DESIGNPICS PHOTO | MICHAEL INTERISANO
Three companies, one owned in Brazil and two in the U.S. , control 90 per cent of the Canadian beef market, says Nettie Wiebe.
The world does not need to produce more food; it needs to solve the issue of who controls the food, says Dr. Nettie Wiebe.
"There is enough food in the world to feed everybody," Wiebe, professor of Church and Society at St. Andrew's
College at the University of Saskatchewan, told a workshop in Saskatoon on the environment and ecumenism. "The problem is who controls the food."
The global trade in food is highly concentrated, with few corporate players, she said. While there may be an excess of food production in the world, its distribution and availability is highly controlled and accessibility is often reserved for the few.
"Very few corporations have control over the bulk of the food in the world," explained Wiebe.
"For example, only two U.S. and one Brazilian firm own 90 per cent of the Canadian beef market and two of those are the largest meat packers in the world. So most of the beef we are buying at the grocery store has been processed and packaged by three firms only. And that's just meat."
Luxury foods, such as pineapples, are often grown in the best valleys of developing nations while local people must grow their staple foods on much poorer quality land.
"The dominant system in our current food policy is export agriculture," she continued. "As Canadians we often think of ourselves as the bread-basket of the world – growing an excess of grains and beef for trade in order to feed a hungry world."
But "we should rethink that ideology because most of it is false and it is misleading us in ways that are quite dangerous."
Wiebe is a well-known teacher, speaker, organic farmer and public policy advocate. Her academic work focuses on ethics and ecology, social justice, positive human rights – particularly the rights to food – and practical personal ethics in the contemporary context.
Wiebe said "our global food system has been reorganized so that the staples of the diet such as grains and beef are often produced in high-tech, export driven agriculture systems and come from highly industrialized countries, while our luxury foods such as pineapples and bananas come from developing countries."
Further, those luxury foods are often grown in the best valleys while the local people are left to grow staple foods such as beans and rice for their own consumption on much poorer quality land.
For Wiebe, this is a serious justice issue. "There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone," she said. "This is not a hunger issue, it's a power issue."
Our current global food system determines who gets to eat, it determines what we eat and it creates deep vulnerability for those who depend on exported food from industrialized and corporatized sectors for their staples, Wiebe said.
This reorganization of our food system not only affects global issues of justice and equality, but it has a tremendous effect on our relationship with the land and all of creation.
To illustrate this, Wiebe explained that with corporate agriculture comes standardization of produce which requires manipulation of the natural world. Bio-diversity is compromised and corporate agriculture is one of the leading polluters in the world.
"As Christians, we have a responsibility to the environment and to the care of the earth," Wiebe continued. "As members of the living community we have a responsibility to the land, not as property which serves our purposes, but as our neighbour. We are not so much in charge of the earth but rather we are in relationship with her."
Wiebe offered the possibility of taking power back from the corporate sector which dominates the global food system and returning it to the growers, producers and consumers so as to balance the inequality and injustice that stems from current agriculture policies.
Those policies do not address world hunger issues and continue to sever our relationship with the land, she said.
"When you focus on food, you are actually focusing on everything. Food is related to our ecological health, our personal health, to our politics and it is deeply related to who we are as people of faith," she said.
"Environmentalism starts at the breakfast table," she said. "What we eat, how we shop and where our food comes from is already a statement about our ecological concerns and certainly has an impact on the world stage.
"As soon as we have breakfast we are engaged with questions of power in the food system. It's encouraging to think that we can do something collectively as individuals, as families, as churches and as communities to make a statement on how we buy and what we eat.
"It is also heartening to our Church and community involvement because the food system is very much under discussion in these contexts," said Wiebe.
"Church communities are always engaged in discussions about food equality and they have been vital in terms of charitable food donations, food banks and soup kitchens.
"These initiatives come out of Church communities thinking about and taking responsibility for food and who gets to eat – trying to deal with hunger problems and seeing it as a justice issue. So in some ways our levels of action and responsibility are already defined and known to us."