West Australian researchers led by Dr. Kirsty Bayliss have discovered how to stop mould growing on fresh food.
Dr. Bayliss will be presenting her technology, titled ‘Breaking the Mould’, a chemical-free treatment for fresh produce that increases shelf-life, prevents mould and decay, and reduces food wastage, in the US.
“Our technology will directly address the global food security challenge by reducing food waste and making more food available for more people,” Dr. Bayliss said.
“The technology is based on the most abundant form of matter in the universe– plasma. Plasma kills the moulds that grow on fruit and vegetables, making fresh produce healthier for consumption and increasing shelf-life.”
Dr. Bayliss’s Murdoch University team has been working on preliminary trials for the past 18 months and are now preparing to start scaling up trials to work with commercial production facilities.
Dr. Bayliss said the LAUNCH Food Innovation Challenge was a “huge opportunity.”
“I will be presenting our research to an audience comprising investors, company directors and CEOs, philanthropists and other influential people from organisations such as Fonterra, Walmart, The Gates Foundation, as well as USAID, DFAT and even Google Food.”
“What is really exciting is the potential linkages and networks that I can develop; already NASA are interested in our work,” she said.
In an interview with ABC Online, she said “Food wastage contributes to a lot of the food insecurity as the US and Europe wastes around 100 kilograms of food per person every year.
“If we could reduce food wastage by a quarter, we could feed 870 million people.”
Dr. Bayliss said the technology also kills bacteria associated with food-borne illness, such as salmonella and listeria.
A planned ice cream, slated for Adelaide’s northern suburbs, will probably not be built unless the State Government provides the project $4 million of assistance.
Adelaide Now reports that well-known local hospitality identity Yazan Akeel and investors want to build a $20.5 million ice cream, gelato and sorbet factory in Elizabeth West. If built, the facility would employ over 100 workers.
However, the South Australian Government’s new Investment Attraction Agency (IAA) baulked at the asked for $6 million assistance for the project.
Akeel told Adelaide Now that, instead, the IAA initially offered just $750,000, then later $850,000 in assistance.
He added that the project may now be canned or possibly moved to another state. The Victorian government, he said, has offered to cover half the cost of the project.
A spokesperson for the IAA told Adelaide Now, “The Investment Attraction Agency is continuing to assess business proposals and has committed funds to several projects, the details will be outlined in the New Year.
“An offer of financial assistance and case management has been made to Dolce on the basis the company provides a business plan and proof that contracts are in place.”
Fonterra has announced it will sell its Australian yoghurt and dairy dessert business to Parmalat Australia.
The sale, which is conditional on regulatory and other approvals, is expected to be completed in the first half the of the 2016 calendar year.
The divestment of its Australian yoghurt and dairy desserts business, which includes manufacturing sites at Tamar Valley and Echuca as well as its Australian yoghurt and dairy dessert brands, is part of a comprehensive plan to return the Australian business to strong and sustainable profitability.
Chief Executive Theo Spierings said these changes were the result of driving a clear strategic plan to transform the Australian business to deliver stronger returns to farmer shareholders and unit holders.
“We are focusing on areas where we can win in a highly competitive market, and that means optimising our product mix and streamlining operations to match, and investing in higher value add products that will deliver the best returns for our farmer shareholders and unit holders.”
“As a key part of our multi-hub strategy, we are matching these strengths with the opportunities across our 100 markets,” said Spierings.
Fonterra Managing Director Oceania Judith Swales said Fonterra is “totally committed to the Australian dairy industry”
“We will continue investing in programs and innovation that supports our market-leading brands in key retail categories, including Western Star butter and Perfect Italiano, Mainland and Bega cheeses, Anchor cream, and fresh milk.”
“Divesting the yoghurt and dairy desserts business will allow us to focus on what we do best, so we can continue delivering a competitive milk price to our suppliers, benefits to our customers, innovative dairy foods to our consumers, and improved returns to our farmer shareholders and unit holders,” concluded Ms Swales.
According to a Fonterra spokesperson, the decision to sell our Australian yoghurt and dairy dessert business is part of a comprehensive plan to return Fonterra’s Australian business to strong and sustainable profitability.
"The sale will allow us to focus on what we do best, and lock in our competitive position in the Australian market – we will focus on investing in the growth of our other market-leading brands, including Western Star, Perfect Italiano, Bega, and Mainland, and our recently launched Anchor brand."
