Sunday 15 November 2020

15th November - Lockdown 2 - Day 11 - "Corporate Diet"

Before I start, and before I get piled on, I respect anyone's choice to choose any particular diet based on their own ethical frameworks. This isn't what this blog is about and each to their own. 

I have been very concerned of late by supermarkets pushing what are often ultraprocessed foodstuffs marketed and supported by big corporations under the guise of "plant-based" or "vegan". I first started looking into this when I saw a big stack of black plastic and plastic wrapped ready meals in a supermarket under a big sign advertising "Veganuary" last year. It struck me as very odd that what is purported to be a diet that is marketed as being "better for the environment" should be used as a pretext to push what looked to be very processed foodstuffs containing a multitude of ingredients, not all of which I recognised, in what is often a difficult to recycle plastic format. 

One of the first things I looked into was the term "ultra-processed". I was already familiar with the term "processed food", but this is a term that denotes a very high level of manufacturing involvement and processing in the ingredients of products, often pre-prepared meals and other items. 

Joanna Blythman - a regular columnist in various newspapers - sums up "ultra-processed" here very well 

I also came across the terms "pea protein" and "pea isolate". Now, on the face of it, peas, what can be wrong with peas? In their normal form, cooked or raw, they are a tasty and nutritious vegetable, cheap and available fresh or frozen. But then I read about the manufacturing process for the extraction of pea protein and this is a very good example of the ultraprocessing method. Soya protein is also extracted in a similar process, using hexane - derived from oil, although it is said that the extraction of pea protein does not use this. 

As Joanna Blythman says, the more processing takes place, the more a multinational company can "add value", in other words, charge more and claim more market share. More market share for multinationals is often at the expense of local companies and farmers. 

Burrowing deeper into this, I started to read about the EAT Forum, founded by the Stordalen Foundation, which was founded by a Norwegian billionaire and his wife, having made their money in hotels, shopping centres and owning an airline. They also seem to spend a lot of time travelling by their own private jet around the world  Which to me doesn't seem like they are walking the walk when it comes to reducing their emissions. The EAT Forum came to a lot of public attention when they proposed the EAT-Lancet Diet, primarily plant based which has been the subject of a lot of controversy and indeed may not make the claims it does  and throws up some really odd suggestions

This lead me on to FReSH which was founded by the EAT Foundation and World Business Council for Sustainable Development with the involvement of the companies shown in the graphic below

The involvement of big food corporations such as Cargill and Pepsico as well as big agrochemical companies such as Bayer and Syngenta as well as a host of other huge multinational corporations in proposing what seems to be a global diet is really quite concerning. These corporations are able to lobby Governments at ministerial level and often have slowed down or even caused abandonment of many proposed beneficial environmental changes, or stopped harmful chemicals from being banned. 

Of course, any agrochemical company would be very interested in a proposal that results in more crops being grown with, of course, more of their product being used upon them. 

As I went into this further, I noted the involvement of the WEF - World Economic Forum . You may have heard of it in connection with a gathering of the rich and powerful and Government representatives at Davos, Switzerland, every year, which in years gone by has been the focus of many anti-globalisation protests. Attendees are whisked there in what is one of the largest gatherings of private jets in Europe......

Frédéric Leroy has been doing some great digging on the links between all these organisations and shows how plans under heading of #GreatReset and #BuildBackBetter (some of which seem very benefical on the surface) for post Covid-19 policy also include a diet part. Robert Kennedy Jr also goes into detail about how the WEF is proposing quite far reaching changes on the back of Covid-19 rebuilding. The mission statement of "Impossible Foods" - with close links in the this area and recently in the press for the "Impossible Burger" has a mission statement of "Eliminating the need for animals in the food production system by 2035". 

Now, before anyone thinks I am going down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, these are verifiable references and published aims and policies that I have referred to above. My great concern is this, the WEF, FReSH, EAT etc are taking what are quite genuine concerns of many people about the impact of their diet upon this planet, and using this to nudge consumers in the direction of products that are marketed with huge budgets, made by the same corporations that have done so much to destroy biodiversity and indeed have often exploited not just natural resources but people in low income countries as well. 

With the involvement of huge agrochemical companies, that are well known for lobbying governments and the EU to slow down or stop harmful chemicals being banned, a switch of land to more crop growing will come with significant impact on insects and pollinators, as well as the known impacts of run off into streams, and sometimes human harm too from chemical spraying. The "chemical cocktail" effect of multiple sprayings is under-researched and such as Dave Goulson here in the UK has been looking into this and his books about bees give great insight into these effects. 

Finally, in terms of here in the UK, what we have a lot of is pasture, in fact much of our land is not suitable for growing crops but is very suitable for livestock. Livestock farmers here have already had to cope with suppressed prices for their animals at market, a massive drop in the price of wool, and shortly the potential loss of EU as a major export market with the cliff edge of the end of the Brexit Transition period. Grassland is a carbon sink, it sequesters carbon, and if you go back to the time of the Second World War and afterwards, up to 97% of our wildflower meadows - formerly grazed - have been lost to the plough (albeit in the 1940s from some necessity). So, ploughing up grassland - even if that area of the UK is suitable for crops - will release that stored carbon into the atmosphere. Also, if we have fewer animals here in the UK and then rely on more imports of plant based foods, again that will push up emissions, and indeed outsource environmental harm as many other countries do not have the same environmental standards as we do here in the UK. Also, animals produce manure, which in a regenerative and rotational farming system goes into fertilising the soil without the need for chemicals. 

Again, if one chooses not to eat meat for ethical reasons that is up to one's own conscience, but my point is that without careful selection of where the replacement foodstuffs come from and how they are made, it is not necessarily going to be a good choice for the environment or indeed some of the people who produce this food. It may well hand more profir and power to corporations that have already caused a lot of harm to the environment. Do we really want big, almost unaccountable corporations and forums telling us what we are allowed to eat? Your local sheep farmer does not have anywhere near the same voice and influence as such as Bayer or Monsanto. As we have seen with the latest UK Government Trade Bill, even massive campaigning by farmer's representatives and public petitions for food standards, have only had limited effect on the legislation, and it will be to the detriment of those who get up in all weathers and at all hours to produce our food. 

I for one will be continuing to buy my meat from a local butchers, with the animals from whence it came being raised in Yorkshire, much of which at a farm just three miles from my house. I grow a lot of my own vegetables and fruit, but those I buy in I try to get mostly from local greengrocers and farm shops or markets. Surely a diet free from as much factory processing as possible is better for your health and for the environment. Supporting local producers as far as possible keeps money in the local economy. Supporting fair trade goods for those items that have to come a long distance - for instance fair trade bananas - means that the producer gets more of the income from your purchase rather than a corporation beholden only to their shareholders. Of course, one can only do so much, and there are the limits of accessibility, money and time to consider. However, in order to produce a fairer world for all, we should ensure that those who produce our food are the ones benefitting from our purchases as far as possible rather than unaccountable corporations and opaque forums for billionaires to work out how they can get richer. 

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