Preliminary CSM Comments on the HLPE Zero Draft Report on “Sustainable Agricultural Development for Food Security and Nutrition, including the Role of Livestock”
This document conveys the preliminary comments of the CSM on the Zero Draft of the HLPE Report. Given the short deadline for comments, the language restriction (text only in English) and the time needed to adequately consult within social movements, including alliances of nomadic peoples, peasants, women in agriculture, indigenous peoples, landless, migrants, agriculture workers and those representing the workers in the meat processing chain, this document features short and concise comments, which will be followed by more detailed feedback later in November.
1. Overarching comments
While acknowledging the significant work for the preparation of the Zero Draft, the CSM is deeply concerned by the narrative exposed by the current version and strongly believes that the next draft would require a significant re-orientation if it is to fulfil the mandate of the HLPE:
1. Lack of contextualization in the CFS mandate and human rights framework: Despite the title, the report fails to adequately locate sustainable agriculture, including livestock, within the context of the mandate of the CFS. First, the report appear to be much more driven by the self-serving conventional development of the sector rather than by the sincere desire to explore how such development can become a critical pillar to address Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). Secondly, when referred to, FSN is addressed as a need to be met by the market rather than as a fundamental right. Indeed, there is no mention, in the entire document, of the Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition, nor other human rights, despite these being one of the central pillars of the Global Strategic Framework (GSF) of the CFS. Thirdly, smallholders, another central pillar of the CFS and its GSF, are portrayed as a marginal and unproductive category. Lastly, both the lack of reference to rights and the non-centrality of smallholders contribute to the profound mischaracterization of Food Sovereignty, which is merely introduced as an intellectual debate in a box;
2. False narrative on the grand challenge of feeding the planet and focus on Yield Gaps: The report reiterates the grand narrative of feeding a growing planet and constructs the myth of the pressing demand for food that urgently requires a “productivity” revolution. This narrative is false and misleading. The reality is that there is no shortage of food, also considering that global food loss and waste account for approximately one third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption and derive largely from the agro-industrial model of production. Family farmers, especially small-scale farmers and food producers, feed 70 percent of the world population and are the main investors in agriculture. The challenge of feeding a growing planet should therefore be based on the centrality of smallholders, as recognized by the GSF, rather than on their mischaracterization as a marginal and unproductive category. Furthermore, despite referencing three different typologies of countries, three different agricultural development trajectories and four different livestock “systems”, these categories appear to be of little use since the overarching emphasis of the framework is focused on “yield gaps” to meet FAO’s projections of rising meat demand by 2050;
3. Aggregate view of livestock sector impact hides the fundamental ecological footprint of different production models, with no reference to agroecology: While introducing some classifications, the conceptual framework of the report addresses the livestock sector as one entity and describes its aggregated impact in terms of unsustainable use of natural resources, health risks and social concerns. Again, this is misconstrued narrative. These negative consequences are all the direct implications of the industrial-intensive mode of production and relate only marginally to the pastoralist, agro-pastoralist and smallholder mixed systems. Framing the sector by looking at its aggregate impact does not expose the diametrically opposed trends within the sector and their respective implications. Indeed, a large number of peasants livestock keepers and pastoralists, while pushed by global and national economic policies to intensify their production (rearing cross-breads and high-yielding breeds in place of local indigenous breeds, feed concentrates, stall-feeding animals in lieu of grazing, etc.), are today making concerted efforts to de-intensify and revert to agro-ecological livestock rearing practices. This means reverting to indigenous ecologically-adapted animal breeds, reverting from ‘specialised’ single commodity production systems to diversified multi-functional livestock rearing systems (manure, milk, meat, transportation, etc.), changing feeding regimes from intensive concentrate feeds to local fodder and crop-residues, and selling produce to local rather than distant markets. This is a strategy to respond to climate change (local indigenous breeds are more resilient and adapted, require reduced quantities of fodder and water and care, are more resistant to diseases), to adapt to scarce natural resources, and to be economically resilient and protected from unreliable global trade policies and regimes, that distort prices in national markets. This people’s reality completely contradicts and challenges the modelling projections of intensification and moving-up the value chain as being the most effective way to combat climate change and to meet production demands;