"It’s no secret our yoghurt and dairy desserts business has been challenged in recent years," the spokesperson said."
"Our people have worked hard to improve the returns from our yoghurt and dairy dessert business, and their efforts have resulted in good performance from Tamar Valley and agreements achieved with key customers to drive volume and category growth. It is a sign of respect for their hard work that all employees at our Echuca and Tamar Valley plants have received offers of employment from Parmalat."
"This sale will have no impact to our Anchor or Riverina Fresh yoghurt, which we produce in foodservice format at our Wagga Wagga facility, nor will it impact our New Zealand yoghurt business."
The ongoing strength of Queensland’s food industry has resulted in the announcement of two state specific food events to take place in 2016, both to be staged by Diversified Communications, leaders in food industry events.
Food Technology Queensland (Foodtech Queensland) and Fine Food Queensland will both bring the best of international and national food trends to the sunshine state, where the food and beverage sectors are one of the largest employers and considered an industry leader.
Taking place in April, Fine Food Queensland will return to Brisbane with a fresh face – literally. Considered the state’s premier food trade event, the 2016 show will have a core focus on fresh, healthy options for industry professionals, and a strong local feel.
Extensive research into both the event and the market has driven the shift in focus for the show, and promises real business opportunities for Queensland’s foodservice, hospitality and food retail industries.
A new event for the state’s food manufacturing industry, Foodtech Queensland will launch at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on 26 – 28 June, and will focus specifically on the state’s strongest food manufacturing categories.
Serving to connect businesses in these areas with new technology and ideas to help them grow their operations, the event will co-locate with The Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST)’s 49th Annual Convention, which attracts up to 400 food technologists and other food professionals.
Covering all facets of the foodservice industry, Diversified Communications’ two Queensland events have been carefully developed to respond to the specific needs of Queensland’s relevant industries. As a result, tailored education sessions will form a key part of the 2016 event schedules, as will the translation of relevant national and international trends to local circumstances.
With combined visitor numbers of over 8,000, Fine Food Queensland and Foodtech Queensland provide the perfect opportunity for those in foodservice and hospitality to learn, network and grow their businesses.
Fine Food Queensland:
When: 10 – 12 April 2016;
Where: Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
More information: Sales enquiries: https://www.finefoodqueensland.com.au
When: 26 – 28 June 2016
Where: Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
More information: Sales enquiries: www.foodtechqld.com.au
Trans-Tasman label converter Hally Group, with subsidiaries Hally Labels (Brisbane, Christchurch, Auckland), AC Labels (Sydney) and Mark-It Labels (Christchurch), is being acquired by Hexagon Holdings.
The acquisition is for 100 per cent of the shares of Hally Group.
The Hally Group, established in 1965, has built significant market positions in fresh food, beverage, manufacturing, shelf stable food, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals & horticulture. Hally businesses operate from five sites, employing 235 staff.
Hexagon Holdings currently owns three New Zealand label businesses – Rapid Labels, Panprint & Kiwi Labels. Key markets include wine, thermal, FMCG, laser & pharmacy. Hexagon currently operates from three sites, employing 145 staff.
There are no plans to merge any Hally and Hexagon subsidiaries, the businesses will continue to trade independently and competitively, according to the press release.
Grant Hally, Chairman of the Hally Group, said it was the end of an era, with the business being established by Grant’s parents Ian & Pam Hally.
“It has been a wonderful 50-year chapter for our family. We’re pleased to see the businesses joining a group of established and successful industry participants”.
Clark Perkins, Director of Hexagon said.
“Hally, AC & Mark-It are impressive and professional businesses, with a deep understanding of the label sector. Hexagon and Hally are highly complementary, and we are excited about the growth prospects of the expanded group”.
Hexagon Holdings, owned by Mercury Capital & Tom Sturgess, is headquartered in Auckland. Post completion, Hexagon will have combined annual sales of NZ$120m.
With the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), completed, consumer group Choice has urged the Federal Government to make all details publicly available as soon as possible and for the Productivity Commission to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of the agreement.
“At about midnight last night, Trade Ministers confirmed that the TPP negotiations were finished, however, the text of the agreement still won’t be publicly available for a number of weeks,” says Choice Campaigns Manager Erin Turner.
More than 7,400 Australians signed a petition calling for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to release the text of the TPP.
