SG2 Held A Lively Discussion On The Organic Food
Members of SG2/Café Global Chat held a meeting in Insadong, 2011, which included citizens from around the globe. The invited speaker was Kyoto University Professor, Dr. Shuji Hisano, an agriculture and political economist who focuses on food in the context of globalization and localization. Sometimes this combination is called ‘glocal.’
The discussion opened with a dinner and general conversation between the 20 attendees. After dinner, Dr. Hisano gave a brief discussion of his work and then fielded questions from the group. The topics ranged from hunger in the world to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to the necessities of organic farming as a local phenomenon. Dr. Hisano reported that plantings of GMOs are widespread and that there are four or five major biotech crops: corn, soybean, cotton and canola. The US, Brazil and Canada have large investments and areas of cultivation of the ‘technology.’ In the U.S., biotechnology is heavily used in agriculture, where approximately 95% of soybeans, and 90% of corn, are genetically altered. He argued that biotechnology is efficient only for big farmers. For small farmers, such as in India, in many cases, GMOs have been devastating to villagers. Among a small number of companies, like the biotech giant, Monsanto, a large percentage of the world’s genetic material in seed form, is controlled.
Various trade pacts influence agriculture on the global level as well. U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea, depend on US food products. However, interestingly enough, soy beans originated from Asia; these are called ‘land races.’ Today, Japan and South Korea have to depend on imported soy beans from the U.S., a situation which is lamented by both Japanese and South Korean farmers because of the loss of food sovereignty and security. Recent, significant price increases have led many to question food security, both in Asia and around the world. In poor countries, the price increase has been devastating. In Asia, although the U.S. has guaranteed food, in which, there is no need for East Asia to produce its own food, Dr. Hisano says he has less confidence in the U.S. vis-a-vis their bilateral relationship and conflict of interest, between the U.S. and Japan. At the moment, the U.S. is pressuring Japan to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). Once Japan joins the TPP, U.S. food
products will flow into Japan, and Japanese agriculture will collapse, Dr. Hisano explained. The U.S. needs Japan in the agreement because of the clout of the Japanese economy as the two countries can heavily influence the rest of the Pacific region.
Overall, Dr. Hisano’s suggestion is that East Asian countries should withhold at least 50% of their own local foods for sustenance; while another option for food sustenance is to avoid wasting food. Most of the developed countries, the US, UK, Japan waste 30% of foods. It also should be noted that a large part of grain crops are used for cattle feed rather than for humans. Concerning hunger and the use of grain crops and GMOs in the U.S., it is also of concern that the country has approximately 50 million people at risk of hunger. With massive plantings of GMOs and the world’s largest economy, many question the system of distribution in the U.S. and thus in the world. Although, a large number of scientists claim that genetically modified crops are safe, Dr. Hisano objects on many points from science to hunger to economics. Considering agriculture today, Hisano believes, from a survey of the research, that organic policies and advanced organic agriculture which is embedded in a local economy, is the way of the future as citizens continue to exert pressure on the global food system.
South Korean organic farms are losing
Dr. Shuji Hisano, an agriculture and political economist, is a Professor from Kyoto University, Japan.