'Food Safety' Used to Increase Corporate Control over Food and Agriculture
by GRAIN via ivy - GRAIN Thursday, May 5 2011, 10:29am
health related /
A new briefing by GRAIN examines how "food safety" is being used as a tool to increase corporate control over food and agriculture, and discusses what people can do and are doing about it. Below is a snapshot of what's inside. The full briefing is available here.
The steady stream of scandals, outbreaks of disease and regulatory crack-downs that is part and parcel of the industrial food system has made food safety a major global issue. Our growing reliance on corporate food and farming concentrates and amplifies risk in new and unprecedented ways, at scales never seen before, making intervention more necessary than ever to ensure that food does not make people sick. But behind all of the talk and action lies another agenda.
"Food safety" may sound like it is about protecting people's health or even the environment. The European Union boasts of a food safety system that runs "from farm to fork", a language meant to make consumers feel assured that someone is watching out for them. But what happens these days in the name of "food safety" is not so much about consumers or safety as it is about getting everyone who is involved in food production, preparation, and delivery to conform to a number of "standards" set by supermarkets and the food service industry that are first and foremost about ensuring their profits.
Governments may set the frame for food safety through a number of policies and administrative measures (inspection services, and so on), but the private sector draws up and implements the actual standards. This public–private division (and collusion) creates a host of problems, because we end up with a situation where:
• the industrial food sector is essentially regulating itself, which reinforces the case that food safety is not primarily about public health, especially when it manifests itself in terrible food poisoning outbreaks; and,
• governments end up working for the corporate sector, even though this is not their role, because the regulatory system is public while the standards are private.
Now, thanks to globalisation and the loosening of rules around trade and investment, this model of food safety is spreading-- subjecting farmers, fisherfolk, and food industry workers all over the world to its corporate dictates. If Indians want to sell fish or grapes to the European Union, they have to conform to EU regulations and the standards set by the supermarket chains that control the EU market. If Brazilians wants to sell poultry or soya to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf state's criteria will kick in. "Fine", you may think. "This is only about big industrial farm operations anyway." But the idea – and reality – is that countries adopt these standards and apply them to domestic markets as well, ultimately impacting on all farmers in any given country. They are not just for exporters.
Who sets those standards? And who benefits from them?
More food is traded across borders than ever before. The World Trade Organisation's agreement on agriculture started slashing farms tariffs and quotas almost 20 years ago. Since then, the battle line of food trade disputes has shifted to what are called "non-tariff" barriers, such as food safety standards. Today, if you want to protect your country's farmers from competition, you can't put a sign at the border saying "We have enough melons, keep out!" But you can put up a sign saying "We only accept melons that are halal, 15-20 cm in diameter, rinsed with potable water and certified to have been grown on farms with their own toilet facilities." Great for Carrefour, whose specially contracted suppliers will produce those very melons. But what about small farmers who can't handle all these criteria and the costs of certification that come along with them? If they are shut out of the supermarkets, what other options do they have?
An increasing share of the food that people buy is delivered to them through the supply chains of transnational supermarkets and food service corporations. Globally, food retail turns over US$4 trillion in sales each year. Supermarkets accounted for over half (51%) of those sales in 2009, with the top 15 corporations realising 30% of them. Pooled together, the top ten food retailers (Walmart, Carrefour, Metro, Tesco, Schwarz, Kroger, Rewe, Costco, Aldi and Target) raked in $1.1 trillion in 2009, enough to make them the thirteenth-richest "country" in the world. These are the firms shaping today's food safety systems and they wield enormous power in deciding not only where food is produced and where it is sold, but exactly how it is produced and handled.
