Yesterday, Al Jazeera TV invited me to their news programme to talk about the mysterious mass poisoning of vegetable plants in Australia. It set me thinking. In today's world, food can become a soft 'terrorist' target which can be more lethal than bombings. The more the food -- from farm to fork as they say -- is concentrated in the hands of a few companies, the bigger is the threat.
Al Jazeera asked me about the increasing concentration of food, and my reply was that at present not more than 10 food companies, of which the predominant share belongs to 4 or 5 agribusiness companies, controls bulk of the global food supply. Such a concentrated system makes the entire food chain more vulnerable. My suggestion is that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that is behind concentration of food in the hands of a few agribusiness giants, need to ensure that diversity of food systems is maintained for global food security.
"What happens if next time the 'poisoning' is of rice and wheat grains?" I was asked. "The impact will be global," I replied, adding "This is where the world needs to appreciate the diverse farming systems that exist in India. Even if 'poisoning' of nursery plants had taken place in India, its impact would have been minimal. It wouldn't have sent the vegetable prices zooming as is being experienced in Australia.
In a way, increasing control over the food chain is akin to monoculture. The world has failed to draw any lessons from the Irish Potato famine that happened some 200 years ago. One disease erupts and the entire crop was wiped out resulting in an unprecedented famine. The same can happen now, only the scale and scope is different.
This is probably the first time that a food sabotage -- whether through a terrorist activity, vandalism or business rivalry -- at such a large scale has been observed anywhere in the world. Seven million plants, including 4 million tomato, brinjal and capsicum saplings, were reportedly poisoned with a herbicide in sprinklers in a major nursery.
Veggie prices likely to rise after plants poisoned
ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) _ Was it a competitor or just a vandal who poisoned 7 million vegetable plants at a seedling nursery in Australia?
The sabotage _ estimated at a loss of 23.5 million Australian dollars ($20.3 million) _ could more than double produce prices across the country due to decreased supply.
About 4 million tomato seedlings were poisoned, as well as bell peppers, melons and eggplant. The region of Bowen, in northern Queensland state, grows the majority of
Australia's winter vegetables.
Police investigations found that a herbicide was introduced in late June into the irrigation system of the Supa Seedlings nursery, which sells its seedlings to farmers for planting. Workers noticed the wilting and dying plants between June 20 and June 25.
Townsville Police Acting Inspector Dave Miles said police were considering a range of motives. ``It could be a grudge, it could be competition based, it could be the result of time-established market share, or it could be an act of vandalism,'' Miles told reporters Wednesday. He said 12 detectives were working on the case and would investigate possible links with three previous poisonings since 2002.
The owners of Supa Seedlings declined to comment to the media about the poisoning. Denise Kreymborg of the Bowen District Growers' Association told Sky News Australia that the poisoning affected 350 hectares of production land with the potential to produce about 200 tonnes of fresh produce. She said about 30 growers would be affected. She said growers would continue harvesting their established crops in the next two months, with prices likely to spike around September when the lost seedlings would have been on the market.
`You can expect prices to double or even triple, we don't know for sure,'' Kreymborg said. ``There's still going to be tomatoes, capsicum, melons, zucchinis and eggplants grown in this area, just not as much.'' #