Food, Crisis, And The Global Economy

Countering NZ’s Corporate Bonding

- Dennis Small

Either capitalism dies, or it will be Mother Earth” (Bolivian President Evo Morales, at the inaugural Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change at Cochabamba, April 2010; Cochabama is the city now famous for its rebellion in 2000 against the World Bank/InternationaI Monetary Fund (IMF)-inspired, foreign corporate privatisation of water).

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist” (Professor Kenneth E Boulding, economist & systems scientist, author of the essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth”, 1966).

“Most populations and many species go through boom and bust cycles; the fossil record is littered with them. Is there any reason why we should be exempt?” (Douglas Palmer, “The Origins of Man: An Illustrated History of Human Evolution”, New Holland Pub, 2007, p22).

“The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years” (Ronald Wright, “A Short History of Progress”, Text Pub, 2004, p3).

As the global food crisis deepens for us all in far-reaching implications - from lighting sparks for the struggle for democracy in North Africa and the Middle East, to kindling strife elsewhere – NZ’s political outlook remains focused on its narrowly perceived self-interest. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) John Allen is pushing what he sees as the “extraordinary opportunities” to supply food to a world population set to grow to 9.5 billion by 2050 (speech to the International Farm Management Association in Methven, March 2011). As has happened for so many years now, our national interest continues to be officially identified with the capitalist myth of global free trade, come hell or high water. Crises are continually spun as chances for our further material enrichment, not the symptoms of a failing system for which we desperately need to try and create viable alternatives.

So, despite the deplorable record of free trade theory and policy in food to date; all the enormous hypocrisy of big power practice; all the evidence of the deliberate undermining and exploitation of poor producers and consumers, coupled with mounting inequities between and within countries; and all the compounding costs of ecological deterioration, the NZ government is still wedded to its posturing pretence of food security for all. True to form as ever, the mainstream media continue to push their disinformation and dissimulation. The basic standard technique is simply to maintain silence on damning evidence, and marginalise any critical voices.

Most ironically, all this is true even though the capitalist realities of so-called “free trade” mean the rapidly growing foreign control of our own agriculture and land, and so the continuing erosion of our economic sovereignty, and of our supposedly sacrosanct freedom and democracy. The Crafar Farms sale controversy is only the tip of a largely hidden “pyramid scheme” within Aotearoa/NZ to use a term that historian Ronald Wright applies so appropriately to some key global trends (see his brilliant “A Short History of Progress”, op. cit.). But, then again, the suppression of vital information is in line with the agenda of the mostly foreign-owned media.

MFAT And The Facilitation Of Agribusiness Takeover

John Allen is a former CEO of NZ Post who was specially appointed by the National Party government to move MFAT in an even more commercial and export-oriented/foreign investment direction. Allen is enamoured with the prospect of seizing capitalist opportunities as he sees them. One of his key ideas is that “bigger is better”, the exact opposite in many ways of a more sustainable and co-operative economics (Press, 29/10/10). Think Big of the Muldoon era lives once more in its latest neo-liberal guise! Since MFAT’s focus is to increase our trade as much as possible in line with the imperatives of globalisation, the ruling assumption apparently is that the bigger the business the more likely it is to succeed on the international scale. Clearly Fonterra constitutes the star model here. But Allen is obviously appealing to the NZ entrepreneurial class, rather than more egalitarian, co-operative enterprise.

According to him: “We need to celebrate our entrepreneurs”, a theme long pushed by the Big Business Roundtable & co. (ibid.). For Allen, this is presumably so even though in Aotearoa/NZ such entrepreneurs often sell their businesses to overseas interests, let alone leaving a wake of wrecked incompetence behind them. Ever since the advent of Rogernomics in the 1980s, the NZ Establishment has systematically cultivated that essential core of capitalism - entrepreneurship, and its pursuit of calculated, individualistic self-interest and greed. This has been a deliberate, ideological programme of social engineering, assiduously aided and abetted for the most part by the mainstream media, and fostered through the public education system, and various other means of mass dissemination and cultural indoctrination. It reflects a key dimension of globalisation and its accompanying propaganda (“The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism” by Edward Herman & Robert McChesney, Cassell, 1997). Instead of individual creativity being harnessed for the furtherance of the collective good, the cultivation of entrepreneurship is geared to plunder our commons for the gain of the few.

