UN food summit accused of favouring big business ahead of farmers

Ireland expected to back ‘food systems’ approach to ensure sustainable production

The Coalition’s food strategy has been heavily criticised by climate non-governmental organisations for failing to address the issue of methane emissions. File photograph: Getty

The Coalition’s food strategy has been heavily criticised by climate non-governmental organisations for failing to address the issue of methane emissions. File photograph: Getty

 

Almost 150 countries including Ireland are set to endorse a global shift to sustainable food systems at a UN summit on Thursday.

However, the gathering has been criticised by Trócaire as “favouring corporate interests ahead of small-scale farmers”. The Irish aid organisation was supported in its critique by farming organisation the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association. It claimed the possibility of anything meaningful emerging from the summit was “virtually nil” because “the dominant role of multinational retail corporations in global food systems” was not addressed.

The “food systems summit” in New York will feature pledges by countries on moving to more sustainable food production to withstand the climate crisis, hunger, poverty and inequality.

These will include commitments to radically reduce food waste, ensure greater availability of school meals for children and scale up of agriculture innovation. President Michael D Higgins is due to address the opening session.

What about methane emissions?

The Government’s new food strategy, Food Vision 2030, which adopted a food systems approach was unveiled earlier this year. But it was heavily criticised by climate non-governmental organisations for failing to address the issue of methane emissions.

National strategies are expected to support “more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems” with less emphasis on intensive production and increasing emphasis on “agro-ecological” farming.

Trócaire, however, expressed concern “the summit agenda is favouring corporate interests ahead of small-scale farmers who produce approximately 70 per cent of the world’s food”.

It also called on the Government to play its part in tackling the spiralling world hunger crisis by becoming a global leader in sustainable food systems, including spending a larger proportion of overseas aid on sustainable agriculture.

While the summit was initially characterised as a “people’s summit” to address nutrition, sustainability, equitable livelihood and resilience, “the proposed solutions on the agenda are narrow, concentrating primarily on ways to boost large scale production”, it added.

Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra added: “The world is facing it’s most challenging food crisis in history . . . It is beyond time for a radical transformation of our industrial agriculture and food systems. Ireland will be represented at the Food Systems Summit by President Michael D Higgins. He and other world leaders must insist on change.”

Ireland must play its part in tackling global hunger by implementing domestic agriculture and food policies which secure ecological sustainability and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, according to aid agency Goal. Its deputy chief executive Mary Van Lieshout said while Ireland was committed to tackling global hunger, it was important to get things right at home as well as overseas.

She added: “As a current member of the UN Security Council, Ireland is ideally placed to take a leadership role among developed nations by implementing domestic policies on topics such as climate change and food production.”

Goal also suggests that Irish food policy should move towards “more sustainable diets and less consumption of livestock products through incentives and supports”.

Until the dominant role of multinational retail corporations in global food systems was addressed, there was no chance of introducing the kind of fundamental shift towards environmental and economic sustainability, said ICMSA president Pat McCormack.

He cited the Irish “pathway” paper – published to coincide with the summit – and noted there was no reference to the pricing of food, “the one element without which it’s not possible to understand either the challenge or possible solutions”.