“The agreement has the potential to impact every aspect of the Australian economy. It’s too big to ignore the fine print which is why we need a dull and transparent assessment of its impact before its impact.”
TPP has described the transformation as a modern agreement that will deliver huge benefits to citizens of nations involved.
“Now the agreement has been signed in the dark, all Australians will be waiting nervously to see what the government has traded away,” Ms. Turner says.
“Choice urges the Government to commit to a full cost-benefit analysis of the TPP before Australia signs on to complex new rules, governing everything from financial regulations to copyright provisions,” says Ms. Turner.
An interesting anomaly about government funding is that, on the one hand it is such an attractive source of cash, but on the other hand the majority of eligible companies either don’t know it exists or don’t know how to access it says Lior Stein from Rimon Advisory.
If I were to simplify government grants I would explain them in two points:
The first being Innovation and the second being assistance for bringing foreign revenue to Australia.
The benefit involved in attaining government funding can be quite large and at times could amount to between 40% – 50% of funds spent in innovation or marketing to foreign markets.
The beginning of assessing innovation is quite simple. Ask yourself the following question, are you doing something different that you believe your competitors aren’t doing and that is new in the space?
If the answer to that question is yes then the next step would be to consider the 3 basic principles of innovation grants
The 3 basic principles of innovation grants are
1. New Knowledge
These three principles all flow into each other.
Lets explain these principles using actual case studies.
1. New knowledge begins by identifying a gap in the market.
An organic beverage manufacturer and formulator (Organics Pty Ltd) realised that the short shelf life of organic beverages is a limiting factor for exportation. Some web searches were done and the result was that there seems to not be an off the shelf product available in the world that solves this problem.
A doughnut maker (Jam Pty Ltd) realised that the insertion of jam into doughnuts was exceptionally time consuming and limited the speed of their production run. Some web searches were done and the result was that there seems to not be an off the shelf product available in the world that solves this problem.
At this point Organics Pty Ltd started developing a solution to fill the gap that was found. The development process required experimentation and different iterations of the product. The process is an ongoing process as Organics Pty Ltd is continuing to improve their findings in this area.
Jam Pty Ltd needed to automate their insertion of jam and cream into their doughnuts process. Process engineers were hired to design and develop the process. Experiments were required in order to get the process precisely correct to optimise the automation
Both Organics Pty Ltd and Jam Pty Ltd didn’t have certainty at the outset that these new projects were going to work. They did believe that each would be a success but the final products were achieved through much trial and error.
These final products are the items that filled the initial gap and are now the new knowledge that each company has brought to the world.
The main innovation grant available in Australia is the R&D Tax Incentive and can definitely be applied to the food business industry should the project be eligible.
Foreign revenue being brought to Australia
This avenue is simpler to explain than that of innovation grants.
There is funding available for exporters who are spending money on marketing their products to foreign markets.
Again, 3 basic principles, the first being an Australian product, the second being that revenue flows to Australia and the third being that marketing expenses are recognised in Australia.
1. Australian Product
The product needs to be either completely made in Australia or the majority of the product made in Australia.
If the products have an element made in a foreign country e.g.China it could still be considered an Australian product.
2. Revenue flows to Australia
The revenue gained from the Australian products being marketed abroad needs to be recognised in the Australian entity.
An entity need not have actual revenue in the first two years of applying for this grant.
3. Marketing expenditure being recognised in Australia
Expenditure spent on marketing to foreign markets needs to be recognised in the Australian entity.
These expenses could include staff and consultants employed in the foreign country, flights, conferences attended, google and facebook advertising, websites targeted overseas, trademarks and patents, pamphlets and flyers made and free samples being given to enter a market.
The incentive described above is known as EMDG (Export Market Development Grant).
EMDG offer up t0 a 50% grant on the expenses described above.
Statistics show that about 70% of eligible Australian companies either are unaware that they are eligible or simply don’t know how to go about accessing the funding available.
Best practice would be to consider the principles explained above and enquire as to a possible benefit and eligibility.
According to the Washington Post, the world's two biggest beer makers are considering merging in what is being touted as the biggest deal in brewing history.
Budweiser giant Anheuser-Busch InBev said it has offered a takeover of SABMiller in a deal that would create a US$245 billion brewing empire.
"What a terrible, terrible idea. This should be dead on arrival at the DOJ," (Department of Justice), said Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute.
