not nourishment. How much? How much do I pay? If I can’t pay, I can’t eat. Chickens (and animals) illustrate what is a much broader practice of commoditization. Take dairy cows. Typically, dairy cows are reared and treated as if they are machines. (60) When a female cow gives birth, she will bellow and scream, sometimes for days, because her baby calf is taken from her. This is profitable because the milk intended for her baby is taken and sold, and she will continue to produce milk. If the calf is male, he is likely to be killed and sold for veal. If the calf is female, her fate is sealed as a milk-producing and baby-producing machine. Rollingstone has this account about pigs:
Smithfield’s pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. (61)
As Americans, we have become used to the commodification and exploitation of animals. (62) Of course, it looks innocuous since the publicized and stated purpose is to preserve nature, but the result is to preserve nature in order to price and monetize it. Increasingly, investors in land are finding that selling rather than preserving land brings them big returns.
Big business dominates our global food system. A small handful of large corporations, including Nestlé, General Mills, and Kellogg, control much of the worldwide production, processing, distribution, marketing and retailing of food. This concentration of power enables big businesses to wipe out competition and dictate tough terms to their suppliers. It forces farmers and consumers into poverty. Under this system, around a billion people go hungry and around two billion are obese or overweight. Let’s start with the tenets of neoliberalism in order to show how they fail to square with the well-being of people and society’s advance under the conditions that will accompany climate warming. Neoliberalism privileges personal gain and profit, whereas the views reflected in the Bolivian and Ecuadorean constitutions highlight philosophies of accommodation and cooperation, with the understanding that Mother Earth is all-encompassing and inherently gentle. But is now at risk, with ferocious storms, floods, hot weather, melting poles, warming oceans, and exceedingly hot temperatures. She deserves protection, not abuse. Surely, according to this view, privatization of Mother Earth will not work, since privatization will lead to the exploitation of nature, precisely the wrong approach in time of duress. Privatization entails rolling back the rules, liberating the “free market” from government control, reducing wages by deunionizing workers, and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over after many years of struggle. It also involves the elimination of price controls, and, instead, giving total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us that this is good for us, politicians say that “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth and benefit everyone.” In fact, the idea is to grow the economy for private gain by cutting public expenditures for social service, education, healthcare and reducing public expenditures for roads, bridges, and schools. This accompanies deregulation to save money, and to abolish environmental and safety rules and regulations. It is quite clear that apart from the sheer unfairness of a system that privileges private wealth accumulation over people’s well-being and the environment, a radically deregulated economy is the worst thing to do at a time of global warming. To stem global warming, we need to cooperate and to get away from agricultural practices that are based on pesticides and monoculture farming, and to promote farming practices that preserve the soil and water. The defining trait of monoculture farming is that the aim is to maximize profits and yields, while producing healthy food for everyone is not an objective. Increasingly, monoculture is being criticized for many reasons: it is susceptible to disease, it needs excessive amounts of water, it degrades the soil, and uses chemicals and fertilizers, and thereby contributes to climate change. Another of the many worrying aspects of monoculture/industrial farming is a dramatic decline in the genetic variety or diversity of crops. According to the international Food and Agriculture Organization:
More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields; half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost. In fisheries, all the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits, with many fish populations effectively becoming extinct. Loss of forest cover, coastal wetlands, other “wild” uncultivated areas, and the destruction of the aquatic environment exacerbate the genetic erosion of agrobiodiversity. (63)
CONCLUSIONS: CLIMATE CHANGE, AGRICULTURE, AND TRUMP
Now we come to climate change, the role that industrial farming has played in accelerating climate change and Trump’s agricultural policies, as promoted by Sonny Purdue, Secretary of Agriculture. Industrial agriculture is responsible for over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions through intensive use of agrochemicals, toxins, fossil energy, freight land grabbing, and forest degradation through plantations, mining, logging etc. Multinational agricultural corporations include Monsanto, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont. They control the global seed, pesticide and agricultural biotechnology markets. They have displaced farmers and greatly reduced biodiversity. Sonny Purdue is an advocate of industrial agriculture in the U.S. Trump’s motto “America First” finds expression in, among other arenas, a food policy that promotes trade practices that are not sustainable and an agricultural policy that will increase greenhouse gases. The rest of the world is appalled.
Contact us for notes, we will be more than happy to provide them!
Photo by Harald Reichmann
About the author:
Judith Blau is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and served for ten years as chair of the Social and Economic Justice Undergraduate Minor. Her field is Human Rights, which is a normative approach to human societies, collective goods, political institutions, economy, and democracy. Drawing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties and conventions, Human Rights axiomatically asserts the inalienable and equal rights of all humans. One challenge everywhere is to ensure equal rights to those who are denied them owing to, for example, poverty or disability. Another challenge is to combat discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia) that stands in the way of people achieving equality. Another is to ensure diversity of culture and of cultural expressions.
Judith Blau is the director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill & Carrboro. She is also the president of the US chapter of Sociologists without Borders (SSF), which is affiliated with Sociologists without Borders International/ Sociólogos sin Fronteras. Blau was the co-editor of the journal, Societies without Borders: Human Rights & the Social Sciences and serves on the Science & Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is one of the co-founders of the SSF Think-Tank, a state-of-the-art space for democratic, global discussions and debate. Blau has co-authored four books on human rights. Besides writing for an academic audience, she also writes for the Huffington Post, Counter Punch and Commondreams (link).
Photo borrowed from https://alchetron.com/Judith-Blau