There are all manner of development funds, micro-credit, and government subsidy programmes designed to help small farmers comply with these corporate standards. Through such programmes, a small number do manage to find tenuous spots producing on contract for supermarkets like Tesco or food-service companies like McDonalds. But the reality is that most farmers are simply shut-out, since supermarkets prefer to work with larger suppliers and farms. The space for a small farmer growing cabbages in China or potatoes in Zambia to market his or her produce is thus quickly shrinking as supermarkets and food service companies expand and as alternative channels, like wet markets and street vendors, are closed down by governments bent on applying the corporate standards. Only the corporations win in this situation-- not food producers or workers and not consumers.
How do we get out of this mess?
The corporate hijack of the food supply is not going unchallenged. A growing counter-movement of people is showing how real food safety can come only from a different model of food and agriculture.
Small-scale farmers teach us that food safety is not achieved through "zero tolerance" for micro-ogranisms or the "extreme hygiene" approach espoused by big corporations (pasteurisation, irradiation, sterilisation, etc.). Destroying biodiversity, including microflora and fauna, creates instability, which manifests itself in disease. It is better to aim for balances or equilibria through diversity, as these are the real pillars of harmony and health. This requires knowhow and it relies on short distances between production and consumption, but both are hallmarks of the alternative kind of food systems that a lot of people yearn for.
We must vigorously defend small vendors and street foods, as they often get vilified and wiped out in the name of food safety. Farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture, small shops and street hawkers – these are or can be the backbones of local economies and of what many believe is healthier food. Support for such circuits is on the upswing, but they need a lot more investment and effort, including on the specifics of food safety per se. Similarly, campaigns to keep foreign supermarkets like Walmart away or to prevent other countries from imposing their food standards are extremely important.
At the end of the day, food safety is about who controls our food. Should that be the corporations, or should that be us?
Main points from the briefing:
1. While it sounds like it's about public health, it's really about corporate wealth. Successive scandals, outbreaks of disease and regulatory crack-downs have made "food safety" a huge global issue. On the surface, all of the action appears to be directed at ensuring proper hygiene so that people don't get sick from food. But the deeper reality is that food safety has become a crucial battleground over the future of food and agriculture and a device to extend corporate control.
2. Industrial agriculture is very much the problem. Food safety risks are amplified by industrial-scale food production, processing, and marketing. A small farm producing a tainted product (e.g. salmonella in eggs) will affect only a small number of people. A large farm doing the same will hurt a large number of people, often across borders. Many of the worst food safety problems are generated by bad practices associated with industrial agriculture – heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, use of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical compounds for non-therapeutic purposes, high stock densities that favour disease outbreak, abuse of animals to raise productivity and lower costs, and bad labour practices.
3. Governments frame the rules but industry sets the standards. Food safety policy is broadly overseen by public agencies. Governments set and oversee the laws. But the food industry – from input suppliers to retailers – defines the standards and implements them. This results in standards that are highly biased toward corporate needs, and voluntary (i.e. self-regulation). Control over standards puts corporations in the driver's seat and leaves governments having to account for or clean up the mess.
4. Corporations win, people lose. Corporate standards are primarily about maximising profits and organising markets, not about food safety. Of course, the food industry gains nothing by killing people or making them seriously ill, but with their dominance over markets and in the absence of regulatory regimes that hold them responsible, corporations can treat food safety incidents as a mere cost of doing business.
5. Trade agreements are the core mechanism to expand and enforce food safety standards across the globe today. The US and the EU aggressively use trade policy, especially bilateral free trade agreements, to push their standards and regulate market access in favour of their agribusiness firms. However, exporters are not the only ones affected. Countries that adopt these industry standards, especially in the global South, apply them to domestic markets as well. As small-scale food producers, processors and vendors cannot comply, they are shut out of markets and even criminalised for their traditional practices.
6. Standards are spreading everywhere. Corporations and governments are stretching the regulations around food safety to extend control over the food trade. Soon it will be impossible to sell a Thai chicken or a Brazilian beefsteak to the European Union if the animals were not reared and slaughtered according to European animal welfare considerations. Similarly, there is huge commercial interest now in defining and setting global rules for the halal food trade.
