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Food politics are the political aspects of the production, control, regulation, inspection, distribution and consumption of food. The politics can be affected by the ethical, cultural, medical and environmental disputes concerning proper farming, agricultural and retailing methods and regulations.
Government policy now plays a significant role in the production, safety, and distribution of food. The government can regulate the proper storage and preparation of foods, and the enforcement of these regulations has been strongly influenced by public outcry following outbreaks of food poisoning. As a result the inspection of food has become a function of the government.
The use of certain technological advances to enhance the production of food has become a controversial political issue. The increasing use of factory farming techniques have resulted in criticisms, as opponents believe these methods increase the risk of foodborne illnesses and other risks to the food supply as well as severe environmental degradation with regards to extreme levels of ammonia and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane being released. With factory farming (aka Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs; or feedlots) many have open air manure lagoons that create major problems when they often leak or the run-off enters local bodies of water, sending toxins into the water supply. The introduction of genetically modified food has likewise become controversial, and there has been much criticism about the risks of gene transfer and food consumption. Finally, there are political activist groups who have concerns about the proper handling of animals, such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
In the past, the denial of food deliveries has been used as a weapon in war. For example, during World War I the blockade of the central powers led to significant shortages of food. Likewise during both world wars, the German submarine blockade was intended to starve Britain into submission.
Food security is an important political issue as national leaders attempt to maintain control of sufficient food supplies for their nation. It can drive national policy, encourage the use of subsidies to stimulate farming, or even lead to conflict.
In 1974, the World Food Summit defined food security as:
- availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices
The charitable giving of food exists in a number of countries; the primary purpose being to provide basic essentials for the disadvantaged. Some government programs have also been established to assist with food donations. These programs provide food for school lunch programs, as well as the elderly.
Malnutrition and starvation continue to be a persistent problem in some areas of the world. The effects of low agricultural output can be exacerbated by internecine struggles, such as the famine conditions that occurred in Somalia during the 1990s. But even under more stable conditions, hunger persists in some nations. Images of starvation can have a powerful influence, leading to charitable and even military intervention.
During the late 1990s and early 21st century a significant amount of discussion and debate has developed surrounding the role of supermarkets in the retailing of food and the impacts of supermarkets both on the supply and production of food. Due to the buying power of the large supermarket chains they can put huge demands on producers, often pushing prices artificially low, whilst still making large profits on the food themselves with some products selling at over 400% the price paid to, whilst farmers may only make 50p profit on each animal produced domestically. This buying power also allows supermarkets to transcend national boundaries in sourcing food, for example in the UK where the food market is highly dominated by supermarkets only 25% of apples sold in supermarkets are produced domestically with out-of-season cox apples being flown 14,000 miles from New Zealand, despite the UK being a natural producer of apples. Furthermore due to the national nature of the supply networks used by supermarkets often involve domestically produced foodstuffs being transported around the country before being delivered to retailers, creating a huge impact both on traffic and pollution.
- Animal welfare
- Free range
- Global Food Security Act of 2009 (in the US)
- Grass fed beef
- Organic food
- Sustainable agriculture
Notes and references
- Kootenay Co-op Radio's Deconstructing Dinner - a weekly one-hour radio program that discusses the impacts of our food choices
- Politics of Food is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that is committed to the creation of a locally based, sustainable food system that is nutritionally, ecologically, and economically sound.
- "Stuffed & Starved" - News, opinion and resources on the world food system and politics.
- "The Battle for Healthy Ads: Gauging the Impact of Junk Food" at AnimationInsider.net
- "Food Politic: Journal of Food News and Culture"