Massey Professor Climbs Proudly Into Bed With World Bank

Danyl Strype of Disintermedia.net.nz exposes the links between the manufactured panic about food safety, the push for corporate control of the global food supply, the World Bank, and Massey University Professor Hamish Gow.

Hot on the heels of the controversy over Massey University lecturer Dr Mike Joy's public comments about the state of our environment, and the concerns around the Food Bill (which we are assured is simply about food safety by both National and Labour), Massey Professor Hamish Gow recently announced that Massey has been chosen by the World Bank to deliver a Global Food Safety Partnership, funded by a handful of food corporations and the US Government.

Gow's title - "Professor of Agribusiness" - says it all really. Massey University is well known for its origins as a farming college, and employment of enthusiastic cheerleaders for factory farming, biotechnology, and other aspects of the industrialization of food. This announcement adds weight to the suspicions of Food Bill critics that its "food safety" justifications are a smokescreen to mask another global push for corporate control of our food systems.

Massey's press release describes the program as a "public-private partnership", and says it was "launched at a conference in Paris last week". Presumably this was the World Bank Global Food Safety Partnership Annual Conference held in December 2012. I found this information on the website of the Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF), a working group of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).

The introductory blurb on the FSCF website is worth quoting in full:
"Concerns about food safety in the Asia Pacific region have risen sharply, and spurred a high level, collective mandate from APEC Leaders to improve food safety standards and practices. In 2007, after the establishment of the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF), APEC Leaders agreed on the need to develop a more robust approach to strengthening food safety standards and practices in the region, using scientific risk based approaches and without creating unnecessary impediments to trade."

As in all corporate propaganda, the word "trade" is code for monetization and control. This claim about the recent emergence of food safety concerns is repeated by other corporate lobby fora like the Global Food Safety Initiative (more on them later). But how do food safety concerns clash with "trade" by any definition? Let's put this in context.

Starting in the late 90s, the public gradually became aware of the use of "biotechnology" like Genetic Engineering (GE) in food production, and the presence of unlabelled Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food supply. Governments and food companies came under pressure from massive public campaigns to keep GMOs out of our environment, and particularly our food. Combined with increased access to the internet, and a wider range of information about the adulteration of "conventional" food by agribusiness; farming poisons, toxic food additives, Bovine Growth Hormone, animal health scares like Mad Cow Disease and Foot and Mouth, and the implications of increasing food miles, the result was a worldwide disillusionment with the industrial food system.

Increasingly, people started to reduce their dependence on corporate-controlled supermarkets and supply chains, by supporting alternatives like organic shops, bulk bin shops, Asian and Indian grocers, and farmers markets. This ongoing transition increases trade opportunities for local growers, owner-operated retailers, food co-operatives, and social enterprises like Community Supported Agriculture schemes, as well as boosting the food security of communities, and the freshness of food, not to mention local economies. However, it is also an impediment to the growth of food-related "trade" in agribusiness poisons (herbicides, pesticides, fungicides etc), manufactured fertilizers, patented crops, irradiated food, and other horrors that help grow the corporate-dominated global economy.

Returning to the FSCF blurb:

"To this end, they called for increased capacity building to improve technical competence and understanding of food safety management among stakeholders in the supply chain, which include regulators, growers, packers, handlers, storage providers, processors, manufacturers, retailers and food service providers.

The Food Safety Cooperation Forum's Partnership Training Institute Network (FSCF PTIN) was created specifically to address the need to engage the food industry and academic food safety experts with the regulators, to strengthen capacity building in food safety. "

Well, that all looks great at first glance. I'm all for food safety, technical competence, and capacity building. Not so sure though, that regulators should be taking their advice from the food industry, or its pet academics, who go through university on industry-funded scholarships. I want to see regulators properly fund independent research into food growing, processing, and handling, by researchers who don't depend in any way on the funding or goodwill of any part of the food industry.

