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Food Fights

October 27th, 2002 · No Comments

The authors of this piece in Counterpunch are dismayed that public ire has focused on African rulers who rejected food aid in the form of genetically modified crops, rather than getting all frenzied about an impending Attack of the Killer Tomatoes — which, apparently, is what will happen if GM crops manage to crossbreed with their genetically pure cousins. What caught my eye was this fantastic line: “There was no space for the discussion of alternative food supplies or of the human right to safe and culturally appropriate food.” Now, you might’ve thought you merely have a right to make other people grow food for you. But that’s racist, neocolonial thinking there, bub! You additionally have a right to dictate the nature of the food you’re provided with in some detail, to ensure that it’s “culturally appropriate.” So pray famine never hits France; it’d be a huge pain in the ass hunting down that many snails. (The “safe” part might be reasonable enough, if there were a shred of evidence to indicate that GM foods have ever made anyone ill in any way, which there isn’t.)

The interesting thing here is that the “culturally appropriate” constraint seems to be in conflict with the universality of the right, at least potentially. Like many, I have a preference for organic food, when I can get it — free range eggs, that sort of thing. But it would probably be quite impossible to feed anything remotely close to the current world population on the same terms. I guess we can conclude, then, that if enough people started to share that cultural preference, it would entail massive rights violations. Maybe we should just write a series of menus into the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights to avoid confusion; we can squeeze them in right after the provision guaranteeing the human right to clowns at your kid’s birthday party.

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