Feeding the world but making a profit

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Feeding the world but making a profit

by Jack Dutton


British Red Cross (Creative Commons Licence)

The conference on Feeding the World 2014 was in a big 18th-century house on 13 February. People from industry, politicians, and NGOs talked about the problems of food security in the world before 2050. In 2050 we think the population of the world will be 9.6 billion. The ‘farmer and student’ price for tickets was $1160. That was $500 cheaper than the ‘standard’ price of $1660.

The conference in London was organized by the magazine The Economist. The conference was one of a number of meetings about the problem of world hunger – the 841 million people on the planet who do not have enough food. Big companies Elanco, Monsanto, and Nestlé paid for the conference.

There were150 speakers at the meeting but only two were small farmers. This is a very surprising small number of farmers as they make 70 per cent of the world’s food. It was the same situation in the last Feeding the World conference in Amsterdam. There 88 per cent of the audience were directors or above.

The big food companies have money and influence. But most of them have not run a family farm. They may not know about how to get the most from crops and so may not talk about everything connected to food security. The high price of the conference tickets also seemed to stop many important people in food production and distribution from coming. Paying over $1,000 also stops a lot of farmers who have money coming, So we hear a lot from the people from the big companies but we do not hear from people from small communities.

The sponsors of Feeding the World 2014 all have their dark secrets. Nestlé asked for nearly $6.2 million in compensation from Ethiopia with its starving population in 2002. Then Ethiopia was the poorest country in the world. Later they had to stop asking for the money after people heard about it.

Monsanto has also done bad things. The big GM company was one of the main producers of Agent Orange. This was, the ‘rainbow herbicide’ known for destroying the leaves in forests and killing and deforming millions of people during the Vietnam War. The negative effects of Agent Orange are still there after generations, nearly 40 years after the war ended. How much do you trust companies like Nestlé and Monsanto with the problems of world hunger?

These companies are often more interested in having a good name and making profits but not in helping the public. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is the chairman of Nestlé, for example. In the 2005 documentary film ‘We Feed the World’, he said that water as ‘not … a human right’. Later he called water a ‘foodstuff’ which should be privatized. ‘We feed the world, but only if we can make a profit’ isn’t a very good message for a big company!

The conference was not all bad – a lot of different topics were discussed including malnutrition, climate change, the world food market, and technology. And there were many directors of companies that look at the problem of world hunger such as Ertharin Cousin. He is Executive Director of the World Food Programme, which says it is the biggest humanitarian company working to help world hunger.

But there is a lot of inequality in the speakers. CEOs and directors talk about helping small farmers and this looks good, but will they keep their promises? Decisions made at conferences on big problems such as world hunger can be unhelpful when business interests are so important. The big food companies need to listen and to give a good example. Food security is too serious for just making a show.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/blog/2014/02/20/feeding-the-world-conference/