Positive moves on food and livestock policy being subverted by corporations, says FAO director

The director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s animal production and health division has spoken out against the power major food companies exert over decisions designed to improve our health and environment.

Dr Samual Jutzi said governments were not responding to the problems connected with the way we farm, eat and look after animals because agribusiness and food producers were able to affect decisions about the regulation of their industry.

“I have now been 20 years in a multilateral organisation which tries to develop guidance and codes for good agricultural practice, but the real, true issues are not being addressed by the political process because of the influence of lobbyists, of the true powerful entities,” he told the Compassion in World Farming annual lecture in London this week.

Corporate interests had succeeded in not only watering down legislation, but also delaying FAO decisions, he said – by years, in some instances.

Because the FAO operates on a consensus basis, each national government’s vote has an impact on the final adoption of policy.

Jutzi told the Guardian that proposals in 2008 for a voluntary code of conduct for the livestock industry had been scuppered because lobbyists had convinced a few governments to ask for more evidence – a scheme to reward countries for high animal welfare standards may yet be as much as a decade away, as a result.

“We ran into very serious problems: that’s where we noted that the economic interests of the lobbyists have [been working] in the background so certain governments would come up with strict opposition, really strict opposition,” he said.

Following the publication of the UN’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report in 2006, he added, “you wouldn’t believe how much we were attacked”.

Joyce D’Silva, Compassion in World Farming’s director of public affairs said it was “horrifying [that] the narrow interests of certain commercial sectors can have more influence than organisations which represent the values and aspirations of millions of citizens.”

“What we have had in the last 25 years is an economic paradigm where it’s assumed that markets rule and that global powers are the future, and the global powers par excellence are not countries but companies,” said Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University.

“What Dr Jutzi was referring to was the ritualised way in which it has been applied in the meat and animal industry. It [would have been] astonishing if he hadn’t said it, but it was nevertheless wonderful that he did.”

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