Top of Mind: The Politics of Food

November 2, 2010 05:18 AM

There is a new energy shaping agriculture and it’s driven by the changing politics of food. In wealthy countries, obesity now tops hunger as a serious food problem. Consumers once satisfied with cheap and “fast” food now want food that is healthy and grown by local farmers. Commercial farmers face stronger pushback from consumer activists, and long-standing food companies are under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, in developing continents like Asia, agricultural development has provided economic growth and better diets, yet Africa still battles malnutrition. Memories of the food crisis of 2008 linger for many nations. As a result, food security has moved to the forefront of government policy, according to Robert Paarlberg, a leading authority on food policy. “More governments are now prepared to tackle their own food demands,” he says.

I listened intently to Paarlberg and other experts speak about food policy at the recent World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa. The consensus is that policymakers globally are focused on food security in a way that they have not been since the Green Revolution.

“We have seen the consequences of a world whose attention was distracted from the issue of food security,” said Rajiv Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“We saw a global food crisis that pushed millions back into the grip of poverty and its brutal companion, hunger. But now, let us show the world the power of our vigilance.”

Statements like this signal that more direct government involvement is coming in the commercial production of food. As Top Producer readers, most of you represent the 10% of farmers who produce 85% of our nation’s food. It is your duty to contribute to the debate. I guarantee that policies coming to the table soon will shape the future of markets and the business of agriculture.

Wal-Mart Responds. Evidence that the ag business is changing is as close as your local Wal-Mart. The mega-retailer announced it will double sales of locally grown food to 9% by 2015. Wal-Mart also will ask farmers to report their water, energy, fertilizer and pesticide use per unit of food produced as part of its new “Sustainability Assessment.”

If the 800-lb. gorilla in the grocery industry can’t ignore changing food dynamics, neither can you. We will be talking more about how U.S. commercial growers play a role in food security and sustainability during a special panel discussion at the Top Producer Seminar in Chicago in January (visit

Until then, stay informed, stay committed and lend your voice to the discussion of food security whenever possible.

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