Food for a Brave New World

Kathleen Garnett

Over the past year we have seen Chem China merging with Syngenta from Switzerland. We see the two American giants, Dow Chemical and Du Pont looking to tie the knot once regulatory approval for their marriage of convenience has been agreed and we see Bayer aggressively wooing Monsanto. What were six will soon be three controlling the world’s global supply of seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. Time to consider what we in Europe want. With bio-diversity shrinking and huge corporations reducing the selection of seeds to a few, select mono-crops it is worth considering whether our future agricultural policy should be a balanced, rounded affair or – as the agri-chemical industry would like it to be – based purely on innovation. To help focus minds this post borrows heavily from the writers’ of dystopian literature to help envision what the European agricultural landscape could look like in 2025.

Animal Farm 2016

Farmer Snowball is a fourth generation farmer who owns a medium-sized farm and a herd of dairy cattle. He makes a meagre living out of selling raw milk and traditional cheeses at local farmer’s markets. His wife grows fruit and vegetables which she sells to a small but loyal customer base. They just about break even but both feel passionately that farming should be based on traditional best practice and the use of argi-chemical solutions relied upon at times of extreme necessity only. They believe that the traditions of their ancestors should be respected. Natural food derives from the soil never from the laboratory. Based on this principle they spend a lot of their earnings on maintaining the bio-diversity of their soil as well as the flora, fauna and wild animals living on their farm.

Professor Dr. Napoleon holds a doctorate in bio-engineering from a world-renowned University. He is head of department at a research institute on the outskirts of a high-ranking University town and Chair of their Innovative Food Rresearch Centre. Napoleon has never worked or lived on a farm in his life. He grew up in Palo Alto but became very rich thanks to a patent he obtained twenty years previously on an innovative new spelt seed containing 20% more gluten than the traditional variety.  Profits from his first patent were re-invested into Bio-Napoleon Inc. which he set up following the success of his SpeltSpin patent. Thirty per cent of the company’s earnings are devoted to  Napoleon Inc.’s RT&D Life Sciences lab.  A wise investment. Today 65% of the company’s profits derive from the patents generated from this department alone.

By 2016 Napoleon Inc. is in charge of a multi-billion dollar company with a foot-hold in an ever expanding portfolio of bio-engineered food. Applying the economic logic that a company must be seen to grow year on year Napoleon bought off most of his smaller competitors, merged with larger ones and destroyed independent suppliers by flooding the market with his more price-competitive products.

The price of food has slumped and Snowball’s already meagre income vanished. Unable to raise any funds or pay his creditors Farmer Snowball has no choice but to sell his land and  herd of dairy cows. The land on which Snowball’s herd grazed for generations is sold to a property developer based in Panama who sold it to a holding company of Napoleon Inc. on the Isle of Man called “Future Perfect”. Future Perfect have taken Snowball’s sign “Animal Farm” down and replaced it with “Innovation Farm”.  Once the battle is over Snowball disappeared and has not been heard of since.

Innovation Farm: 2025

Napoleon’s strategy to conquer the global market for food related products worked brilliantly.  To such an extent that by 2025 Napoleon Inc. controls 60% of the world’s market for seeds through patents and other related IPR instruments. A subsidiary of Napoleon Inc. set up in 2017, “The Healthy Food Company” trademarked and registered use of the words “All Natural Organic Foods”, “Green Foods” and “Wholesome Foods”. They are currently paying lawyers to trademark and register their new brand “Granny’s Home-made Jam” made from innovative bright pink strawberries. Any small, market trader found using these words is immediately sent cease and desist letters threatening expensive law-suits and crippling fines.

Innovation Farm now grows only two mono crops. GMO maize from which all carbohydrates derive and GMO soya beans from which all fats derive. Farmer Snowball’s barns have been converted into laboratories where meat is grown in petri dishes in highly sterile, hygienic conditions. To save farm animals from becoming extinct Napoleon’s charity “Love Nature” has created petting zoos where the last remaining breeds of cattle, sheep and chickens survive. The entire crop of maize and soya is harvested in one morning by tractors using artificial intelligence. The “All Natural Organic Foods” range of artificial butter, lard, drippings, goose fat and olive derive from the GMO soya bean and are flavoured by a patented range of artificial flavourings and emulsifiers that make GMO soya taste, look, feel and smell like butter, goose fat and olive oil. Their food is labelled 100% natural and wholesome and packaged in traditional brown pakcing paper sealed with a distinctive gingham ribbon. Consumers like the final product to look authentic.

Napoleon Inc. holds the patent to SoilUp which was approved in 2017 to solve the problems created by the over-use of patented nitrates and pesticides used widely during the course of the twentieth century. The patent is running out. Further, after nine years of intensive farming the soil in Innovation Farm is dead.  Napoleon’s subsidiary Chemalot, based in The Netherlands, is already working on a third-generation chemical to replace SoilUp. Chemalot is facing competition from another one of Napoleon’s subsidiaries based in South Africa called “Love Life” which specialises in bio-engineered organic material. They have developed three strains of new bacteria grown in harvested ears from the few remaining stock of goats in Africa. The super-bugs are capable of colonising dead soil in a matter of days rather than years. The results look promising. The food and agricultural authorities have already indicated they will approve it without the usual six month trial period since productivity on Europe’s innovation farms have decreased by 30% since 2016 and the full impact of SoilUp’s detrimental affects is threatening to leave Europe with a food scarcity. Love Life is in the process of patenting its new bio-engineered bacteria.

Napoleon is branching out into the pharmaceutical sector. A myriad of his subsidiaries are working on new, bio-engineered medication to solve the inexplicable increase in diabetes, cancers, hyper-tension, inflammation and child-hood allergies. The figures look promising. The development of new pharmaceuticals relating to chronic food related diseases is expected to see a six figure growth in the coming decades.

Finally, to ensure there is no risk that Snowball could ever re-appear with a fresh army of traditionalists, Napoleon has strengthened the lock to Nature’s attic. Sitting alongside traditional  food in a dusty attic we find Nature showing signs of senility and dementia. Years of confinement, ridicule, mockery and lack of use are beginning  to take their toll on her mind. Exact method is becoming foggy. Once familiar recipes and farming wisdom are being forgotten. Nature’s hands are frail – soon she will pass away and be forgotten. Napoleon guards the entrance to her attic with a specially selected guard of scientists whom he has trained since they were young pups at University. He places the key to her room under his pillow at night until she is dead.

Traditional, natural food and method could yet be his Waterloo.

The question this generation must ask themselves in 2016 is: are we really going to be so unquestioning of the “innovative” policies of these huge seed corporations that we are blinded to adopting a more rounded, balanced approach to our food and agricultural policies?

Illustration design by Adam dCosta who kindly allowed euperspectives to use his image.

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