"There would be grave concerns over their power to control price . . . and the effects on the craft-brewing industry would be devastating."
The long-speculated merger would combine Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Peroni and other brands, providing control to about one-third of the world's beer supply.
Anheuser-Busch InBev was itself born of the world's biggest beer merger, in 2008, after it was taken over by InBev – also a product of the 2004 merger of Belgium's Interbrew and Brazil's AmBev.
Because both brewers are so big, and the industry is already so consolidated, it could be hard to find another firm powerful enough to compete on production, distribution, marketing and everything else, according to the Washington Post.
"Who would be able to even buy any of those assets, and have an actual competitive presence in the market?" Moss said.
Fast food giant McDonald’s has been under a cloud in recent years as its US customers turn to alternatives. In this “Fast food reinvented” series we explore what the sector is doing to keep customers hooked and sales rising.
While excess weight and obesity is a growing global concern, there has been more and more advertising and promotional effort encouraging the consumption of unhealthy food.
In many cases this marketing is targeted at children, and takes place online. In our recent study we investigated the impact of online marketing communications on children and their intention to consume unhealthy food. We found fast food ads on social networking sites can manipulate young audiences – their purchasing likelihood, their views of fast food and their eating habits.
The qualitative study included a sample of 40 Australian children who use social networking sites. Half (21) of the children were male and the average age was 14 (the youngest being 12 and the oldest 16). Their parents were also present during the interview, however they agreed not to intervene during the conversation.
A growing problem
The prevalence of excess weight and obesity among Australians has been growing for the past 30 years. Between 2011 and 2012, around 60% of Australian adults were classified as overweight, and more than 25% of these fell into the obese category. In 2013, more than 12 million, or three in five Australian adults, were overweight or obese. On top of that, one in four Australian children were overweight or obese. Excess weight and obesity is only beaten by smoking and high blood pressure as a contributor to a burden of diseases.
Despite this, the food industry is succeeding in using marketing communications to change attitudes, perceptions and perceived norms associated with unhealthy food.
Consumers are lured by surprisingly cheap deals, which are especially attractive to teenagers and young adults with low income. But sales promotions such as discounts and coupons often offer only short-term benefits to consumers and are usually not effective among middle-age adults.
However, if a promotion is offered for a long period of time (i.e. more than three months), it can actually influence customer habits, encouraging repeat purchases – for example, the $1 frozen Coke.
Similarly, sales promotions can make other brands be perceived as less attractive by customers after a period of time. For instance, the $1 frozen Coke campaigns by McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s affect the perception of frozen Coke in terms of monetary value. Many consumers become less willing to buy a frozen Coke that is more expensive than $1. The same can be said of $2 burgers or $5 pizzas.
The role of social networks
More than half (16 out of 30) of the respondents admitted they tended to change their eating habits after repeatedly being exposed to advertisements on social networking sites.
“Yes, many people say that it is not good to eat fast food. I used to think so but not anymore. Look at their ads, they are colourful, many options and cheap.”
“I just cannot resist it… I had been looking at the ads day after day and I decided that I needed to try these”.
Interestingly, fast food was associated with socialisation and fun among young consumers.
“The ads make me feel like this is where we belong to. This is our lifestyle…where we hang out and can be ourselves.”
“This is about our culture, young, active and free. We are kids but also not kids. We are different.”
Peer pressure is heavily related to eating habits, especially during puberty when there is usually a shift from home influence to group motivation. Teenagers and young adults in particular tend to choose a particular type of food under peer pressure.
More than 70% of teenagers will choose a food according to the preference of their friends. This means marketing communications promoting fast food consumption can create a snowball effect within this group of customers. For example, Jack, Sara and Park go out together. If Jack and Sara order Big Burgers with extra cheese, the likelihood that Park will order another Big Burger with extra cheese is approximately 75%. In contrast, only 2.7% of people aged over 40 choose fast food because of their peers.
It’s clear marketing efforts by fast food chains can promote unhealthy eating habits. Also, peer influence plays an important part in forming eating habits. This means the intervention of government and health organisations should concentrate on increasing customers’ attention to health issues, self-efficacy and perceived norms, and at the same time, lessening the influence of marketing efforts aimed at motivating unhealthy eating habits.
Many claims are made that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with select trading partners will benefit Australian agriculture. OECD statistics say otherwise.