Capitalist Missionaries

Within Aotearoa/NZ, journalist Colin James, one of these New Right “missionaries of corporate capitalism”, portrayed our country’s destiny in 1992 as being shaped by “internationalising forces [that] are increasingly determining NZ’s internal economic and social conditions and limiting its freedom of action to counter them in the interests of one social group or another” (“New Territory: The Transformation Of NZ 1984-92” (Bridget Williams, 1992, p296). How coyly put! Translate the coded message here: the will of the sovereign people of Aotearoa/NZ as expressed in democratic government will be increasingly limited. Obviously, the self-serving capitalist oligarchy of which James is an active member is the “social group” set to prevail over the rest (unless we can foil it). We shall pick up his latest spin on this theme and democracy towards the end of this article. But, to be fair, James is sometimes up front on this issue too.

For Colin James, the takeover of Aotearoa/NZ by the forces of corporate globalisation was what he called “The Quiet Revolution” (title of his 1986 book). In regard to our relations with Australia, James predicted that over time “a growing number of the laws governing economic activity will be written in Canberra, with only partial input from Wellington” (“New Territory”, p294). Today, the NZ Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) stands testament to that, along with plenty of other institutionalised and pending law. The NZFSA is a heavily Australian influenced body, which has a policy of reliance on corporate self-regulation as much as possible (i.e. as much as it feels it can get away with). It embodies the deep contradiction of promoting and facilitating free trade versus the enforcement of food safety requirements.

Politico-economic integration with Australia is rapidly proceeding with the signing in February 2011 of a comprehensive Closer Economic Relationship (CER) protocol. The move to a single market is to try and incorporate Aotearoa/NZ as virtually another Australian state. With regard to China, James also predicted that, “the logic of Chinese investment will be increasing Chinese influence over the economy”, given our indebtedness and dependence (ibid, p298). The current Chinese corporate assault on our agricultural system and other parts of our economy demonstrates this. Oddly, or perhaps revealingly enough, James – who was once a National Business Review Editor - has been an assiduous analyst and monitor of NZ elections, political parties, and voting trends.


So, even in the early 1990s for the opportunistic New Right, both China and Australia were seen as “internationalising forces”, i.e. forces of foreign control impacting on Aotearoa/NZ, to which we should adapt and accommodate ourselves. For Colin James, these were “international tides” that we could not ignore or escape (ibid.), but he was comfortably blind or accommodating to the implications of other “international tides”, especially the growing constraints on capitalism itself. For James, too, somehow, at the same time: ”New Zealanders are now expected to be more independent, more self-reliant” (ibid, p290). Again, this is code for privatisation and deregulation, i.e. creeping subservience under transnational corporation (TNC) control, whether our laws are written in Canberra, Washington, or Beijing.

These days, James laments the prevalence within Aotearoa/NZ of “Leftist diatribes equating globalisation with a rapacious capitalism/or ‘colonisation’” (see also ibid, chapter 16 & p322). Rather humorously, he seems quite nervous about the “Left’s revolutionary mill” and its capacity for the disruption of multi-lateral globalisation. Again, ironically enough, James who also writes on defence matters, saw Communist China in 1992 in its newly emerging capitalist form (some would say China’s current hybrid form is the worst of both systems!) as impinging more and more on our destiny. But subjugation to foreign control is evidently okay for people like James, i.e. so long as this control is capitalist.