7. Real food safety comes from balances, not extremes. Small farmers and processors teach us that we can achieve food safety through biodiversity, knowledge and the stability that equilibria provide. As the French farmer Guy Basitanelli of La Confédération Paysanne puts it, “Managing microbial balances, and protecting and producing specific flora based on a respect for traditional and local practices, is what best guarantees safety.” By contrast, the corporate system's reliance on extreme hygiene through forced sterilisation and industrial technologies (like irradiation or nanotech) leads to instability.
8. People are doing a lot to undo this corporate hijack. There is a strong counter-movement working to weaken the grip of agribusiness over the dominant food system and to promote better approaches. "Food safety" or more broadly speaking "food quality" is at the centre of these battles, whether it is people and organisations resisting the entry/expansion of supermarkets and agribusiness corporations, patronising local foods and community markets, boycotting big chains and dubious products (from GMOs to US beef), supporting food industry workers in their struggles for fair wages, entitlements and collective rights, stopping so-called free trade deals, or reforming agricultural policies to support peasant agriculture. This movement is growing, but it needs more support to become the backbone of our food economies and to put "food safety" back in people's hands.
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Food Witch Hunt in Oz
by vinnie Sunday, May 8 2011, 10:25am
A curious case of a government food regulator and a market stall vendor ended in a hefty fine for the stall vendor, Mr Peter Melov of Bondi.
Mr Melov was convicted of selling unpasteurised dairy products for human consumption and received a $53,000 fine for 43 breaches of the NSW Food Acts -- most of which were labelling, not dairy related. Furthermore, as an unsuccessful defendant he also had court costs awarded against him, his total costs amounted to $183,000 -- no small matter for a market stall vendor!
The case wreaked of a witch hunt from the start; the regulator could have easily advised Mr Melov to cease selling any products that were in breach of local Food Acts, which I'm told is the usual practice; however, approximately $350,000 of taxpayer funds were squandered unnecessarily prosecuting a case so a few 'napoleonic' bureaucrats could justify their jobs.
The politics of this case -- prosecuted by a government that suffered an historic defeat (slaughter) in recent State elections -- warrant a thorough investigation as a market stall vendor presents as a VERY soft/safe target for the regulator in view of the fact that high profile exclusive imported food suppliers continue to sell unpasteurised dairy products (French cheeses etc) to affluent consumers in Sydney -- whatever you do don't disturb the 'knights of the realm!'
During the course of the case Mr Melov pleaded, in his defence, that he requested specific advice from FA agents on the products he was selling, however, advice was not forthcoming as plans by senior bureaucrats to prosecute the case were already underway, so the usual warnings were not given, much to Mr Melov's financial misfortune.
The case was a legal circus from the start. Witnessing a battery of government lawyers prosecuting a case against a lone stall vendor, who was defended on a pro-bono basis by a clearly inexperienced young female barrister out of her area of expertise/jurisdiction, reminded me of the disproportionate force utilised by the US military as it engages in its many 'humanitarian' resource wars.
I have never seen such brazen 'leading of witnesses' as occurred in this case -- prosecuting counsel was having some difficulty establishing liability, so the Magistrate assisted by comparing Mr Melov to the driver of a getaway car in a bank robbery! I kid you not, please refer to court records if you find this difficult to believe.
It should be noted that no one suffered any ill effects from consuming Mr Melov's products at any time; however, prior to Mr Melov's prosecution Sydney's (6m) population was poisoned with the Cryptosporidium pathogen by the Sydney Waterboard, a government entity! I still have the uncashed $15 cheque mailed to all citizens as compensation for stomach cramps and severe diarrhea experienced by many citizens as a direct result of ingesting this dangerous parasite. Compare Mr Melov's $183,000 fine to the governments $15 compensation if you wish to get a measure of the extreme bias with which Mr Melov was treated.