4. The pretence of complementarity and cohabitation of production models and the silence on the predatory nature of the agro-industrial system: When introducing classifications in terms of different production models, both within agriculture and livestock, the report portrays them as complementary to each other. The reality is fundamentally different. The benign characterization of the various production models does not expose the predatory nature of the agro-industrial system and the emerging evidence that, in the name of the grand narrative of feeding the planet, “intensification and specialization” are triggering the exit and exodus of millions of peasants, pastoralists and indigenous people from rearing livestock, the disappearance of literally hundreds of breeds (one per month from 2000-2006 as reported by FAO[i]), and creating enabling legal conditions for the further grabbing of land and water resources from their legitimate communities. There is no mention in the report of the often-violent displacement of communities and appropriation of their lands for the industrial livestock and feed industries, and the resultant loss of more sustainable livelihoods. This process often entail gross violations of human rights, bodily injury, illness, increased poverty and loss of assets and ways of life, and even death, and has been documented in numerous countries. The continued expansion of the agro-industrial complex is therefore undermining smallholders and their capacity to sustain their productive, territorial, social and political functions. It is itself generating the problem it claims to address. Furthermore, the narrative has completely failed to document the rise of oligopolies and extreme market concentration of inputs and the rapid, continued and unchallenged global consolidation of the industrial livestock complex (in both meat, dairy and feed). This reality continues to create enormous buyer power for both meat processors and retailers that drive much of the externalities referenced in the report, such as environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, global health problems, deteriorating worker conditions, animal welfare, among others. In fact, “bargaining power in price formation” is mentioned for the first and only time on page 81 in the conclusion;
5. Productivist approach and commodification of life: By promoting a “productivist” approach to agriculture and livestock, the report further promotes the aggressive commodification of life – human body, land, water, seeds and genetic resources, among others, that characterizes the agro-industrial model. We reject this notion and reaffirm our holistic understanding of our relations with our ecology and the cultural, social and political dimensions of productions and local markets. In this context, food is the expression of values, cultures, social relations and people’s self-determination, and our food systems are the expression of our cultural identities and human dignity, our ownership over our life course, and our sovereignty. The ‘productivist’ approach of the current draft also creates a blind spot to other roles and functions of livestock in non-industrial farming, including providing identity, social safety nets, status, insurance, and companionship, among others. These functions are not necessarily a ‘by-product’ of rearing animals for food. Often, the opposite is true, like when livestock provides draught power and means of transport. Hundreds of millions of people depend on these to plough and harvest their land, transport feed and water and bring their products to markets. In this context, strengthening animal health and welfare – for example by better access to veterinary services – is mutually beneficial;
6. The report exposes a very simplistic analysis of malnutrition: The root causes and factors leading to malnutrition in all its forms are many, complex and multidimensional and cannot be separated from their broader social, political and economic determinants. Indeed, the report mentions that “most people are hungry because they cannot afford food, not because there is no enough food in the world”, but leaves this statement completely marginal to its narrative. Indeed, there is no analysis of the drivers of changing dietary patterns and the report exclusively credits demand-side factors like rising incomes and urbanization for the growth in production and consumption of livestock products. This leads the authors to view industrial livestock and its continued expansion as necessary and indeed, inevitable. Supply side factors are woefully neglected as agents of change and forces shaping the direction of dietary changes. These include the massive marketing of animal-based foods, including fast food, and the enormous advertising budgets of large food corporations; the often close relationships between agribusiness and governments; the beneficial policies that speed industrialization of animal agriculture, including subsidies, tax incentives, limited or non-existent regulatory regimes, trade arrangements, public procurement, and few or no mechanisms to cost the enormous externalities of industrial livestock and feed production, or to recover these costs. At the same time, the report remains silent on emerging consumer movements that claim their rights to healthy, affordable and accessible food options as well as to transparent information, and to be protected (particularly children) from aggressive marketing of unhealthy food and beverage that promote the increased incidence of diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, some types of cancer and other diet-related non-communicable diseases;
7. The myth on the protein-demand and the silence on sustainable healthy diets: The projected demands of animal protein in the global south, forming the basis of the argument of an urgent need to augment production of milk and meat industrially, need to be questioned. On the contrary, the report unequivocally accepts it as a fixed element of its analysis, with hardly any mention of the completely unhealthy and medically inadvisable meat and milk consumption patterns of the global north (as highlighted by many nutrition experts and the WHO, which recently declared processed meat as carcinogenic[ii]). There is indeed a complete neglect of the necessary re-orientation of diets away from the excessive consumption of meat, milk and processed food, rich in salt, sugar and fat, towards healthier, diversified, sustainable and culturally-appropriate diets, based on higher consumption of fresh produce and diversified sources of proteins.