The balance of trade positions of Australian agriculture and food manufacturing have deteriorated since FTAs with New Zealand, the United States and Thailand have come into play.
The long-standing 1983 New Zealand arrangement shows growing imports of processed food products, especially since 2000. Australian food exports to New Zealand have levelled off since 2011 with a US$600 million Australian deficit on food products in 2014. Agricultural goods have been close to balance with just over US$270 million of raw or minimally processed product flowing each way.
The net result (shown in black) has been a persistent and generally worsening deficit for Australia in its agriculture and food trade with New Zealand for the whole period.
The agreement with the United States came into effect in 2005. Again agricultural products are close with Australian imports of US$210 million slightly exceeding exports since 2007. Australian food exports have always exceeded imports but the surplus halved between 2004 and 2013. The basis for the almost doubling of food exports in 2014 is unclear, but meat products driven by beef herd rundown in drought affected Queensland would be part of what may be a one-off spike.
The net result (again shown in black) has been a persistent but generally narrowing surplus for Australia in its agriculture and food trade with the US since the FTA came into play. The Australian 2014 surplus of around US$2 billion appears likely to settle back to around US$700 million or less in the years to come.
Thailand also signed a bilateral agreement in 2005 and the result has been a generally worsening agriculture and food trade deficit.
The rise in Australian food product imports from over US$200 million to more than US$800 million in the decade to 2011 is pronounced, as is the subsequent levelling off. Australian agricultural and food exports to Thailand generally travelled together until 2008 but after this, agricultural exports rose markedly for three years before falling back. The rise and then fall of commodity prices explain much of this hump.
Clearly, these three FTAs have failed to deliver. There has been no improvement evident in the agriculture and food trade position under any of the three agreements. Rather, deterioration has been evident in each case.
Turning now to the world, Australia’s agriculture and food balance has been a persistent and generally growing surplus. This is the opposite effect. Australian trade performance has been better with non-agreement partners. Again commodity price effects are evident in recent years for agriculture exports.
New Zealand, USA and Thailand account for about 30% of the rising food imports but only around 15% of rising food exports to the world. They also account for only around 5% of agricultural exports but 35% of imports.
Further analysis can be undertaken, but on these figures, FTA partners have clearly been able to outperform Australian enterprises. On the other hand, where no Agreements have been struck, Australian enterprises have outperformed partners to record a generally improving agriculture and food trade surplus.
How might things change with three new North Asian trade, regulation and investment agreements (Japan, Korea and China), and perhaps a Trans-Pacific Partnership? History suggests no necessary gains and trending losses on merchandise trade for both food manufacturing and agricultural industries.
It seems we should be more closely monitoring the realities of trade, not fixating on rhetoric and so far empty promises.
There is nothing “free” about these trade agreements.
A blow has been struck against hunger in Australia today as Foodbank, Australia’s largest hunger relief organisation says that that seven million serves of food have been donated to Australians in need thanks to its first ever Food Fight campaign.
Several iconic food brands including Kellogg’s, SPC and Ardmona, Wonder White and Helga’s, Vetta, Primo Smallgoods, Moccona and Harris Coffee, partnered with Foodbank to throw their muscle behind a call for much-needed provisions to meet Australia’s growing demand for food welfare.
With Food Fight products stocked in retail outlets across the country, including Coles, Woolworths and IGA stores, Australians could help fight hunger just by doing their weekly shop. Each time one of the participating Food Fight products was purchased, a donation was made to Foodbank for distribution to Australians seeking food relief.
Jason Hincks, Chief Executive Officer of Foodbank Australia, says, "It's tremendous to see our Food Fight campaign reach its goal of raising seven million serves of food in its first year. This couldn't have happened without the mighty support of our amazing food industry partners, suppliers, ambassadors and of course the public – who all played their part in our fight against hunger in Australia".
Celebrity ambassadors and professional chefs who supported the campaign include: Kylie Gillies (The Morning Show), Colin Fassnidge (My Kitchen Rules), Scott Pickett (The Hot Plate), Adam D'Sylva, Jerry Mai, Oliver Gould, Raymond Capaldi and Simon Moss.
The food donated during Food Fight will go towards helping to feed more than 500,000 people in Australia who access food relief each month, including low income families, the unemployed, the elderly and refugees who are struggling to put food on the table.
