Need for pluralism to protect food livelihoods and diverse food cultures
Local natural organically processed food is not the same as chemically processed food which is different from genetically engineered food. Different foods have different safety risks and need different safety laws and different systems of management. That is why in Europe there are different standards for organic, for industrial and genetically engineered foods. Organic standards are set by organic movements, while the standards for genetic engineering are set at European level through the Novel Food laws. There is in addition the movement to protect the cultural diversity of food, which is destroyed when industrial food processing standards are applied. Cultural diversity is protected through ‘unique’ and ‘typical’ foods. Carving out these spaces of freedom in the face of a globalised industrial food economy has been the contribution of the Slow Food Movement. These standards are cultural, based on indigenous science and community control not industrial ‘science’ and controlled by central government manipulated by food giants like Cargill, ConAgra, Lever, Nestle, Phillip Morris and gene giants like Monsanto.
India, like Europe, needs three different laws governed at different levels for different food systems based on different production processes which produce different foods.
An organic processing law for local, natural small-scale food processing governed by gramsabhas, panchayats and local communities. In cities this could be based on licensing by resident welfare associations as Urban Panchayats, and local municipalities. Community control through citizen participation is the real guarantee for safety.
An industrial processing law, which already exists and is the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. This could be updated to deal with new food hazards. It should definitely not be dismantled.
A GMO food law which controls imports, labeling, segregation, traceability etc. This is the new law that the consumers need. This law should be drafted by the Central Government, but states and local communities should be free to introduce stricter standards. If regions want to be GMO-free, this should be allowed under the principles of decentralized democracy.
However, the central government cannot try to license the last dhaba in India. It will unleash the worst form of license and inspector Raj. It will establish a food facism based on food mafia, serving global corporations. It will destroy our food freedom, livelihoods, our food safety, our food diversity. The proposed integrated food safety law will be used to criminalise every tiny dhabawala and street vendor, who are not introducing obesity and diabetes, cancer and heart disease in our society. They are providing safe, affordable daland roti to millions of working people.
Since different food systems need different levels of management for safety, it is totally inappropriate to lump together all kinds of food – organic, industrial, GMOs — into one category as is done in Def 3 (k), which treats all food providers as the same. ‘Food business’ means any undertaking, whether for profit or not, and whether public or private, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of production, processing and distribution of food and includes import, export and sale of food and food service providers.
How food is processed determines its quality, nutrition and safety. Home processed bread is not the same as industrial bread. They are not ‘like products’ in the WTO. jargon. They are different products in terms of their ecological content and public health impact. A factory chicken is not the same as a free-range chicken, both in terms of animal welfare and in terms of food quality and safety. A GMO corn is not the same as organic corn. The former contains antibiotic resistance markers, viruses used as promoters, and gene for producing toxins such as Bt. Regulating Bt. corn for safety needs different systems than organic corn, factory farming needs different regulatory processes than free-range chicken.
Pluralism of production processes and products needs pluralism of laws and science appropriate to the safety issues and governance systems that a product or production process demands.
Chemical processing need chemistry labs and chemists, GMOs need genetic ID Laws, organic processing needs indigenous science and community control. The response of government to the mustard oil contamination in 1998 was to demand that every ghani have a lab, a chemist and must package oil. This response was inappropriate for the scale and method of production. One million ghanis were shut down, 20,000 small and tiny crushers were criminalised by an inappropriate law that opened the flood gates for import of soy oil. We cannot repeat the destruction unleashed by pseudo-safety laws in the edible oils sector in other sectors of our indigenous food economy and food culture. We cannot replace safe systems with unsafe systems through manipulated laws and rules which serve agribusiness, leave them free to spread food hazards and disease, destroy our diverse foods and substitute them with unhealthy, anti-nutritive, hazardous industrial foods. We do not need to deregulate global trade and overregulate domestic production. We need to regulate chemicals and GMOs through centralized structures and regulate local, domestic food systems through local, democratic, decentralised, participatory processes.
The principles of food safety used in the proposed law are inappropriate to the indigenous self-organised food systems of India. Act 17 (b) states that the Food Authority will take into account International Standards.
However, in the case of GMOs, there are no International Standards. There are European laws on novel foods and the absolute deregulation of GM foods in the U.S. On May 13th 2003, the US, together with Canada and Argentina, challenged Europe’s moratorium on GM crops and foods. Arguing that their GM products were being unfairly discriminated against, they challenge the precautionary principle in decision making about GM crops that is supposed to be embodied into European decision-making. Bringing this case to the WTO is another excuse to attack the use of the precautionary approach in international law.
The new EU Regulations take account of the EU’s international trade commitments and of the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety with respect to obligations of importers. The EU’s regulatory system for GMOs authorisation is in line with WTO rules: it is clear, transparent and non-discriminatory. There is therefore no issue that the WTO needs to examine.
Many countries are now looking at the EU policy to develop their own policy. The US fears that several countries will adopt a similar approach as the EU to regulate GMOs and GM food and feed products. The new Swiss GM legislation, entered into force on January 1 2004, is a good example.
The Swiss law is stricter than current EU legislation on the liability and co-existence aspects. It is based on the precautionary principle and ‘the polluter pays’ principle (Article 1) and aims to protect health and security of human beings, animals and environment. It also aims to permanently maintain biological diversity and fertility of the soil and to allow freedom of choice for consumers.
The EU Moratorium represents the will of its people not to be force-fed. It crystallizes (as the patent on seeds still does) the worldwide mobilization of people against the reinterpretation of national security and sovereignty to increase the global control of US corporations over resources and market.
If Europe had not suspended its approvals process in 1998, these would have been some of the consequences:
The indirect effects of growing GM herbicide tolerant (HT) crops on farmland wildlife would not have been taken into account. GM HT sugar/fodder beet and spring oilseed rape now known to be damaging to farmland wildlife would have been grown commercially in Europe.
No requirement for monitoring of environmental or human health effects would have been introduced, maintaining the ‘no evidence of harm’ claim for safety.
Consumers would not have been able to make a choice not to eat products derived from GM crops as the new labeling laws now allow for.
There would have been no traceability requirement for GM foods. If an adverse effect had emerged, it would have been impossible to withdraw the product from the market quickly and easily. Following BSE, traceability is a cornerstone of European food safety systems.
Under India’s diverse decentralized plural economy, a centralized integrated law is inappropriate on many counts. Indigenous Gur and Mithai have no international standards, they need indigenous standards. India must craft her laws for her conditions. These laws must be appropriate to the level and content which they address. One law for all food systems is a law that privileges large-scale industrial commercial establishments and discriminates and criminalises the small, the local, the diverse.
Our kitchens and dhabas, our cottage and household industry are being put in the same category as Nestle’s, Cargill’s and ConAgra’s massive, super-industrial processing. Domestic and local consumption, including ‘not for profit’ food provisioning is being put in the same category as imports of hazardous GMOs. This is not a science-based contemporary system. It is an obsolete, corrupt crude and coercive system proposed by a corporate state to destroy 99% of our indigenous food processing so that global agribusiness MNCs which have spread disease and ill health control our entire food economy, destroying millions of livelihoods and millennia of diverse gastronomic traditions. .
TO BE CONTINUED
Vandana Shiva, a writer and ‘ecological scientist’, directs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. Her current work centers on biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Shje is a Slow Food international councillor.