The clearly Corporate biased NSW Food Authority, has not yet enforced the labelling of supermarket food products containing GM 'foods' or other substances known to be deleterious to the health, such as nano food additives and refined sugars -- particularly the ubiquitous fructose corn syrup. The equivalent of 25 teaspoons of sugar is contained in 1.5 litre popular soft drink brands; no doubt that amount of refined sugar (poison) in popular drinks, marketed to kids, would be beneficial for one's future type 2 diabetes, obesity and dental problems, which is currently costing the state billions per annum. Should we also mention the many American Junk Food chains that have sway over government in NSW?
Like all bureaucratic bodies, the NSW Food Authority is too busy with the fine print to be bothered with REAL HEALTH issues.
The case against Mr Melov is just another example of unjust persecution and the squandering of taxpayer funds by a bloated government regulator too involved in bureaucratic fine print to be concerned with real HEALTH matters -- glass of Sydney water, anyone?
Justice would have been served if Mr Melov had received a $15 fine for not poisoning anyone!
The good news is the people of NSW have a new government and the sooner this case is brought to the attention of the new Minister the sooner wasteful and incompetent elements can be removed from State bureaucracies.
Perhaps Mr Melov or his representatives could make a personal appeal to the new Premier of NSW, I am sure he would find this case of great interest!
The Audacity of Genetically Modified Foods
by Bruce Robinson via stele - Boulder Daily Camera Monday, May 9 2011, 8:58am
The biotech industry, led by Monsanto, promotes the idea that the arguments about genetically modified crops should focus on the science and the economics as Monsanto sees them. I maintain that the real discussion should be about the audacity and illegitimate way GM crops have been forced on a reluctant United States and world -- the money, corruption, politics and obfuscation that characterize its rise to dominance. The discussion should focus on how GM crops have taken over our food supply with little concern for safety or our right to choose.
Does it bother you that we consumers are largely unaware that 70 percent to 80 percent of the processed foods we buy contain GM ingredients? We are "largely unaware" because these foods are not labeled -- even though 90 percent of Americans want them labeled and think that we have the right to know what is in our food. The biotech industry fights labeling viciously because they know that, if GM foods were labeled, many would refuse to buy them as is the case in Europe. It`s not financial considerations that leave us with no choice; it`s our lack of awareness that allows them to take advantage of us. How many realize that Kraft Mac & Cheese is non-GM in Europe but does contain GM ingredients in the United States?
Our regulatory bodies and government are staffed with pro-GM people, a veritable revolving door. Michael Taylor, a Monsanto lawyer, moved from Monsanto to the Food and Drug Administration where he wrote the rules that were used to justify the release of Monsanto`s bovine growth hormone RBGH. He then returned to Monsanto as vice president. He currently is the FDA deputy commissioner for foods -- not the best place for a person with such apparent bias. And Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, previously general counsel for Monsanto, supported a ruling that GM alfalfa could be released. He does not recuse himself in cases like this involving conflict of interest.
There are minimal requirements for independent testing of GM crops and foods. Testing is left to the biotech companies who then choose which tests to submit to our regulatory bodies. This results from the gift of "substantial equivalence" that says we don`t need to do thorough testing because GM crops are substantially equivalent to regular crops. But how can we know they are substantially equivalent if we don`t thoroughly test them? Who do our regulatory bodies represent? Aren't they in place to protect our health? Shouldn't they be doing or overseeing the testing in our interest?
There is significant correlation between the increase in incidence of serious health problems and the introduction of various GM crops into our foods. Check out Robyn O`Brien`s "The Unhealthy Truth." Why would the incidence of peanut allergies begin increasing 20 percent yearly just after GM soy came into widespread use in the United States in 1996? Why would the incidence of soy allergies increase by 50 percent in 1998, the year GM soy was introduced in the United Kingdom? Correlation is not the same as cause and effect but determining cause is almost impossible when foods are not labeled.
