A report by GRAIN, released recently, explores the other side of food safety. The international non-profit, analyses how food safety rules globally are not so much about people’s health than it is about safeguarding the interests of supermarkets and the roaring food industry. GRAIN works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community controlled and biodiversity based food systems
It shows how with food scandals, outbreaks of disease and regulatory crack-downs on the rise, food safety has become a major global issue. The growing reliance on corporate food and farming concentrates and amplifies risk in new and unprecedented ways at scales not seen before. This makes intervention more necessary than ever to ensure that food does not make people sick. But behind all of the talk and action lies another agenda. But is food safety, globally, all about protecting people’s health or is it a deeper conspiracy guided by supermarkets and the food industry.
Food safety may sound like it is about protecting people's health or even the environment. The European Union boasts of a food safety system that runs "from farm to fork", a term used to make consumers feel assured that someone is watching out for them, but, the report shows, what happens in the garb of "food safety" is not so much about consumers or safety as it is about getting everyone who is involved in food production, preparation, and delivery to conform to a number of "standards" set by supermarkets and the food service industry that are first and foremost about ensuring their profits.
World over, the governments may set the frame for food safety through a number of policies and administrative measures but it is the private sector that draws up and implements the actual standards. We need not go far, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, the apex food regulatory body has an ample sprinkling of corporate representation in its scientific panel, despite the fact that it was in violation of its own Act. Things haven’t changed despite being reprimanded by the Supreme Court. (see: FSSAI Scientific Panel)
The report shows how public–private partnership (and collusion) creates a host of problems. We end up in a situation where the industrial food sector is regulating itself and the government is working for the corporate sector. The fact that food safety is not about public health is reinforced when it manifests itself in terrible food poisoning outbreaks.
With globalization and relaxed rules around trade and investment, the corporate-government model of food safety is spreading, subjecting farmers, fishermen and food industry workers all over the world to the corporate diktats.
The report cites example - for instance, if Indians want to sell fish or grapes to the European Union, they have to conform to EU regulations and the standards set by the supermarket chains that control the EU market. If Brazilians wants to sell poultry or soya to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf state's criteria will kick in. This is perfectly fine, one would think, but scratch a little deeper and the impact shows on farmers and fishermen of developing countries. The countries adopt these standards and apply them to domestic markets as well, ultimately impacting on all farmers in any given country. They are not just for exporters.