Grabbing Capitalist Opportunities

Besides his journalist role, James is Managing Director of The Hugo Group, a Rightwing business consultancy, which strategically liaises between Government and private interests. Its panel members include a number of major firms and some Government ministries. Besides James, other Hugo Group directors are Economics Adjunct Professor Arthur Grimes, Chairperson of the Reserve Bank, and economist Stephen Toplis, Head of Research, Wholesale Markets for the Bank of NZ (BNZ). The Hugo Group has close links with the conservative Institute of Policy Studies at Victoria University. It also has strong corporate Australian connections – a working association with the International CEO Forum there, and IMA Australia, a marketing grouping whose primary objective is to get corporate Australia to capitalise on incentives, and so effectively exploit the business opportunities resulting from this. James is “the specialist in politics and government. He also has connections in Australian politics and the bureaucracy” (

Another Economics Professor and free trade enthusiast, Sir Frank Holmes, was a founding member of The Hugo Group in 1983, just as Rogernomics and the neo-liberal “revolution” was cranking up, and he remains a Group so-called “Emeritus Member”. The Hugo Group smugly and arrogantly primps and preens, promoting itself in very elitist fashion, viz.: “A high level group of executives and senior managers who meet in closed sessions to analyse trends in the overall environment in which business must develop strategy” (ibid.). Definitely no “riff-raff” from the lower orders allowed for this esoteric reading and divination of entrails, dung and the stars! More generally, the “open society” - in the sense of the free market - is tailored for milking by a self-serving (“symbolic analyst”) technocracy (see “The Work Of Nations: Preparing Ourselves For 21st Century Capitalism”, Robert Reich, Simon & Schuster, 1991).

Mainstream Media Cultivation Of Neo-Liberalism

With public policy being shaped along these lines, Fairfax Media’s NZ Business Hall of Fame both epitomises and illustrates the more market-oriented, Social Darwinist approach that has developed generally in the capitalist world under the neo-liberalist regime, with specific reference here to Aotearoa/NZ. The NZ capitalist oligarchy has deliberately set out to try and get the people to admire and defer to them with an orchestrated programme of mutual self-congratulation, and celebration. It has cultivated so-called “Tall Poppies” as part of a policy to try and justify politically mandated socio-economic inequities, thus undermining what had been Aotearoa/NZ’s greatest asset, its traditional egalitarian ethos.

The mainstream media have committed to this syndrome with the presentations of State-owned TVNZ in particular permeated by obnoxious class status assumptions (its’ News & Close Up regularly demonstrate this, along with all the “infotainment” and celebrity garbage). Over many years, the politico-economic establishment has regularly knighted and otherwise extolled businesspeople and pliable politicians for enriching themselves, union-bashing, and dismantling regulatory controls on their activities. From the Rogernomics era on, such social subjugation got an extra big boost. So the knights of the TNC-driven Business Roundtable ride on, grinding their armoured heels into the faces of the lower socio-economic orders.

Casino Capitalism

PM John Key has been affectionately and assiduously promoted by the TNC media as a real nice guy with no hidden agenda even as his Government slashed taxes for the upper class, rode roughshod over the democratic rights of Cantabrians on the environment and earthquake rehabilitation, further assailed union rights, and pressed ahead with plans to sell off our land, water rights and water quality for especial exploitation by affluent Chinese dairy interests and consumers, plus other national assets to TNCs. Now Key’s neo-liberal, class warfare agenda is staring us in the face along with more repressive legislation on surveillance and other heavy-handed measures, but the mainstream media of course still carry on with plenty of public relations (PR) spin (including State-owned TVNZ!).

Key, who worked at US investment banker and money trader Merrill Lynch from 1995 to 2001, gained the nickname of the “smiling assassin” there for sacking a lot of staff. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out that Merrill Lynch was one of the major US banks involved in scandals as 2001 and 2002 proceeded (“The Roaring Nineties: Why We’re Paying the Price For The Greediest Decade In History”, Penguin, 2003, p140). In reviewing the financial derelictions of the 90s, Stiglitz observed that: “The offences of Enron and Worldcom – and of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch – put most acts of political crookedness to shame” (ibid, p167).