What can we learn from the numerous cases where wild or domestic animals refuse to eat GM crops but willingly eat the non-GM equivalent? Even more drastic are the cases of animals dying following their consumption of GM crops -- not only lab test animals but farm animals. Obviously changes are occurring within the plant that go way beyond what was intended. I remember a statement from Chris Bright that "nature is a system of unfathomable complexity." Any messing with it should proceed with much greater caution than we are seeing today.
Roundup Ready GM alfalfa has been approved by the Department of Agriculture and is about to be grown large scale and will become the food for much of our meat and dairy animals. Alfalfa is water-intensive and has no significant weed problem while being extremely effective at contaminating other crops. I think this counter-intuitive agriculture policy is indicative of the revolving door and its attendant corruption.
Dominance of GM crops and food results in suppressing the growth of organic agriculture as well as traditional, non-GM, agriculture. Contamination, super weeds and constant efforts to weaken organic standards truly threaten the vibrant organic food industry in Colorado and the nation.
Monsanto and the biotech industry are well on their way to controlling the world`s seed markets. This, together with the lack of labeling, denies us freedom of choice in what we buy. It also dominates and controls farmers worldwide -- what they plant and how they operate.
Our favorite fruits, vegetables and grains are being readied for the GM market that views us as guinea pigs. Why are we and our elected representatives allowing them to do this to us? I highly recommend "Seeds of Deception" by Jeffrey Smith as well as his Web site: http://responsibletechnology.org. Resistance to GM foods is increasing rapidly and this Web site offers strategies and tools for involvement in this critical issue.
© 2011 Boulder Daily Camera
Great cheese invasion about to grate with local regulators
by Damien Murphy via stele - SMH Tuesday, May 10 2011, 9:14am
MOST Australians rarely savour the great cheeses of Europe. Blame pasteurisation. They say it ruins the flavour of cheese.
Nevertheless, for years Australians have been happy with bland cheese, safe in the knowledge that pasteurisation has protected the sick, the aged and the pregnant against listeria, the bacterium often associated with products made from raw milk.
All that may be about to change. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has adopted new production standards for raw milk products that allow them to be made locally. It is also preparing new animal health standards which could allow importation of raw milk products such as cheeses within weeks. The European Union and the Swiss have already applied to have their food safety production standards recognised as equivalent to New Zealand's.
And importers like Ludovic Avril, of La Marche Francais in Wellington, have tonnes of French cheese ready to take flight to the antipodes.
''After New Zealand, we'd be hoping to offer French cheese for sale across the ditch,'' he said.
It seems cheese will soon flood into Australia as foods permitted for sale in one country can be traded between Australia and New Zealand.
In a statement, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, responsible for developing and administering codes, said it was ''working on changes to our Australian regulations'' that would be in line with those in New Zealand.
Raw milk imports were banned from 1996 as Australian cuisine expanded and a national food authority came into existence.
However, raw milk products kept knocking at the door and gradually exemptions crept in so that roquefort from France, emmentaler from Switzerland and parmigiano-reggiano and grana padano from Italy gradually became available, mainly to the cheese connoisseur trade.
However, the New Zealand reforms pushing the door open wide to imports may be stiff cheddar for the Australian industry that for years has been fanning a small flame of products from King Island, Tasmania, Victoria and the NSW south coast into a mass market.
Monique Emmi, marketing manager of the Sydney specialist cheese suppliers Australia On A Plate, said the local industry could hold off a rush of imports by the provinciality of Australian tastes.
''We go out of our way to promote Australian cheese, but to be diplomatic, it's very hard to compare cheese here,'' she said.
© 2011 Fairfax Media
European Authority releases toxicity study of nano-additives in Food
by EFSA report via stele - European Food Safety Authority Wednesday, May 11 2011, 10:21am
While the NSW Food Authority is busy issuing token fines to supermarket duopolists, Woolworths and Coles for labelling infringements, $1540 and $880 to Coles -- we draw attention to the flagrant BIAS shown citizen market stall vendor, Mr Peter Melov. Mr Melov incurred a whopping $5,000 fine for each labelling infringement, which compounded to a staggering $53,000 total, somewhat more than the fines issued to multi-million dollar major supermarkets!
