Countering the Threat of Global Food Homogenization

The push toward globalism isn’t limited to political schemes; it also includes efforts to influence agriculture and homogenize food consumption around the world. The origins and varieties of the food we eat have drastically changed in the past few decades thanks to changing farming practices, although this has likely escaped the notice of most everyday grocery shoppers.

In many nations, bountiful supermarket shelves provide the illusion of abundance, while powerful global monopolies increasingly control food production, limiting farmers’ control over their crops and endangering plant species.

This directly affects the variety of food in our grocery stores—and its nutritional value.

In the 2022 book “Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them,” author Dan Saladino examines why the scope of our diet has drastically narrowed even while food is abundantly available in rich nations such as the United States.

Decreasing biodiversity is leading to the extinction of some food plant species, according to Saladino, a longtime food journalist for the BBC.

“Over the past several decades, globalization has homogenized what we eat, and done so ruthlessly,” he wrote. “Of the roughly six thousand different plants once consumed by human beings, only nine remain major staples today. Just three of these―rice, wheat, and corn―now provide fifty percent of all our calories.”

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the proportion is closer to 60 percent. The FAO estimates that 15 crop plants provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake.

This dwindling diversity stems from the way our food is produced under the tight control of a small number of large companies, according to Saladino.

“The source of much of the world’s food―seeds―is mostly in the control of just four corporations. Ninety-five percent of milk consumed in the United States comes from a single breed of cow [the Holstein],” he wrote.

“Half of all the world’s cheese is made with bacteria or enzymes made by one company. And one in four beers drunk around the world is the product of one brewer.”

Saladino told The Epoch Times that crop diversity is worth preserving because it’s “the legacy of thousands of years of farming and food production.”

“We all need to appreciate the importance of [food] diversity—for our future food security, for resilience, for health, and because it’s part of what makes us human,” he said.

As a result of laws passed in the 1990s to protect bioengineered crops, four corporations now control more than half of the world’s seeds, according to the 2021 Deutsche Welle article “Who Controls the World’s Food Supply?”

The four multinational corporations are Bayer (Monsanto), Corteva, ChemChina, and Limagrain, according to author Charli Shield. Calling them “staggering monopolies [that] dominate the global food supply,” Shield wrote that the practical result is that “more and more of the world’s food relies on less and less genetic diversity.”

The organization Civil Eats in 2018 described the monopoly a bit differently, citing research on seed industry consolidation by Philip Howard of Michigan State University. According to Howard, a sociologist, the “Big 4” seed companies including Bayer, Corteva (a firm created as a result of the merger of Dow and DuPont), ChemChina, and BASF (a German chemical company) control more than 60 percent of proprietary seed sales globally.

The FAO has expressed concern about this trend, asking, “What is happening to biodiversity?” and answering, “The extension of industrial patenting and other intellectual property systems to living organisms has led to the widespread cultivation and rearing of fewer varieties and breeds. This results in a more uniform, less diverse, but more competitive global market.”

The FAO estimated in 2010 that 75 percent of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000 and warned that if it continued, it would threaten global food security.

“Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including to the effects of climate change,” reported the FAO in its 2019 assessment, The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.

The 2022 report No Patents on Seeds, produced by an international coalition of the same name, states that “patents … granted on usages of naturally occurring genes, on seeds, on plants and [on] their harvest, represent one of the biggest threats to global food security and regional food sovereignty.”

The group stated that although the European Patent Office ceased granting patents on conventionally bred plants and animals in 2017, corporations now use loopholes to patent randomly generated (rather than genetically engineered) plant mutations.

These patents on genes and genetic variations “block access to biological diversity for plant breeding,” according to the report.

Patents create monopolies on plants and animals.

“If patents are granted on conventionally bred plants and animals within its geographic scope, the patent holder can exclude other breeders from using them to bring new varieties to the market,” the report reads.

In some cases, according to the short film series “Rich Appetites,” seed laws can make it illegal for small farmers to exchange seeds—or even to simply save them for replanting.