Later, too, it turned out too that Merrill Lynch was one of the biggest peddlers of toxic junk bonds and derivatives, helping trigger the ongoing economic stress in the Western world. While nobody has implicated Mr Key personally in any wrongdoing, the record of Merrill Lynch certainly stands as yet another ugly testament to the damaging fallout of the free market on poorer people, both in the US and more widely. In its latest incarnation as a branch of the Bank of America, Merrill Lynch continues to make money from gross speculation in food and other commodities ( Meantime, under the Obama Administration, Wall Street still reigns supreme. More generally, the Tea Party movement and other reactionary forces drive America’s militarist market system towards a neo-fascist future, with a national security state and more imperial resource wars to try and hold together a disintegrating social system, torn apart by the contradictions of globalisation (Dennis has written about this in detail in “More Media Warmongering: A Sign Of Things To Come”, which is being published over two issues of Peace Researcher. Part 1 appeared in PR 41, July 2011. Ed.).

Entrepreneurs At Work!

Down Under too, the cultivation of the self-seeking entrepreneur has borne a lot of poisonous fruit in Aotearoa/NZ for the general societal welfare: from the widespread development of selfish, very materialist attitudes, through the formation of an underclass, to intensifying corporate concentration and externally imposed control. Yet MFAT CEO John Allen wants to mobilise more of this greedy, individualistic and acquisitive motivation for trade objectives, in agriculture and other sectors. In embracing the principle of “bigger is better”, he says that we need to reject “the attitude that achieving ‘bach, boat and BMW’ is enough” (Press, op.cit.). Greed is good!

PM Key’s personal penchant for conspicuous consumption finds expression in his $8 million mansion in Auckland, among other things. More pointedly for the Government, its controversial purchase of its new BMW fleet speaks volumes here. Allegations of possible impropriety have even been made by the Labour Party, given a political donation to the National Party around the time of the BMW deal. A party associated with the BMW deal, Team McMillan, was linked to this political donation (TVNZ, 6 pm One News, 11/5/11). In the face of denials of corruption from the accused, Labour drew an explicit connection with the practices of Merrill Lynch (Press, 12/5/11).

The Multiplying Contradictions Of Globalisation

Overall, MFAT’s John Allen envisages a strategic plan for farmers combining business, governmental agencies and New Zealanders abroad, targeting particularly the Chinese and Indian markets. MFAT’s approach would promote “Brand NZ”, or what has also been called the “NZ Inc” logo. It is all very short-term focused stuff so typical of the thinking of this particular Government. Rightly enough, Rod Oram, who is a green capitalist advocate for more high value exports, can condemn the National government for its demonstrated dedication to planetary meltdown, given this Party’s greater than ever commitment to fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, and “lots more irrigated dairy farming, effluent and all” (Sunday Star Times, 10/4/11 & 1/5/11). We know such commitment is fundamental for leading National Party Ministers such as PM John Key, Gerry Brownlee, and Tim Groser, and, of course, the boffins of Treasury who want an open door for takeover by foreign investment. As we carry on into the 21st Century, the blindly self-destructive nature of capitalism will become more and more evident.

Free market corporatisation of NZ is ideally intended to conform to a Government-prescribed plan according to Allen’s vision. As indicated, what Allen has articulated is the latest version of the free trade fantasy that so deeply informs our ruling elite. In a world of diminishing resources, peak oil, potentially devastating climate change, declining ecosystems, and other looming environmental and social challenges, Allen is yet an enthusiastic exponent of double-think. For him, the problem with economic growth is the mistaken belief that it cannot be achieved without putting pressure on the environment (Press, op. cit.). Again, this is eminently characteristic of the reigning National Party. Somehow then, Allen & co believe, we can have growing consumption – indeed beyond just the “bach, boat, and BMW”! – and keep the process perpetually sustainable, both locally and globally. Again, too, the crumbs will eventually trickle down for the rest for us from the Roundtable and co. Allen directs this latest version of the free trade fantasy at the capitalist mobilization of our resources for maximising food production at the best returns. For certain, the general goal of capitalist globalisation is ever increasing consumption – an absolute nonsense in a finite, finely tuned natural world. But then this is of course the usual rhetoric of capitalist globalisation, whatever national form it might take. The capacity for capitalist self-delusion is unlimited (see the scathing critique by well-known conservative political science professor John Gray in “False Dawn: The Delusions Of Global Capitalism”, Granta, 1998/2002).

