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Big food and local/global grabbing

By Greg Newsom
Special to the Michigan Citizen

This is the third in a series of columns on the 14th Environmental Justice principle: Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multi-national corporations.

Environmental Justice principle 14 brings our focus to the practice of corporations with a global reach. My co-columnists Lottie Spady and Victoria Goff cited a few of the massive multi-national corporations that hold great influence and power not only in their industries, but in the governments they work in. The same mind-blowing numbers hold true when it comes to the global food system.

The major players, mostly family or small executive board run corporations like Cargill, The Coca Cola Company, General Mills, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Nestle, Pepsi Co., dominate the global marketplace and, through lobbying and dubiously obtained seats on regulatory boards, influence public policy and the very design of the marketplace itself.

The practices of these multinational corporations are dubious at best, especially when it comes to agriculture and food production efforts in so-called developing nations.

In motions too disturbingly close in appearance to the practices of colonial plantations, the success and expansion of these multinational corporations is dependent upon land grabbing, the displacement of people, inhumane labor conditions and slavery.

Above and beyond these atrocities, what I find particularly disturbing is these corporations, often working in conjunction with foundations and operating within U.N. guidelines they helped to forge, justify these practices around the call of world hunger and scarcity of food amid a growing global population.

Multinationals espouse an urgent need for food, particularly the oil-rich biochemically enhanced, so-called “green revolution” variety that introduced pesticides and antibacterials into our food supply in the 1950s, to justify the parceling and monetizing of land. A great amount of the land that has “opened-up” by these practices has been, even within modern political boundaries, held for centuries by indigenous people. It just seems soul-killing to cite a need to feed people with one hand, while the other is using agricultural practices that are destructive to the land, plants, animals and people.

I posit that it is easy to spot and condemn these practices when they are being played out on the global stage. We have the benefit of distance, the ability to disconnect and move into the role of observer rather than being a co-implicated participant. What begins to disturb me from this vantage point is a great many of the practices I see being utilized on the global scene appear to be mirrored or at least resemble practices that are being attempted in Detroit’s political and economic landscapes.

As the walls for Whole Foods’ new store go up and Hantz Farms continues their attempt to answer “God’s call” to save Detroit, we’re also, like other urban geographies around the world, experiencing a push for privatization of public assets and education, an austerity-justified dismissal of democracy and representation and cuts in services and “safety nets” not only to balance budgets, but also to turn profits.

These localized expressions of corporate dominance and influence are not just cultural reflections but they also directly support the systems that keep these global players afloat.

Gregg Newsom serves as the communications coordinator for the Detroit Food Justice Task Force (, People’s Kitchen Detroit ( and other grassroots organizations.

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