It would appear that mega food supermarket chains are sensitive to receiving large fines, or is it their combined billion dollar incomes afford them more political and legal clout than Mr/Ms average Oz citizen? We would dearly like to know, as double standards seem to apply.
The linked article also states that supermarket chains were WARNED by the FA prior to fines being issued, a courtesy not shown to citizen market stall vendors it seems -- even though Mr Melov requested specific advice from the FA on the products he carried. The result, no prior warning, no helpful specific advice, just victimisation and a wasteful, UNNECESSARY legal crucifixion by the regulator -- it seems the FA is reluctant to take legal action against mega Corporations, favouring instead less resourced, softer targets.
Link to full story from the Business Spectator:
We continue to note the lack of clear (any) labelling relating to GM foods and nano-additives in foods currently on sale in NSW -- it seems the FA cannot see the forest for the bureaucratic trees. Surely the main mission of the 'authority' is the HEALTH safety of the population -- a little less focus on frustrated policing and more on the main mission would be in order one would hope; issuing token fines and 'shame listings' should not come at the expense of rigorous research on the latest food developments with particular reference to newly introduced foods or additives, which could prove harmful to humans (and the environment).
We offer the clearly misdirected FA and those in the food industry the latest studies on nano-additives in foods, as conducted by the EUROPEAN Food Authority -- it's nice to know that some regulators have their PRIORITIES in order:
European Food Safety Authority publishes nanotechnology guidance for food and feed assessment
Copyright applies to inserted text.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has today published a guidance document for the risk assessment of engineered nanomaterial (ENM) applications in food and feed. The guidance is the work of the Authority's Scientific Committee and is the first of its kind to give practical guidance for addressing potential risks arising from applications of nanoscience and nanotechnologies in the food and feed chain. The guidance covers risk assessments for food and feed applications including food additives, enzymes, flavourings, food contact materials, novel foods, feed additives and pesticides.
The EFSA guidance, prepared in response to a request from the European Commission, sets out the considerations for risk assessment of ENM that may arise from their specific characteristics and properties. Importantly, the ENM guidance complements existing guidance documents for substances and products submitted for risk assessment in view of their possible authorisation in food and feed. It stipulates the additional data needed for the physical and chemical characterisation of ENM in comparison with conventional applications and outlines different toxicity testing approaches to be followed by applicants.
Commenting on the publication of the EFSA guidance, Professor Vittorio Silano, Chair of EFSA's Scientific Committee explained, "A thorough characterisation of the engineered nanomaterials followed by adequate toxicity testing is essential for the risk assessment of these applications. Yet we recognise uncertainties related to the suitability of certain existing test methodologies and the availability of data for ENM applications in food and feed. The guidance makes recommendations about how risk assessments should reflect these uncertainties for food and feed applications."
To assist with the practical use of the guidance, six scenarios are presented which outline different toxicity testing approaches. For each scenario, the guidance indicates the type of testing required.
EFSA conducted a public consultation on its preparatory work, acknowledging the importance of developing risk assessment methodologies in this field to support innovation whilst ensuring the safety of food and feed. In total 256 comments were received from 36 organisations spanning from academia, NGOs, industry to Member State and international authorities. All of these contributions were considered and incorporated into the guidance document where appropriate.
Risk assessment of engineered nanomaterials is under fast development and consequently, in keeping with EFSA's commitment to review its guidance for risk assessment on an ongoing basis, this work will be revised as appropriate.
PDF Documents below:
It seems the NSW Food Authority under the previous incompetent State government has lost its way and is suffering from inverted priorities and lack of direction. The rot has clearly set in. The NSWFA is a clear case of a regulator requiring regulation and re-alignment. We wish the new State government and Premier the best of luck sorting bloated, inept, perverse and wasteful government bureaucracies.
Risk assessment of nanotechnologies in Food
Potential risks arising from nanotechnologies in Food
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