Show blog for Too Fat for Our Pants on Radio One, 91 FM, Dunedin, New Zealand. Airs Mondays 10 am - 12 pm.

If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Agrarian Urbanism and Food Sovereignty

 How Food Bill 160-2 threatens New Zealand food sovereignty and Andres Duany on Agrarian Urbanism, a development model which is likewise threatened under 160-2.  Click here for the petition to oppose the bill.

First, an update:  For those of you who have been following the protests and arrests in Washington over the proposed Keystone XL Oil pipeline, Friday Sept 2nd was the final day for those protests, and we now must wait for the Executive Order, which will or will not be signed by the end of the year (see here for industry information, here for sanity and not-lies).  This debate is being framed mostly as a "foreign-vs-friendly" oil debate, which, in conjunction with the U.S. State Department's squeaky-clean environmental assessment, makes me think that this thing is going to go ahead.  Obama has also recently come out strongly in favour of jobs, as opposed to the environment, by lifting a bunch of emissions controls and citing the need to cut regulations on businesses to encourage job growth.  And if this massive, destructive, deadly energy source creates some jobs, who are we to oppose?  To my mind, this is concrete proof, if it were still needed, that Obama is no more liberal than Bush, and is in fact considerably less so than Nixon and Reagan. Go team.

Anyway, today I aired an interview with Andres Duany, an American architect whose company has been developing new ways of planning and building cities to be comfortable for both the people who live in them and the environment in which they exist, and which you can listen to here.  I also want to talk about something else that happened on Friday Sept 2nd, something that affects New Zealand much more directly, if no less seriously, than the pipeline: the second reading of Food Bill 160-2.  They sound disparate, an American architect and a kiwi food bill, but they are related in their connection to the same sweeping resolution: the Codex Alimentarius.

First, the Food Bill.  This is a particularly frightening and constrictive piece of legislation that is virtually guaranteed to pass, as it is sprung, fully formed, from the head of the Codex Alimentarius, a FAO/WHO resolution of which New Zealand is a signatory.  It is unclear to me whether we even have the option of saying no at this point, as we have already said yes.
Basically, the bill is aimed at regulating outlets of food distribution – including farm stalls, farmer’s markets, community gardens, CSA schemes, and lemonade stands. So anywhere which sells, barters, or gives away food will need to be certified and regulated, a process which is vague and expensive, and is inherently biased towards large global agribusiness and against small local farms.  Small outfits will simply not be able to afford the price of admission, the registration fees, and the registration can be denied, even for cottage industries.   The vagueness in wording means that the decision to certify or not is up to the discretion of the certifying agent, and as such this bill has the potential to criminalize the sale of food from anywhere but corporate-owned outlets.  Further, the definition of food as any substance which “may be used for human consumption” is broad enough that it encompasses seeds, nutrients, medicine, and drinks, in some cases including water, and certainly including traditional Maori remedies and seed-saving techniques.    To enforce adherence to the bill, food safety officers can enter a premises without a warrant, and those officers can be police or citizens – meaning that Monsanto employees could enter an organic food shop with a vegetable stand backed up by armed police and shut it down.  In fact, there are already videos of this kind of thing happening in the states.
Even if you do not frequent the farmer’s market or participate in a community garden, legislation like this will impact your grocery bill: food prices are likely to rise as their production becomes more concentrated, both because of the price-fixing power wielded by corporate monopolies, but also because the resulting vast monocrops, we know already, are much more vulnerable.  There is greatly increased risk of an entire crop failure – if only a few farms are certified to grow spinach, one bug that likes spinach is all it takes to seriously jeopardize the entire harvest.  Funnily enough, this bill is meant to address issues of food safety and security – we only have to look at how dramatically it fails to do so to figure there must be something else going on.

But farmer’s stalls, lemonade stands – these are really beside the point, and are unlikely to be facing any real enforcement; it would just be too much, we don’t have the resources to go around shutting down farmer’s markets – and it’s unnecessary, in any case, because of what this bill is actually about. Seeds. Seed control is the whole point of all this.  Control of food is power – this is so widely acknowledged that it is discussed openly as a military and political strategy – and control of seeds is control of food at the source.  As the bill stands right now, it covers only seeds that you eat, which is a much larger array of foods that you probably recognize, including most staple foods – it’s not just that you won’t be able to sell sunflower seeds to crunch on, that’s also potatoes, kumara, garlic, onions, wheat, rice, corn, and on and on and one.  But, as much of the commentary points out, it’s a fairly small step, likely one court ruling, before not-for-consumption seeds become food, in that they are “capable of being used for human consumption”.  It doesn’t mean it will happen that way, but somehow it seems reasonable from where I sit now to assume that it will.  Even if it does not, much of the battle is already won: the relative difficulty in enforcing this law for farmer’s markets and roadside stands ceases to be an issue, because the only seeds they can get are Monsanto’s anyway. 

However, according to guerillamedia (scroll down about halfway),  this bill is legally treasonous and a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi – as my Maori pronunciation borders on offensive, I’ll let you read the details for yourself on the website, but the bottom line is that as the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General has veto powers on this bill, as the Treaty of Waitangi is more binding than the Codex Alimentarius, under Crown law.
As for law – “The law is the framework within which citizens consent to be governed. Democratic theory is that having elected their lawmakers (legislators), citizens recognise the legitimacy of the laws made ontheir behalf by the lawmakers and consent to abide by those laws.”  So your consent is required in order to be governed; you can revoke your consent of this bill.  You can also revoke your consent to be represented by your local MP.  Legislation is applicable only with the consent of individuals, but you must formally revoke it – you must inform your MP the you are no longer represented by him or her, and fill out a Claim of Right application and have it notarised.  If it’s not contested, you’re out!
The not-so-rad thing is that this little detail, the ability to opt out, means that this bill is barely not-treason.  Without this clause we couldn’t even be talking about this bill, so let’s make use of it.  The success of this bill relies on our compliance, our apathy, our political disengagement, and it’s exactly what they’re counting on.  The forces behind this bill – the WTO, agribusiness, corporate government – they believe that we are blind, and stupid, and that we will continue to allow  the degradation of our civil rights, that we will, in fact, agree to it.  But I do not, and if I were a resident I would have done this already.  If you can, I urge you to try.

