Food populism and politics, dead end?
In the last decades a number of political movements have won rural voters with promises to defend local farmers against global capitalism, commonly known as “Food Populism and Politics”. This has been easy enough, as farmers perceive agricultural policy to be an existential issue, whereas the (much more numerous) consumers of food products have, until now, seen agriculture as just one of many issues. For decades this has led to a status quo in policy, a staunch “defence of agriculture”, in reality, the preservation of 20th century farming techniques in rich nations.
This makes the events of last Thursday even more striking. As is known, the National Farmers Union called on a group of farmers to block the official opening of the food laboratories in Salisbury, and this as part of a long-standing campaign to force the government to rename laboratory grown meat as “meat substitute”. What the NFU had not expected was for animal rights activists to call for a counterdemonstration, in support of the lab grown meat, under the “stop the slaughter” rallying call. Still less, did the counterdemonstration organisers expect to see nearly one hundred thousand people turn up. No doubt these numbers were bolstered by the latest batch of viral videos exposing extensive animal cruelty on UK farms. But much more decisive was the backing of environmental movement’s decision to align use of technology with the fight against global warming. Even if images of cows burping methane were prevalent, the real damage, as every report shows, is the vast quantity of fodder that is required. And the fact that lab grown meat is now cheaper than animal products when subsidies to farmers are stripped away, does not really help the farmer’s either.
In any case, the events of last week have unleashed a real political debate about the future of agriculture for the first time in at least a century. Will this be the end of the link between food populism and politics? The government is finally having to discuss whether to reorient farming towards a much more technology driven path, where only a few of the current farmers will survive. Certainly the boot now is on the other foot now, as it is the laboratory grown meat that is local, whereas the imported soja, as well as the pesticides and fertilisers used to grow the fodder that are the “foreign” products.
By Chris Thend, The On-Line Times, 14 May 2028
This blog post is part of 4Sing’s blog series News of the Future – a collection of fictional articles about possible future events that will shape the world of tomorrow. The articles are based on information we have collected, indicating weak signals for trends or risks. The future of food and its association to politics.