Beyond Capitalist Claptrap!

Allen expresses then more of the very sentiments that have led humankind into the deepening pit now yawning below it. In these times, with “leadership” of this sort, it is vitally refreshing to turn back to the seers of the late 1960s and early 1970s who in a burst of searching, creative outpourings charted the future so starkly and clearly for us. They include names like Lewis Mumford, Edward Goldsmith, Lester Brown, EF Schumacher, Rene Dubos, Barbara Ward, Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, Edward Wilson and, of course, The Ecologist and the Club of Rome. They certainly had their differences, but they were absolutely united and correct in foreseeing the coming crisis of modern human life versus the planet’s ecological balance unless we made positive choices for the better (e.g. “Philosophers Of The Earth: Conversations With Ecologists”, Anne Chisholm, Sidgwick & Jackson/The Scientific Book Club, 1972/1974). Some, like Brown, Ehrlich and Wilson, are still going strong.

One of the leading “futures” analysts of this era was the famous French agronomist and socialist, Rene Dumont. Among his many publications, he was author of the inspiring manifesto “Utopia Or Else . . .” (Andre Deutsch, 1974: French title “L’Utopie Ou La Mort!”). Like so many of his colleagues, Dumont’s analysis, insights, predictions and warnings resonate today. He had this to say on agriculture: “The way we look at agriculture in the future will depend in essence on the number of mouths we’ve got to feed. Today’s ‘North Atlantic’ [includes NZ!] type of diet represents a luxury way of feeding people, and at the moment it is in fact exclusive to the rich nations. There is no chance of being able to distribute comparable quantities of beef and other produce from stock breeding to the world population of seven billion that is forecast for the year 2000 [actually reached this year, i.e. 2011], even if we managed to fulfil the most ridiculously optimistic forecasts for growth in agricultural output. An increasingly Spartan diet would thus have to be implemented as the size of the population increased. In particular, this would involve a vegetarian diet . . .” (ibid, p123).

In other words, a commitment to social justice means that we would mobilise available agricultural resources as efficiently and fairly for everybody as far as ecological conditions allowed (“A Short History Of Progress”, op. cit, pp128/9). This would be sustainable development in its most laudable sense. Obviously, various cultural and social factors would influence farming practices in different localities and regions as well, e.g. pastoral farming would continue along with the export of animal protein products as appropriate. In the case of Aotearoa/NZ, such protein export trade could be included in our transition to a more sustainable and cooperative economy. Both traditional and more modern sustainable agricultural practices can integrate animal husbandry with horticulture, and cereal production.

Cargo Cults And Fool’s Gold!

Let us contrast Dumont’s prescient statement of concern with that of our Trade Minister Tim Groser, who looks avidly on what he sees as the process of huge wealth creation in countries like China and India. He declares that: “ . . . the emerging economies are rethinking their view of food security. The phrase ‘food security’ sticks in my throat because for decades it has been used as the justification for massive protection barriers around markets – causing NZ huge economic damage and imposing considerable economic costs on the countries concerned through resource misallocation” (Speech to the NZ Dairy Business Conference, Rotorua, 6/4/11).

