As farmers in the US are feeding candy to their cows because it is cheaper per tonne than corn (circa $160 v $320 a tonne) which has risen in price due to a drought in the US, we are seeing another pinch in the corn belt and price hike, potentially on par with 2008 price rises. Yes – that’s right US farmers are feeding candy to cows. The discarded sugar candy, chocolate, and ice cream sprinkles are mixed with hay for roughage and fed to the cows to fatten them up. How screwed up is our food system that we can take corn as a raw material, convert it to corn glucose based syrup, create sweets out of it then sell it to farmers (some of it is left over from the candy processes) to feed to cows as a cheaper replacement to corn?! When we shouldn’t really feed cows corn in the first place (their digestive systems are not designed for it, hence many food mixes combining the highly calorific corn with other roughage so the cows can digest it) let alone give them diabetes from candy! What is the logic behind icecream sprinkles being fed to Daisy to produce cream to make your ice cream for sprinkles? And this sugar coated topping is literally just the tip of the iceberg when delving into the state of the world’s food system and its paradoxes and controversies.
A few days after reading about this, I attended a workshop on agriculture and climate change. A Dialogue on Transformation. This one was about what we can do to unite on key issues that are affecting different interest groups in these sectors, which overlap but are actually often separated by teams in NGOs or government or international organisations. What are the pressing issues and how can we transform the status quo to take into account issues like the right to food (especially in light of the recent EU report that Biofuels are in deed taking key food from people)? On the right to food (and certainly not the right of cows to have candy) there were some interesting conversations that came up. One man raised the fact that his right to food is in fact the right to eating certain kinds of millet at times of the season in line with his beliefs and customs. It is not simply “here’s your food, now shut up” as he put it, but actually considering the cultural aspects of the right to food and the right to the right food. A lady raised the question of how to curtail excess consumption and waste of food products- to some the right to food is the right to the most expensive strawberries flown half way around the world, so how can we address this? When to others the right is to give your children a meal and not to boil stones in a pot of water to fool them dinner is coming. There are so many interrelated issues: when addressing also small holder farmers, their subsistence farming practices, their seeds, their land tenure, the impacts of climate change on all of this and the effect of development polices also.
The questions were deep and unanswerable for many. While I found nothing to be particularly transformative about the dialogues nor the workshop facilitation style, I did feel the power of getting key actors to talk on common issues and form alliances to try to solve issues their networks face. I had naively just assumed that this is what NGOs do already, but if this workshop was transformative for them, then perhaps I was wrong: it seems these groups do not cross fertilise their ideas and harvest them like their rhetoric on farming practices suggests they should. To solve the candy to cows debacle means they certainly should!