We publish - with full content sharing - a comment by Matthias Wolfschmidt, strategic director of Foodwatch International. (1)
When was the last time you were afraid of hunger? Not just eating a little less to lose a few pounds, nor realizing that the fridge is empty. Real hunger. Experiencing true hunger was a daily reality for 828 million people in 2021. In 2020, 3,1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet.
Those of us lucky enough to live in the EU have not had to experience this level of hunger. However, whenever regulations threaten the current EU agro-business model, the agricultural industry plays the 'hunger card'. Activate our primary fears of not having enough and plant the seed of fear that, without their intervention, our future is a food crisis.
Play the hunger game
The EU's highly subsidized agricultural system is heralded as one of the most efficient on the planet, well positioned in the global market. It is the promised land where so much milk (and meat and alcohol) flows that we can export more than any other region in the world.
We are told that we all owe this abundance to a thriving agrochemical industry. Which are constantly striving to enable ever higher yields and reduce toxicity. We should be grateful to them for feeding us and the rest of the world.
This is the story told by the pesticide industry for decades. It is echoed by the feed industry, the meat and dairy industry, food retailers and processors, all benefiting from the constant supply of low-cost products guaranteed by overproduction. Even the remaining farmers announce the success of "modern agriculture", fearing they will lose the race if they reduce the intensity of their farming methods.
Where agricultural policy decisions are made, there is an army of paid lobbyists, orthodox politicians, members of various ministerial bureaucracies, sponsored scientists, agricultural magazines willing to repeat the same messages over and over: Europe feeds the world and without our pesticides and fertilizers there will be a food crisis.
Finance the myth
The food production system The EU is characterized by a constant flow of low-cost supplies from third countries: fossil fuels, non-renewable fertilizers, raw materials and even agricultural labor (fruit and vegetable pickers).
The supermarket chains now almost omnipotent derive enormous benefits from it. Thanks to their immense purchasing power, they decide what is produced, the price, the quality and how.
Bites of reality
There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone on the planet. Only 23% of the agricultural land available worldwide is used for direct human consumption, contributing 82% of the necessary calories. The remaining 77% of agricultural land (arable land and pastures) is used for the production of feed (and agrofuels) and ultimately provides only 18% of humanity's caloric intake.
The EU feeds around 7 billion farm animals per year. Almost 80% of all agricultural production resources in the EU are used to feed farm animals. The resources (feed, water, medicines) to maintain this large amount of animal biomass are immense.
In the EU, 80 million tonnes of food waste is produced annually, with an estimated value of € 143 billion. Quantities that remain in the field due to aesthetic defects, lack of labor for harvesting or too low production prices are excluded. Nor does it include the millions and millions of sick farm animals that die on farms and do not even reach slaughterhouses and supermarket shelves.
Despite the abundance of food and even wasteful overproduction, there is an obsession with maximizing yields. Pesticide reduction is currently hotly debated and decades-old pseudo-arguments are raised that never seem to go away. However, this message must be discarded for what it is: a myth fueled by an industry to increase profits. It has nothing to do with people's nutrition.
Don't change the rules!
For decades, the crop protection discourse has focused almost exclusively on chemical pest control. Most conventional farmers have been systematically indoctrinated that this is the only way to produce what is needed. Reduction or regulation of pesticides, it is argued, would cause yield shocks. High yield of crops at all costs is still the main goal of many farmers.
The current agricultural system the EU is in a 'pesticide freeze' situation. So far, most farmers have been forced to use pesticides. Current policies do not address the economic factors that determine pesticide use and do not promote much-needed changes in international trade, climate policy, rural development and food policy. The political influence of powerful corporations and interest groups prevents any progress. In a recent study on pesticide pollution in water, the term "institutional block" is used to indicate the cementing power of certain interest groups in combination with regulatory ignorance, apathetic behavior and lack of political will on the part of the state actors.
The complete elimination of pesticide controlled agriculture is possible and feasible within 15 years with a harvest-by-harvest approach, as foodwatch demonstrated in the recently published report “Locked in Pesticides”.
The prerequisite to successfully end the era of synthetic chemical agriculture, however, is to recognize and stop the hunger-fear game that the pesticide industry and their co-profiting agribusiness teammates have been playing for more than 70 years. . Synthetic chemical pesticides are clearly not the solution. They are at the heart of the problems of today's agricultural system, which is completely dependent on fossil energy.
The card game of hunger it's a ferocious bluff. New rules have expired. It is time to say to the pesticide industry: "Game Over".
(1) Hunger Games and Locked-in Pesticides. A commentary by foodwatch International Strategy Director Matthias Wolfschmidt. Foodwatch International. 27.9.22 https://www.foodwatch.org/en/news/2022/hunger-games-and-locked-in-pesticides/?cookieLevel=accept-all
Martha Strinati. Rising prices and food crisis in times of war. Background in the iPES FOOD report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) 10.55.22
Dario Dongo. From Farm to Fork to Farm to War, the appeal of science for a resilient food strategy. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 22.3.22