Returning to the Massey press release, we are informed that Professor Gow's "open source food safety knowledge network" recently won a "major international award", and that with his participation, the GFSP will "utilise an open educational model that would enable individuals, firms, non-governmental organisations, governments and international agencies to collaborate." Again, sounds great. I'm a big fan of open education, and a lot of things that are commonly described as open source (eg free code software, Wikipedia, CreativeCommons, WikiEducator.org, Appropedia.org)

However, I can't help but get suspicious when Gow is so enthusiastic about buzz phrases like open source that he strings them together into meaningless sentences like: “We need innovative solutions to share best practice, increase adoption, build capacity, lower delivery costs and more generally improve food safety systems across the developing world”. A quick web search turns up another Massey press release which reveals that Gow's "open source" network is actually sourced from "four or five companies" involved in the Global Food Safety Initiative, "a group comprising some of the biggest [corporate] food producers in the world" (GFSI is overseen by the likes of Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods, one of the world's largest processed food corporations, which was bought by tobacco giant Phillip-Morris in 1988). The award Gow and his team won turns out to be an "international effective practice" award from the Sloan Consortium, a corporate-sponsored USA-based NGO, who sell workshops and webinars about online education, and give ratings to online courses.

Anything this "Professor of Agribusiness" is selling is likely to be snake oil.
He and those like him, who burrow their parasitic PR machines into our public universities to give academic credibility to their pro-corporate think tanks, and use public money to run sketchy research projects as "public-private partnerships", need to be treated with the same skepticism as any other spindoctor on a corporate payroll. If you have any questions about the benign-sounding Global Food Safety Partnership program, and whether it masks any sinister agenda to further corporatize control of our food supplies, please contact:
Global Food Safety Partnership: GFSP@worldbank.org
Professor of Agribusiness Hamish Gow: H.R.Gow@massey.ac.nz

Finally, for all those who have dismissed any connection between the Food Bill and "CODEX Alimentaris" as the conspiracy theory of tin-foil hat wearers (I'm looking at you Kate Wilkinson), I'd like to leave you with a quote from Dr Sri Mulyani Indrawati - former finance minister of Indonesia (2005-10) and a Managing Director of the World Bank, from her remarks to the Grocery Manufacturer's Association Science Forum on April 4, 2012:
"We help countries to undertake the legal reforms necessary to establish the framework for sound food laws and alignment with international standards such as CODEX alimentaris."

Nek' minnit...

Comments

Commenting has now closed on this article.

Gow's sentence which you call meaningless is actually the key: "We need innovative solutions to ... increase adoption ... across the developing world". Adoption of what? Biotechnology of course. I.e. the traditional methods of forcing GE on countries like India no longer works, therefore new, 'innovative' methods, such as a nice sounding 'open source' information platform, are needed; all packaged up under the heading of Food Safety Partnership.

Thanks for your comment Peppertree. I'm not sure many readers would have picked all this up from the string of buzz phrases in that sentence, but yes, that is Gow's game. A quick web search for Gow's name and "biotechnology" is revealing. In a previous incarnation at the University of Illinois, he wrote a paper in which the stated goal was "to enhance the likelihood that agricultural biotechnology will contribute to the development in Central America and provide economic benefits to US producers":
"Agricultural Biotechnology, CAFTA, and the Development of Differentiated Product Channels",
http://www.imba.missouri.edu/funded/2005_8.php

He also wrote "Dairy Markets, Policies, and Trade in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union", in which "adoption of biotechnology" is implicitly an unqualified good:
http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/agsiatr01/14548.htm

Even more disturbing, in the context of the TPPA and the proposed hand-over of regulation powers currently held within Aotearoa to global mechanisms like the World Trade Organisation, is this one:
"How private contract enforcement mechanisms can succeed where public institutions fail: the case of Juhocukor a.s."
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169515000000876

Incidentally, Gow's LinkedIn profile is also quite informative. He's a Lincoln old boy, Bachelor of Commerce ("Ag") in Finance and Accounting. His Masters and Doctorate too are in farm-flavoured Finance, Economics, and Marketing:
http://nz.linkedin.com/pub/hamish-gow/3/993/8b9
(WebCited in case it gets hidden from public view: http://www.webcitation.org/6DmYWHSjC)

Clearly, Gow's expertise and his first priority is global business. Food and the people who eat it are just marketing problems for him to solve.

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