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Stephanie Hiller
The Age
Stephanie Hiller

This is not a conspiracy theory

It turns out that the path toward the UN Food Summit was littered with clues that a “corporate capture” of the United Nations was indeed in progress. In June, 2019, UN Deputy General Amina Mohammed signed, under the beaming countenance of Antonio Guterres, and the more somber aspect of Klaus Schwab, Director of the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of a “Strategic Partnership” with the WEF. Four months later, Guterres announced plans to hold a Food System Summit the following year. Many members of the WEF, which represents 1000 of the world’s most powerful corporations, quietly showed up on the various committees that planned the FSS. It’s not the first time the UN has made deals with global corporations but this time, in the midst of life-threatening global crises, it may turn out to be the most significant. Some, like the Global Compact and the Global Redesign Initiative, are still in effect. The partnership received no media attention, and broke with established UN policy to make such decisions with the approval of the General Assembly. No other UN agency was consulted. The United Nations, formed in 1948 in a desperate attempt by world leaders to avoid another global conflagration, has always represented some of the highest ideals of governance, including the democratic ideal of “one nation one vote.”  But the peacemaking body needs money.  “The UN has remained notoriously underfunded and has had to tackle repeated financial crises,” wrote the Global Policy Forum in its report, “Fit for whose purpose.” Everybody needs money to function in this competitive, costly society in which we live, and money fuels some devilish compromises. Farmers’ groups welcomed the prospect of a food summit. Even before the pandemic, the world has been experiencing a global food crisis. With the Sustainable Development Goal of “eliminating hunger” by 2030 looming on the horizon (along with 16 other lofty goals) something needed to be done to address the inequality of food distribution in the world. But Guterres threw a wrench into the process by appointing Agnes Kalibata as the UN Special Envoy in charge of the conference. Kalibata is the head of the highly controversial nonprofit Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) funded largely by the Gates Foundation. In its short existence, AGRA has failed to meet its promises to produce abundance for field and farmer. Like the Green Revolution elsewhere, AGRA has made farmers dependent on the chemicals, seeds and equipment of industrial agriculture, now dominated by a mere handful of giant American corporations. When the new methods failed to produce their promised wealth, farmers found themselves strapped by debt. Many were forced to give up their farms. In India, thousands committed suicide. Smelling a corporate rat, and finding themselves left out of the planning processes for the upcoming summit, the major agricultural organizations of the United Nations, supported by some five hundred farm groups and individuals, sent a letter to Guterres asking him to drop the WEF partnership and engage them in the process. The CSM, a subsidiary of the Committee on Food Security, had made strides in bringing the voices of small farmers into the august UN body. They demanded inclusion in the FSS process. There was no response to the letter. After several attempts to be heard, the farmers’ groups declared a boycott of the Summit. They organized a parallel summit in protest. They were soon joined by La Via Campesina, representing 200,000 farmers and the largest member organization of its kind. These farmers embraced food sovereignty and agroecology, the type of farming that evolved out of the organic food movement but now including the human rights of farmers to grow food as they see fit – and without chemicals. Agroecology also has the potential to help address climate change by bringing down carbon from the atmosphere to be used by plants. It is very much the offspring of the organic farming that has flourished in Sonoma County and in other rural communities since the 80s and which sustained many of us during the pandemic. Some 9000 people participated in the boycott. Again, this remarkable state of affairs received little media attention. The FSS took place in two stages, with a pre-Summit in July and the concluding Summit September 23. Agroecology received barely any attention. In the 500-page report of the Scientific Group of the FSS, exactly one chapter was addressed to this carbon-reducing method of farming. Why should this matter to us?  For one thing, it may restrict our free choice about how we grow, purchase and consume food here in agricultural Sonoma County. Of wider significance, these maneuvers will undermine the positive applications of regenerative farming to carbon reduction. And, speaking of carbon, it appears that the control of agriculture is a stepping stone for corporations to profit from its behind-the-scenes manipulation of the COP-26. In fact, the two operations are part of the same strategy. According to comments of a researcher at Transnational Institute, Brid Brennan, quoted by Democracy Now!: "While global popular demand to governments has urged a decisive pullback from the brink of climate change disaster, corporate financiers and polluters have pursued a strategy of privatization of the U.N. system and are now positioned to derail any [substantive] disinvestment from fossil fuels … instead set to implement a big corporate greenwash Bonanza." TNI has published a detailed analysis of corporate takeover of the UN, “Financiers of polluters in charge of the COP 26” This is a strategy, and it’s being played out at both UN Summits in the same way. What is the corporate path to profit from the global food system? What do they want? If the policies promoted at the FSS come into widespread use, food production worldwide will be dominated by advanced technologies like genetic modification (using techniques like CRISPR to change cellular DNA), chemical amendments, robots, data collection on farms to surveil farmer adherence, and even the laboratory production of meat and dairy substitutes (“fake foods”) already under development – in effect, what Gates has eulogized as “farms without farmers.” It will be a Green Revolution without parallel, that they claim (repeatedly) is necessary to feed the growing populations of the world! But in fact, we already produce more food than we eat, and actually waste almost 40 percent of it, adding to the release of methane from dump sites. With fine language about “nature-based methods” of food production in its promotional materials at the UNFSS, corporate America intends to do exactly the opposite for the world.  In September, the CSM released a report outline the interlocking networks of international businesses participating in the FSS. Some of these corporations are not very nice! Bayer (with its subsidiary Monsanto) and Union Carbide, now part of the infamous Dow Dupont, and Nestle. Bayer, based in Germany, was part of IG Farben, the producer of chemicals like Zyklon-B for use in the death camps. After the war, Bayer turned these chemicals into pesticides. Monsanto helped produce Agent Orange for use in Vietnam, and Union Carbide was responsible for the mess in Bhopal, which is still destroying the health of local people.  Dow Chemical was responsible for violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, resulting in extensive dioxin and furan contamination of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers, as well as Saginaw Bay for which they paid a minimal fine of $2.5 million. Many other corporations, some responsible for the production of processed foods with little or no nutritional value that are responsible for the epidemic of obesity among the world’s poor, are also players. Pepsico, for example. Coca Cola. Tyson, the feed-lot magnate. Nestle. And the corporate boards and associations that represent their interests. But surely, not all corporations are bad? Has the pressure of climate change possibly awakened some their leaders to the urgent need to transform old ways of doing business? I want to think it’s possible. But so far there is no evidence that their lofty “green” language comes from the heart. The corporation has no heart. Despite its legal claim to personhood, the corporation is not a person. It is a profit-driven machine that compels its workers, even at the highest level, to conform to a dictated mindset over which they individually have little control. As blogger Caitlin Johnstone has written in her piece, “Our gods have no heads”:  "What’s ultimately driving things is not so much the people within these institutions as the institutions themselves, which operate on motives of profit and growth that are built into them and are entirely divorced from normal human values." In a vibrant speech at the beginning of the UNFSS pre-Summit economist Jeffrey Sachs, long a warrior for the poor, cited the historic crimes of companies like United Fruit, which colonized the sugar fields of South America with the support of our government ( “We have a food system. We need a new one.” But not this one. 
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