Food for thought: greedy giants and agricultural angels

Food for thought: greedy giants and agricultural angels

By Katy Brown

If you go down to the docks today…

You may never have heard of Cargill, but it’s a company that along with four others – Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Glencore International and Louis Dreyfus – controls between 75% and 90% of the world’s grain trade, and you will have almost certainly consumed something that it produced, processed or distributed.

Cargill has a number of operations in Liverpool, including rapeseed and soybean crushers and refineries and an imported animal-feed ingredient terminal at Seaforth, and a cotton trading office at Prince’s Dock. The refineries on the docks are responsible for the regular funny smell when you head north on the train out of the city centre.

Agri-business: profiting from hunger

Cargill and the other big grain companies have a huge influence over the type of food we eat, how it is produced and who has access to it. Unfortunately the fact that Cargill has such a large proportion of the global food market does not mean it is a company engaged in ensuring everyone is well fed. The prime concern of these companies is profit.

Cargill trades in food futures markets, meaning it gambles on food prices, hoping to cash in when food prices rise. This speculation on food prices contributes to periodic global food crises which leave millions of people hungry. As people struggle to feed themselves due to high prices, the profits of companies like Cargill soar.

Genetically modified crops

Cargill has been instrumental in the introduction of genetically engineered (GM) crops. As well as health and environmental concerns, GM crops create a situation of dependency on seed companies for farmers. Many companies make it a requirement that farmers do not carry seed over from one year to the next, instead being contractually obliged to buy seed from the company the following year, and will even sue farmers if they find them ‘illegally’ saving seed.

Cargill has refused to separate genetically modified crops from traditional ones. Given there is no requirement for animal-feed to be GM-free in the UK it is highly likely that genetically modified grains are processed at the Seaforth animal-feed terminal.

How did we lose control of our food?

Over decades governments and international financial institutions have paved the way for the disappearance of peasant agriculture and the rise of industrialised and corporate-led food production. Without government regulations to protect the public interest, a lack of policies to guarantee the rights of small-scale producers to access land, water and seeds, and with the enforcement of ‘free trade’ at the expense of local and national food self-sufficiency, corporations have taken control.

It is scary that large companies like Cargill have so much power in the global food system that they can actually ‘play god’, deciding whether people live or die through their speculation on food markets and, through that, their influence on food prices. However, let’s not despair…

Food Sovereignty in the Global South…

The global food sovereignty movement has grown out of the Global South as an alternative to the unsustainable corporate industrialised global food system. Food sovereignty is about more than just people being fed, it is about people taking back control over food production and it addresses issues of production, consumption and distribution in a holistic manner.

La Via Campesina is the name of this global peasant movement which brings together 150 organisations from 70 countries around the world to struggle for the realisation and globalisation of food sovereignty.


And closer to home…

While down on the docks the Port of Liverpool is serving as a gateway for global agri-business, elsewhere in the city people are taking the power back. Here are just a few examples, but get looking locally and you’ll find many more.

  • Growing Granby is trying to bring wasteland in the Granby area into use for food growing.
  • The Liverpool Food People is a network of food growers, composters, buyers, cooks and eaters passionate about a positive healthy food culture for lovely Liverpool. It is involved in projects from growing in schools and communities to trying to get healthier meals on school menus and is involved with the Food for Real Film Festival.
  • The Real Junk Food Project is focused on reducing food waste and encouraging a ‘Pay as you feel’ (PAYF) model for paying for food when eating out.
  • Free Food Liverpool is also focussed on food waste, directing food that would otherwise go in the bin to anyone who needs it.
  • Somewhat out of town up near Rainford, Fir Tree Community Growers is a vegan organic farm supplying healthy cruelty-free veg to Liverpool through the organic veg box scheme run by Liverpool Organic Direct. A similar scheme is operated by Windmill Wholefoods, with both schemes operating successfully for many years.

And of course people have allotments and grow fruit and vegetables in their own gardens across the city. It may not seem like a revolutionary act but by growing your own and taking control of where your food comes from you too can become part of the global food sovereignty movement.



La Via Campesina:

Growing Granby:

The Liverpool Food People:

The Real Junk Food Project:

Free Food Liverpool:

Fir Tree Community Growers:

Windmill Wholefoods:

Liverpool Organic Direct:

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