“This is an amazing achievement, but the fight isn’t over. Over 60,000 of the Australians seeking food relief are still unable to be assisted, with over two thirds of agencies unable to meet the full demand for food relief. So visit our website to sign up as a Food Fighter and find out how you can join the continuing battle,” said Jason.
A 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) agreement to reduce food waste by 10 per cent across the region is picking up pace as researchers and technical team members work towards their 2017 goal of developing effective strategies and actions to address urgent global food waste issues.
A third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. That translates into about 1.3 billion ton per year. Lincoln University Associate Professor James Morton says reducing food waste is the logical first step in meeting the needs of a growing world population, which is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050. He recently attended the second of three APEC ‘Multi-Year Project’ meetings focused on addressing global food waste, where he spoke around the need to measure and reduce wastage in the livestock chain.
“Reducing waste and getting the best use out of what we produce makes far more sense than trying to increase food production by about 60 percent from what it was in 2005, which is what it would take to feed that many people. Producing more food through agriculture has consequences for the environment. At the moment we are taking more out than we’re putting back in. It’s not sustainable and we’re losing arable land.”
Issues around food loss and waste are complex and variable. Developing countries are most affected by food loss during production and food shortages, with 795 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished. Developed countries are faced with massive food waste at retail and the point of consumption while dealing with an obesity epidemic, which affects about 600 million adults.
Associate Professor Morton says finding solutions for food loss and waste is difficult when countries have different economies, production methods and natural resources. “There are no simple solutions, but there are things we can do such as minimising loss in the production process, reducing recalls, improving the cool chain and funding research into making the most use of co-products.”
A good example of where New Zealand has reduced losses in production by growing food to more accurate specifications is in the meat industry. Retailers catering for consumers who want less fat in their food are willing to pay more for lean meat. Farmers now grow lean animals which results in less waste of unwanted fat trimmings.
Meat consumption has increased significantly in recent years. “Urbanisation, a growing middle class and higher income are behind the growing demand for meat worldwide,” says Associate Professor Morton. “Livestock products offer high quality protein so meat is a very important food source.
“Most countries grow livestock to feed their own population. New Zealand and Australia are unique in that most of what is produced is exported. Because of that, waste is not such a concern here in New Zealand, but that waste is happening elsewhere instead – retailers carrying a wide variety of foods to respond to consumer demand and having to discard safe food by ‘best before’ dates to maintain quality standards and consumers with food left on plates and leftovers forgotten in the fridge, all lead to high levels of waste.”
Associate Professor Morton believes that livestock products are economically and nutritionally valuable, but that the high environmental cost of their production means reducing losses is essential. “New Zealand relies on its `clean green’ image so it makes economic sense to reduce the environmental impact of food production here.”
While the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation supports better and increased use of co-products, it also wants to see more food items remaining in the food chain. He says that livestock co-products are often low value nutritionally but there may be opportunities to develop meat and plant protein combinations for export, if it was economically viable.
Food security is not a concern in Australia or New Zealand at present, but the topic is crucial elsewhere and is a stated priority in most other countries. APEC leaders see reducing food waste as a primary related task for ensuring confidence in food supply.
The ‘Multi-Year Project’ aims to identify key issues and make policy recommendations around possible solutions and action plans which will ultimately be provided to all APEC member economies. APEC says increasing access to food while protecting natural resources and the environment will require intense public-private co-operation such as that envisioned by the project.
Calls for food democracy, which date back to the sustainable agriculture movement of the 1980s, have become more common with the increasing concentration of power in the global industrial food regime.
The current regime is inherently undemocratic. The intervention of democratic food publics – based on their shared experiences of the adverse effects of global foodways – is essential to transform a broken system.
This political project depends on recognition that this is a global public problem and that its solutions depend on new conceptions of citizenship.
Global regime requires citizens, not consumers
Corporate control of the global seed sector is one symptom of an undemocratic food system that favours transnational agribusinesses. Ten companies account for 55% of the seed market. Several dominate value chains from seed to supermarket shelf.
An endless array of processed, packaged and scentless products confronts us as consuming subjects, not citizens. We are forced to rely on the expert knowledge of food manufacturers, labellers and processors in our dietary choices.
In response, eaters concerned with “food from nowhere”, as Josè Bovè puts it, aspire to recreate authentic relationships built on trust between growers and consumers. Shortening food supply chains – by buying directly from producers or opting for Fair Trade products – may bring us closer to this goal.