So this bill comes from a FAO/WHO resolution called the Codex Alimentarius, of which New Zealand is a signatory, and therefore must pass this bill in one form or another.  Given the pockets the FAO resides in, it’s hard not to see this is a corporate push to undermine self-sufficiency and food sovereignty – this bill benefits companies like Monsanto and ConAgra almost exclusively.  This is all being implemented under the guise of food safety, and as a way to reduce the spread of food-borne illnesses – though it seems obvious to me that the way to minimize the spread of illness is not to further centralize, but to disperse the points of distribution and production to many smaller and varied farms who provide food for fewer people.  That means that this bill has wider implications than ceding complete control of food sources to ConAgra or Archer Daniels Midland, which is terrifying enough on its own.  A restriction on the ability of people to grow and share their own food locally is also a restriction on the ability of communities to survive the catastrophes of climate change, energy depletion, and a permanently contracting economy – these are unfathomably enormous problems facing us, and the best answer we have is to get local, to grow a garden, get to know your neighbours, to cease reliance on failing systems and create your own small-scale alternatives.  Under Food Bill 160-2 and the Codex Alimentarius, these practices of survival without registration are criminal.  But what frightens me the most about this bill is the base of mistrust it sits on – this is another insistence that we can’t trust anyone, we can’t trust each other; and so it succeeds not only in undermining our abilities to be self-sufficient and the common pursuit of food sovereignty, it further strains our relationships with each other.  And that’s the greatest harm, really – people who do not have strong personal relationships lead shorter, less healthy lives, they are less happy, and most importantly, they don’t talk to one another.  They don’t share their outrage or their fear, they don’t convince one another that laws are unfair, that something should be done – they feel alone, and helpless, and docile.  Now, if it is not an explicit goal of the corporate powers who engineered the Codex, it is at the very least an extremely valuable byproduct.

There is a lethal triumvirate forming here: the FOA's Codex Alimentarius, the  WTO's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the Trade Related Intellectual Proerty Rights Agreement, which allows corporations to patent seeds.  Combine those with IMF’s mandatory restructuring packages that include the privatization of arable farmland to foreign corporate interests as conditions for receipt of a loan, and they could theoretically completely wipe out any kind of small-scale agriculture.  They could, and already do, cause the starvation and impoverishment of millions, including those of us lucky enough to have been born in wealthy countries.  It is impossible to avoid the certainty that the eradication of small-scale farming and the consolidation of agricultural control in corporate hands is the desired result.
Oddly enough, this bill is in direct contradiction to a UN charter on which New Zealand is a also a signatory – Agenda 21, the agreement on Sustainable Development.  It is defined on the website as a “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.”  It even states explicitly that one of its goals is to “Focus on the empowerment of local and community groups through the principle of delegating authority, accountability and resources to the most appropriate level to ensure that the programme will be geographically and ecologically specific”, and insists that “it should assist the most disadvantaged groups [. . .] The groups will include poor smallholders, pastoralists, artisans, fishing communities, landless people, indigenous communities, migrants and the urban informal sector.” Perhaps not surprisingly, these are the very groups that are likely to be most harmed by forced compliance to the Codex Alimentarius. 

Agenda 21 focuses on all aspects of sustainable development, which obviously includes agriculture.  It also includes city planning, which is intimately related to agriculture and what my interview today is about. I talked to architect and city planner Andres Duany on Tuesday – he is one of the designers of a method of development known as New Urbanism, which James Howard Kunstler touched on briefly as well.   New Urbanist development principles focus on walkability, mixed-usage – so shops with apartments on top, for example – mixed-income, robust public transit, urban gardens and green space, and complete streets – those are streets for a smaller number of cars, which includes bike lanes, bus lanes or light rail, wide sidewalks, and lots of safe pedestrian crossings.  They are basically 19th Century building principles adapted for some cars, for now, and public transit. 
Duany’s latest project is Agrarian Urbanism, which focuses on building communities around the food source and emphasizing the social aspect of food production.  It involves establishing or rehabilitating semi-urban villages at the transects of rural farmland, so that everyone that resides in the town is involved somehow in the production or processing of the food grown in those fields.  This is precisely the kind of development model – reliant on Community Supported Agriculture, common land, food co-ops, and food-for-wages systems – which would be outlawed by Food Bill 160-2 as it is defined by the Codex Alimentarius.  I didn’t know so much about this Bill when I talked to Duany, so I don’t know how he would respond to the idea – though I suspect he would point to the inalienable right of people to grow and share food, and the impossibility of enforcing these bills with any seriousness without serious social consequences – that is to say that people would likely revolt.  Food, after all, is what finally sparked long-overdue revolutions all over the middle east, and it has been the cause of many revolutions in the past.  Maybe this is our “let them eat cake”; perhaps this is the infringement on our civil liberties which finally galvanizes us into action.  It must happen sometime, right? . I wonder if there will come a point when I am afraid to say things like that on the air; when views like mine will become actually politically dangerous and it will be dangerous to speak them. Sometimes I’m afraid that time will come, and that I won't recognize it until it's here.

Tune in next week when I’ll be talking about singularities and techno-utopianism, and speaking to Jason Benlevi about his book on the subject, Too Much Magic.  Stay right here on the One, thanks for listening.

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