Food Sovereignty in the Industrialized World

21 Nov

Food sovereignty isn’t a term that most people associate with the first world. After all, if we want a cheese doodle or an organic apple, one only need to travel to their closest grocery store and purchase said item, right? Sovereignty is about freedom, and being able to purchase any food we desire at any time we want is freedom at its finest, no? Not so fast.

What is food sovereignty? In the simplest context, food sovereignty is indeed about food freedom, control over one’s food, and establishing access to nutritious food as a basic human right.

The term “food sovereignty” was coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996. Following is a statement on Peoples’ Food Sovereignty by Via Campesina, et al.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets; and to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production.

How does this relate to the developed world? Looking back at what people might perceive to be food freedom – the ability to go to the store and buy whatever they want; can we honestly say we are experiencing food sovereignty when the majority of our food supply is controlled by large corporations that are driven by profit, not concern for nutrition or healthy ecological systems? Can we say we have food sovereignty when the federal government so heavily regulates every aspect of food production that it naturally eliminates would-be small food producers due to the over burden of regulation? Can we honestly say we have food sovereignty when multinational corporations that provide commodities (monocultures – not real food) can lobby the federal government to tip the scales in their favor in order to receive subsidies, while small farmers and food producers must compete at a disadvantage in the so-called “free market”?

Sovereignty versus security? Let’s not confuse food sovereignty with food security. In the United States, the majority of the population enjoys food security primarily because of the food system we have in place that is a product of our Farm Bill. Food security refers to freedom from hunger, but it in no way defines the quality of the food, how it is produced, or who produces it. One can have food security without nutrition. One can have food security without an intact ecosystem. One can have food security without regard to community and the human element. In fact, our current industrial food system produces these exact results: lack of nutrition, a degraded environment, and a society completely disconnected from its life force.

Why should the first world care about food sovereignty? After all, I can still get those cheese doodles whenever I want. I hope this is self evident from the previous paragraph, but just in case it’s still illusive, here are some reasons why we should care.  1. Most humans want to live healthy lives. 2. Limits to Growth dictates that we can only pollute our environment for so long before diminishing returns come back to bite us.  3. Finally, humans can feel empathy and care for other humans. Corporations, though given personhood status, still lack the ability to express concern for other beings who have personhood status, namely you and me. Their primary concern is to generate profits.

Who’s leading the way? The small town of Sedgwick, Maine has become the first in the Unites States to pass a Food Sovereignty ordinance, declaring their right to produce and sell local foods of their choosing, without the oversight of state or federal regulation. Although this may not have made corporate media news, it’s huge news for small farmers, cottage food producers, and rural communities. What this means is that a farmer or food producer is able to sell directly to the public without the added burden of government regulation. This may seem like a public health threat to some, given the spate of foodborne related illnesses in recent years, but most of these illnesses have originated in the industrial food system. On a community scale, this type of ordinance shifts the responsibility of education and food safety to the consumer and the producer respectively. A foodborne illness resulting from a local producer’s improper care is quickly contained and accountability is unavoidable. Food sovereignty ordinances help small producers easily enter the market and gives buyers more options.

Food Sovereignty under attack. In the town of Blue Hill, Maine, the State has recently decided to challenge the town’s newly adopted Food Sovereignty ordinance. The Maine Department of Agriculture has filed a suit against Dan Brown, owner of Gravelwood Farm, alleging that he is illegally selling unpasteurized milk without a license. Brown, meanwhile, insists he is doing nothing wrong and that a local food ordinance adopted by Blue Hill residents protects the rights of farmers to sell directly to consumers without a license. Visit Local Food Local Rules to find out what’s happening with Dan Brown’s Farm and how you can support the food sovereignty movement.

What is your community doing to support food sovereignty? I’d love to hear your comments.


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3 responses to “Food Sovereignty in the Industrialized World

  1. eric marcus

    November 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Here! Here! I truly hope the Fed’s lose the case. We need more counties to enact the same laws as Sedgewick does so that the average person has more control over the food they eat- not less!

  2. Kevin

    December 5, 2011 at 12:09 am

    A very good article about a very complex anthropological problem. Food and commerce are inseparable and since the dawn of mankind the peoples of the world have been trading valuable agricultural commodities. Government should only exact it’s authority where a definitive problem needs a solution. The license and the unpastuerized milk are not the problem, the rights of the people to govern themselves is the foundational problem in this case. When governments act as if they know better than their peoples and act accordingly, then those governments become agents of repression and tyrany. This case speaks of the age-old arguments between Jefferson and Adams about the heirarchy of government and whether government a small-to-large or large-to-small cultural effect. I believe the Federal Government and their Departments of Agricuture and Justice have better ways to spend their time and resources.

    • elitrope

      December 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm

      Kevin, thanks for the comment! Absolutely agree, government certainly could be using their resources in other, more beneficial ways. The question is, how to separate the government from the tentacles of big ag. Unfortunately, too big to fail profit driven (profit over people) corporations have been dictating what’s best for us through their financial influence and many people are now believers. Interesting article I just read about organic feeding the world – the research shows this is indeed possible, though big ag still perpetuates the untruth that it can’t be done. The truth is, they further exasperate the world hunger problem they claim to be solving, by land and resource grabbing and marginalizing small farmers.


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