“Corporate control of seed violates farmers’ rights under international conventions and endangers people’s livelihoods, increasing hunger and eroding cultural traditions,” claims the second short film in the series, “Seeds.”

“Rich Appetites,” which was produced by the groups AGRA Watch and Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), also examines the ways that powerful groups control food production around the world under the guise of charity.

“Billionaire philanthropists [such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation] are pushing U.S.-style industrial agriculture around the globe—including in Africa,” the film states.

Industrial agriculture “is the single largest cause of biodiversity loss worldwide, fails to solve hunger, and hurts small-scale farmers and the planet,” according to the films.

Although Western-led charitable organizations may mean well, their insistence on imposing this approach to farming has done more harm than good, AGRA Watch and AFSA say.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation claims that industrialization benefits farmers and the poor. The foundation’s support of African farming groups, for example, comes from its commitment to “transforming smallholder agriculture into a sustainable, inclusive foundation of economic opportunity,” according to its website discussing its agricultural development initiatives.

An effort to feed the world’s hungry more efficiently was what first drove the effort to modify foods for productivity and uniformity, wrote Saladino, who has traced this back to the decades following World War II. Agriculture scientists of the time found ways to produce rice and wheat “on a phenomenal scale,” he wrote.

Although this was a noble attempt “to save millions from starvation,” it was a trade-off resulting in a loss of food diversity.

In an email to The Epoch Times, Saladino wrote: “We can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding the world based around a reductionist vision of producing more and more calories. Science is only beginning to reveal to us the complexity and sophistication of many traditional food and farming systems.

“This research deserves investment alongside new technologies. We have already lost too many genetic resources, knowledge, and skills that could help feed the world in the future.”

A return to biodiversity-preserving farming practices seems impossible as long as industrial agriculture giants monopolize food production from seed to shelf.

An important advocate for seed and food sovereignty for small farmers is Vandana Shiva, founder of the India-based Navdanya movement and Italy’s Navdanya International.

“The shift from globalization driven by multinational corporations to a progressive localization of our economies has become an ecological and social imperative, essential for food sovereignty,” she recently wrote.

Navdanya International is opposed to what it calls “biopiracy”—the patenting of agricultural knowledge and techniques—and encourages and conducts research, advocacy, and partnerships to help small farmers maintain control over what they produce and how they produce it.

Two other groups working to change agricultural practices—the German nonprofit Foundation on Future Farming and the Swiss nonprofit Biovision—recently published the optimistic Transformation of Our Food Systems: The Making of a Paradigm Shift.

In it, the authors describe growing global efforts to shift farming and food production practices out of a homogenized industrial system and into what has come to be called an “agroecological model.”

Following this model will enable farmers to nourish a world population of 10 billion people by the mid-21st century while maintaining crop biodiversity and reducing dependence on harmful industrial practices, they claim.

Saladino offered practical advice to grocery shoppers hoping to join this pushback against global food homogenization.

“Technology has been one of the drivers of globalization and the homogenization of food, but technology can also provide us with a means to help preserve [food] diversity,” he said.

In his book, Saladino described meeting a farmer in southwestern China who’s saving endangered varieties of rice by selling directly to people in Chengdu and Beijing via WeChat.

“Through an app on our phones, it’s possible for more of us to have a direct relationship with farmers and food producers,” he told The Epoch Times.

Some of these apps include Locavore, Simply Local, Farm Fresh 24/7, and Farmish.

Buying locally leads to cooking with foods that are in season.

“If all of us just cooked more seasonally, that would make a big difference to global food diversity,” Saladino said.

He also recommended joining local or regional networks dedicated to food sovereignty and biodiversity, such as the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and the Ark of Taste.

“We can’t replicate the relationship hunter-gatherers have with nature and biodiversity, but we can increase our awareness of the food that exists around us, the farmers and food producers in our part of the world, and the crops, fruits and other foods adapted to the places we live. One simple way of doing that is to live and eat in tune with the seasons,” he said.

Reporting from The Epoch Times.