In respecting local foodshed boundaries by buying at farmers’ markets, we express our dissatisfaction with corporate control through what Michele Micheletti calls “political consumerism”. But individual action cannot counter the overpowering influences of liberalised markets and their impacts on rural livelihoods in a global economy.
While consumers’ local micro-encounters may represent important attempts at communal autonomy, they do not address inequalities within and between communities. Privileged groups find it easier to participate. It is not simply that marginalised people lack the means to participate in farmers' markets and buy Fair Trade or organic produce; they have limited input into these initiatives.
For one of the industrial food regime’s fiercest US critics, farmer-activist Wendell Berry, the revitalisation of local food economies is the strongest counter to a system that puts profit before human health, culture and the environment.
Multi-stakeholder structures such as food policy councils in the US and Canada and associations for the maintenance of smallholder agriculture (AMAPs) in Europe support many of these innovative models. They are creating and connecting new spaces for democratic debate on environmental sustainability, social justice and economic viability.
Rather than seeking to maximise local consumption, critics of industrial agriculture should concentrate on creating democratic food publics to tackle structural problems with the food system. These include food deserts in poor neighbourhoods and rules that grant corporations property rights over seeds.
When the industrial food system is perceived as a public problem, rather than a personal responsibility, a greater diversity of experiences and perspectives can contribute to solutions. The vision of localised food systems is not sufficient to bring about food democracy for the one billion people most affected by poverty and hunger. This is particularly so when the intellectual property, free trade and investment agreements that govern food and agriculture transcend national borders.
Drawing on John Dewey, democratic publics are comprised of individuals who recognise the adverse impacts of the activities of others and act collectively to demand the state protect their interests. Globally, demands for an alternative food system must be made by a democratic food public that shares citizenship on a basis other than that of the nation-state.
Uniting in a fight for food sovereignty
One such public is the transnational peoples’ movement La Via Campesina. It represents small-scale producers, pastoralists, migrant workers, fisherfolk, landless peasants and indigenous peoples in 70 countries across the global north and south. For more than 20 years, members have embodied an “agrarian” citizenship that goes beyond class-based notions of political representation.
La Via Campesina provides a model of rural action based on common interests in the different struggles against policies that impact negatively on farmers worldwide. These impacts include low crop and livestock prices, exploitative temporary farm labour, distorting subsidies and the disappearance of family farms.
The question of food is fundamentally social. Who should provide food and how? Whose livelihoods should be protected?
La Via Campesina’s concept of food sovereignty, the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture policies, is a proposal for radical social transformation to make food systems more democratic. It has evolved from a catch-cry opposing trade liberalisation to a concept adopted by broader constituencies. Among these are food democracy advocates in the global north who share the view that the corporate food system actively contributes to global hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
The campaign for food sovereignty spans many issues including gender inequality, land reform, genetic modification, intellectual property, biodiversity, urban agriculture and labour migration. It has emerged as a political project that talks to power at venues including the United Nations Committee on World Food Security.
Hundreds of members of La Via Campesina and like-minded organisations met recently in a very different forum in Sèlinguè, a village in Mali, West Africa. The resulting Declaration of the International Forum of Agroecology presents the peoples’ alternative to conventional industrial agriculture and the destructive elements of international trade.
It states that traditional methods of food production such as intercropping, mobile pastoralism and composting play an integral role in creating equitable, sustainable and healthy food systems, as opposed to monocultures and biotech solutions.
The meeting declared:
Agroecology is the answer to how to transform and repair our material reality in a food system and rural world that has been devastated by industrial food production and its so-called Green and Blue Revolutions … [it is] a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life.
A revolution of a different colour, agroecology is based on farmers’ local innovation and peer-to-peer information sharing and diàlogo de saberes (ways of knowing through dialogue). It seeks to return power to communities, to:
… put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of people who feed the world.
Relocating control of food production and distribution to growers and eaters rather than corporations requires the mobilisation of publics of citizens committed to resolving the public problem that is our food system. The building of coalitions between consumer-oriented initiatives and the more radical food sovereignty movement is essential to develop a long-term constructive agenda for widespread change.
While practising political consumerism and strengthening local food economies are important, only the emergence of democratic food publics based on new notions of citizenship can achieve such change.