Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The end of food

"The figures are staggering. Wal-Mart currently dominates the global grocery trade with profits reckoned by the UN at the start of the century to be 'bigger than the gross domestic product of three quarters of the world's economies'. Today those profits have doubled. Five companies control 90 per cent of the global grain supply. The world tea market is in the hands of three. Eighty-one per cent of American beef belongs to four giant processing companies. None of these companies is answerable for what they do to anyone but themselves. They are ruthlessly anti-competitive, largely above the law, and more than able to impose their own, often ruinous conditions on the countries that supply them.

Commerce permits no deviation from corporately determined norms. Ninety per cent of milk in the US now comes from a single breed of cow, and the same proportion of commercial eggs from a single breed of hen. British supermarkets have reduced well over 2,000 varieties of locally grown apple for all practical purposes to two (Bramley and Cox). This kind of industrial concentration makes the food chain permanently vulnerable to contamination, disease or terrorism ('I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply,' said the former US Health Secretary in 2006, 'because it would be so easy to do'). It also means that whole species of animals and plants face imminent extinction."

Good book review by Hilary spurling

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