Farming, Food and Global Rules
This chapter first gives a brief overview of today's dominant food system in which four key words
– power, control, risks and benefits – are seen as vital for the major actors in the system. It
discusses the dynamics of the system and then provides a brief background to the legal fiction
that is intellectual property – patents, copyright, plant variety protection, trademarks, and so
forth – and associated concerns as global rules on it continue to grow. Finally, the chapter looks
at the growing role of intellectual property in food and farming and the concerns surrounding
Serious doubts have been raised about the longterm viability of the industrial farming model that is spreading from the industrialized world to other countries. Yet the long-term viability of farming is central to ensuring food security for everyone on this planet (Box 1.1). Many now call for more ecologically sustainable approaches to farming built around biodiversity and ecology. Yet others, sure of humankind's inventive capacity or responding to their industry's interests, promote further intensification and industrial approaches to farming as the way forward. Thus the future direction of farming is highly contested (Lang and Heasman, 2004).
What is clear is that there are serious flaws in a food system that globally leaves more than 850 million people undernourished and over 1 billion overweight (300 million of them obese). Some 2 billion people also suffer from vitamin and micronutrient shortages. Undernutrition in pregnant women and young babies can have irreversible effects for life, while obese people's lives are threatened by diet-related noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and heart attacks.
For decades, governments have made fine commitments to end hunger and deal with malnutrition, notably at the World Food Summit held at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Headquarters in Rome in 1996 (Box 1.2). They have also recognized, at least since the first global conference on the environment in Stockholm in 1972, that the environmental impact and consequences of human activity on the planet are fundamental to our survival. Yet it took almost 20 years before the central role of biodiversity as the basis for healthy ecosystems was addressed internationally (see Chapter 5).
Agricultural biodiversity, which has been developed through the creative activity of farmers over thousands of years (Chapter 6),