This article written by Olli Tammilehto was published in the street letter "A Different Europe" in May 1997 by the Friends of the Earth Sweden (special issue of Nordic Link). A Finnish version was published in 'Maan ystävät' in August 1997. Republishing the article is desirable. However, first you should consult the author.


Food power to corporations




Domination is assumed by creating dependencies, and through domination you get money, which itself is a form of power. Therefore people's ability to get food independently with the help of other life forms and by their own effort has always been annoying for the avaricious and the domineering. Accordingly, enclosing the common fields, pastures and forests and preventing access by the majority has been a crucial factor in  the creation of the present enormous concentration of power and wealth, both in historical Europe and in the Third World today. Similarly, it has been been important to make farmers dependent on inputs and services from corporations and states.

One of the most promising new ways of fostering domination is to create a genetic dependency; to make a farmer dependent on seeds (or other carriers of genetic information) from a corporation. In the 1980's big producers of fertilizers and pesticides, like Ciba-Geigy (presently Novartis), ICI and Shell, accumulated a large part of the world seed trade. In the '90's corporate strategy has focused on genetic engineering and patenting of plant varieties.

For those aspiring to dominate all channels for citizens' empowerment are of course detrimental. Thus, in past decades transnational corporations, with the help of  bureaucratic elite groups, have sought to and succeeded in weakening democracy in Europe, supported by the neo-liberal ideology. From the state organs, as such only weakly democratic, power has transcended to even more undemocratic transnational organs. To a great extent public power over food has been shifted to the European Union, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to the Codex Alimentarius, a joint committee of the FAO and the WHO.

The approval of Ciba-Geigy's genetically modified maize sheds light on how the new system operates. According to an opinion poll made in December, a substantial majority of EU-citizens were against genetically modified food. The European Parliament was against accepting the GMO maize and so was the Council of Ministers. Ministers from 13 countries voted 'no' and only two ministers 'yes'. However, because the council was not unanimous the statutes of the EU delegated the decision to the European Commission. In December the Commission accepted the gene-maize, albeit reluctantly. According to information leaked from the meeting some of the commissars groaned after again yielding  to pressure from the corporations.

Probable Ciba/Novartis and other companies used WTO's regulations as an argument while lobbying the commissars. Its rules make it possible to interpret any food regulation that is not in harmony with the internationally accepted level as a trade restriction. This level is determined by the Codex Alimentarius where experts employed by corporations have a decisive say.

Corporations get still more food power from knowledge production: they dominate research concerning the risks of genetically modified organisms. In this too, the gene-maize is an illuminating example. Commissar Ritt Bjerregaard defended the gene-maize decision by referring to the scientific committees which maintained that GMO products will not harm people or nature. However, the only studies on the risks of the gene-maize were made or commissioned by Ciba-Geigy. Additionally, these studies were, and still are business secrets and thus not available to independent experts.

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