Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where's the beef?

With all the talk of subsidies and how they have revolutionized the face of international food cultures, I thought I would dig into more about what legal policies have been allowing for this trend. Food Inc. and Schwarz's "Paradox of Choice" all reference the rise of multinationals such as ConAgra, Cargill and Tyson and the control they wield over what is produced and how, but they don't really mention the government's support of these production techniques is what perpetuates the influence of multinational companies. Without subsidies, large companies would have much less reason to overproduce corn and raise livestock in such dangerous conditions. Moreover, GMO corporations like Monsato would have much less incentive to develop their product lines and discourage infringement of their patents. A disturbing trend has seen the spread of homogeneous GMOs have displaced the genetic diversity of traditional crops. The absence of subsidies would seriously disrupt the paradigm of multinational domination of the food industry.
However, the role of subsidies is not limited to empowering these multinational giants. The advent of processed foods have skewed the consumer market towards nutritionally hollow processed meat and corn derived products. Moreover, while less affluent families have certainly been hit hardest by the health risks posed by this growing segment of processed foods, processed corn is finding its way into a wide variety of other products that have not been associated with corn in the past in the form of corn syrups.
An indirect effect of the encroachment of processed corn upon diet has been the lack of farmers willing to produce largely unsubsidized foods such as green vegetables and fruits. Meanwhile, meats have taken up a significantly larger part of the diet than is advisable by Federal nutritional recommendations, further contributing to the nutritional debacle. In 2008, when Congress voted on the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment that would cut subsidies to the production of "unhealthy foods" (Good Medicine PCRM, 2007), it was handily defeated 117 to 309. This is not surprising the influence multinationals exercise in the form of former executives at the very regulatory agencies that are supposed to control these companies as well as campaign contributions and lobbyists that have given them a stranglehold over policies of food production.
Clearly, the only course of action that can address these issues is mass public intervention. But, against a food culture that has grown to accept and depend upon the products of multinationals and a largely disengaged government, this will prove monumentally difficult. Even so, awareness alone will give people the ability to make healthier choices both nutritionally and politically.

"Health Vs. Pork: Congress Debates the Farm Bill." Good Medicine 16.4 (2007). Good Medicine PCRM. Physician's Commitee for Responsible Medicine, 2007. Web. 18 Mar. 2010. .

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