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For a world without the WTO and 'free trade agreements'

From the supermarkets that dominate food sales, through distribution systems, to agriculture and its increasing dependence on chemicals and back down the chain to gene research, the story is one of the concentration of power in fewer and fewer corporations.

By 2011, as this report shows, the world’s top 10 seed companies controlled three quarters (75%) of the market for their products. The same six global corporations control 75% of all private sector plant breeding research; 60% of the commercial seed market and 76% of global agrochemical sales. Some also have links to animal pharmaceuticals.

For the authors, the ETC Group, “this creates a vulnerability in the world food system” not seen since the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1945.

No one is any longer much surprised by the destructive impacts of the competitive pursuit of profits on people’s lives and on the ecological systems that we depend upon. As the ETC point out:

The agro-industrial farming system has been spectacularly successful at encouraging uniformity, destroying diversity, polluting soil and water, corroding human health and impoverishing farm labour.

In its 2013  report, Cost of Inaction, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that, for smallholder farmers in 37 sub-Saharan African countries, the costs of pesticide poisonings (lost work days, outpatient medical treatment, and inpatient hospitalisation) amounted to $4.4 billion in 2005 (not including the cost of lost lives and livelihoods, environmental health effects and effects of other chemicals).

UNEP projects the total cost of pesticide-related illness and injury in sub-Saharan Africa between 2005 and 2020 could reach a staggering $90 billion.

You might even laugh out loud in a kind of helpless desperation at the latest antics of the big pesticide producers Bayer and Monsanto whose products are designed to kill insects. Bayer produces neonicotinoid-based chemicals which scientific studies show to be implicated in the massive die-off of the bees which all of humanity depends on to pollinate the crops we eat.

In an attempt to fend off any extension – and even reverse – the new European Union ban on neonicotinoids, Bayer has embarked on a rebranding exercise, presenting itself as a promoter of bee-health. Monsanto, the world’s number one seed producer, and manufacturer of killer chemical Roundup, goes a step further. It has bought Beeologics, an R&D company providing targeted control of pests and diseases. Its mission is “to become the guardian of bee health worldwide.” LOL.

Trade is needed but a different kind of trade, one that is not based on the exploitation of people and nature and whose rules benefit the communities and not the corporations

But it’s not all bad news. Corporate control of the food chain is very far from being a completed process. There’s still time to end it.

The vast majority of farmers – peasant farmers who continue to feed 70% of the world’s population – are not tied to the corporate food chain. And the majority of the world’s meat and milk is still produced by small-scale farmers in mixed crop-and-livestock systems, rather than the new profit–led systems of industrialised intensive production.

La Via Campesina, representing the interests of small, peasant farmers worldwide, puts forward its proposals to coincide with the latest meeting of the World Trade Organisation now underway in Bali:

We are living a global emergency situation, greater than any that we have lived, and intellectual property rights for profit should not have precedence over nature and humanity. Trade is needed but a different kind of trade, one that is not based on the exploitation of people and nature and whose rules benefit the communities and not the corporations.

The kind of trade we need is complementary and equitable trade not corporate free trade. To really address the climate crisis, a world without the WTO and the FTAs [free trade agreements], one that is not dominated by transnational corporations and the global free trade regimes, is necessary!

We have to change the system, and we have to do this now.

What more can you say?

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
12 September 2013

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