2. Specific comments
Ø Missing Trends and Drivers: First, there is no substantive discussion about the crisis faced by pastoralist communities, nor any political analysis of the drivers that negatively affect their livelihoods and production. Indeed, there seems to be no effort to reach-out to pastoral communities and their knowledge to describe and characterize their challenges in their own terms. Similarly, there is no substantive discussion about the interaction between the so-called “intensive” system with the “mixed-use” system of small producers, as articulated above. At one point in the report, the authors allude to contract farming as a way that mixed-use small producers are integrated and connected to the intensive largescale industrial system. However, they do not address at all the social impacts of contract farming in countries that have utilized this practice in poultry and pigs for decades, such as the United States, and what this could offer in terms of learning for the future;
Ø Missing reference to consolidation and conglomeration: As referenced above, trends and drivers should also have clearly illustrated the major consolidation that is taking place in the sector with as few as 10 companies driving the entire global meat value chain, with as many as 7 companies driving the global grain trade. Many of these companies are also doubling as financial traders of derivatives and contribute to price volatility, something the authors gloss over, with its detrimental effect to livelihoods of small producers. Somehow the power of the industrial complex to drive down prices and create market demand is completely absent from the report though the industry plays a central role in deciding the future of the livestock sector given its access to politicians in the major meat producing and consuming countries;
Ø Challenges to achieving sustainable agricultural development that helps meet food and nutrition objectives: These sections are wholly inadequate in presenting the actual social, economic, environmental and health and animal welfare challenges that industrial livestock production has brought to our communities (both for producers and consumers). Nor do these sections address the unique problems that pastoral or agro-pastoral systems face in relation to the industry and other developments. For instance:
a) Much is said about “missing data” of social impacts, but there is much documentation by trade unions and those working with migrant communities about working conditions in the meat industry, the lack of bargaining power of small producers, and the transformation of small and independent livestock production under the pressure of “economies of scale”;
b) Economic sustainability is simplified into a discussion about efficiency, trade liberalization and technology, including biotechnology, without actually addressing massive market failures of the livestock industry. For instance, only two European breeders dominate the world market in egg breeding, only 4 European and American breeding companies dominate the breeding of broilers. A similar analysis can be done of the pharmaceutical industry in providing medicines and vaccines to the livestock sector;
c) The report remains silent on the need for feed grain prices to be stabilized to curtail increasingly unsustainable and destructive market volatility for both crops and livestock caused by climate change, diversion of cropland to biofuels, deregulated financial speculation in agricultural commodity markets and rising demand for meat in China and other emerging market countries. Preventing feed grain prices from falling below the actual cost of production avoids an indirect subsidy to the industrial livestock production, which in turn allows livestock raised as part of more sustainable crop rotations in the countryside to compete fairly with less sustainable industrial meat production. Creating more sustainable crop rotations that include pasture fed livestock, will become increasingly imperative in the face of weather volatility caused by climate change, because farming with diversified crops rotations, including pasture, is more resilient than expanding feed grain monocultures. Consideration should therefore be given to the establishment of regional, national and global strategic grain reserves as one of the most effective policies available to directly stabilize prices;
d) The inclusion of animal welfare in the report text is welcome, but the discussion is mostly “instrumental” and therefore not fully representative. Indeed, the very real violence of the industrial livestock sector toward non-human animals, in terms of its dire and unacceptably cruel breeding and living conditions for animals, is not addressed. In terms of animal welfare, the report should put more emphasis on the synergies achieved in non-industrial farming systems, where placing the animals in the environments in which they have evolved, to which they are adapted and where they can fulfil their physical and psychological needs and natures, will result in the best long term outcomes pertaining productivity, livelihoods, health, resource use and ecosystem functions. Such systems, based on reciprocity, work with and benefit from the animals’ natural behaviours instead of going against them, like in industrial livestock farming;
e) The report is factually incorrect about the role that the livestock industry’s “intensive” system plays in contributing to antibiotic resistance, nor are the systems in developed countries far from sufficient in dealing with the challenge. The authors should do a proper review of literature, including the Global action plan on antimicrobial resistance recently approved by the World Health Assembly (May 2015);
f) The authors completely disregard the role of agrotoxins that are devastating rural communities where genetically modified maize and soy is grown. There is a vast body of evidence from the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, among others, that shows the devastating impacts of the chain on public health;
g) Finally, it is highly problematic that “trade” is proposed as a solution to food security for developing countries in meeting their “meat” demand. The world market for meat is extremely thin, perhaps even thinner than rice and it is naïve to assume that a dependence on world trade would deliver the food security needs for animal protein given the experience in the food crisis. The fact is that people can live without meat and dairy and even attain nutrition and food security if prices rose. A much more in-depth discussion should take place about the shift to more plant based diets, as mentioned above.
3. Conclusions regarding Pathways, Responses and Recommendations
The significant concerns articulated in this CSM feedback demand a fundamental shift in the overall narrative of the report and its conceptual framework. It is self-evident that pathways, responses and recommendations that emerge from a misconstrued narrative and conceptual framework would require complete redesign. We therefore refrain from commenting on the relevant sections at this stage. As CSM, we remain available to provide additional support to the HLPE Task Team in redirecting the report towards its intended objectives.