What is Groser’s solution to the problem as he defines it? He continues: “Today, we need to rethink the concept. Many of these countries will now depend on respectable food exporters like Australia and NZ for their future. In the case of China, for example, they have 23% of the world’s population, 9% of the world’s arable land, a huge and growing demand for high quality foodstuffs and major issues around water. This is creating space and opportunity for NZ” (ibid.). So there we have it once more: the same grossly perverse, short sighted, and narrowly self-interested propaganda line that we have analysed and critiqued closely over a couple of decades now in a range of publications, e.g. NZ Monthly Review, GATT Watchdog’s The Big Picture, Pacific Ecologist, ARENA’s publications, and of course Foreign Control Watchdog. And, of course, there is an extensive critical literature available from other sources overseas. No wonder some free trade ideologues feel choked as well as stuffed!

Free Trade Versus Food Security

Whereas NZ once used the free trade exporter Cairns Group as the vehicle for its agricultural ambitions in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it is now immersed in a widening network of bilateral and regional trade agreements and negotiations. Some years ago, Christian World Service (CWS) described the free trade outcome in food in these terms: “Mexico and the Philippines [a Cairns Group member], like many other developing countries, are experiencing a growing dependence on food imports and decreased food security . . . For small farmers and farm labourers, trade liberalisation has meant a loss of income and their traditional way of life” (“Talk Trade”, CWS Position Paper, 2003, p5).

The global free trade system has in fact destroyed food security for many of the world’s poor. Food systems expert Colin Tudge denounces a “global agricultural ideology based on ‘obsessive monoculture’ and global trade”, in which “rising meat consumption and rising population” will lead to ever greater hardship for “those in poor countries who already struggle to buy enough basic crops to feed themselves and their families” (“The Rough Guide To Ethical Living” by Duncan Clark, Rough Guides, 2006, pp164 &171; “So Shall We Reap”, C Tudge, Allen Lane/Penguin, 2003/4). In 2011 and beyond, we need to fight for food security harder than ever and regain lost ground at the same time.

The Struggle Against Subversion

Yet Establishment tame “Lefty” and media commentator Chris Trotter, who once suggested that the Government may have been right in using the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) on behalf of TNCs to monitor GATT Watchdog contacts (even if illegally!)*, laments how Tim Groser will never get his fabulously bright ideas implemented “to take full advantage of the vast geopolitical transitions reordering the globe” (Press, 12/4/11; Trotter’s bizarre plug for the SIS was excoriated in Watchdog 97, August 2001, “Trotter Trots Out Rot: The Strange Resurrection Of The SIS Break-In Case”, by Murray Horton, sort of stuff typifies the vacuum of understanding and moral concern on the implications of NZ’s free trade policy.

Trotter, incidentally, replaced John Minto as a Leftwing columnist for the Press. Whereas John wrote a concise and consistently excellent column geared to activist causes like food security, we now get Trotter’s conservative, confused, and bombastic musings, including even unashamed PR for PM Key and co. Obviously John was cutting too close to the capitalist bone! John is prominent in challenging the largely hidden agenda of Groser and co. in the free trade negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), involving NZ, US, Australia, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Vietnam, Brunei and Singapore (see also “No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking The TPP Free Trade Agreement”, ed. Jane Kelsey, Bridget Williams Books, reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 125, December 2010,; plus relevant articles in Watchdog, no. 126, May, 2011).

The Fight For Food Sovereignty

Groser refers to “resource misallocation” on the issue of food security. As with so much of the debate over free trade, ironies and contradictions run amuck here. Obviously Groser considers that the allocation of resources for dairying within Aotearoa/NZ is fundamentally sound whatever improvements might be made. Yet the National government’s record on the management of our natural resources has been heavily criticised in a number of aspects, and its overall development and environmental policies roundly condemned. Furthermore, with specific regard to dairying, the cultivation of a very large scale and still expanding, and indeed intensifying monoculture, means a rising toll of environmental costs. These costs comprise extensive energy use, including fossil fuels; mining of our waterways and pervasive water pollution; high greenhouse gas emissions; crops for fodder instead of human consumption; destruction of tree and other plant cover; and even the import of ecologically harmful palm oil products for feed purposes (the prime cause of deforestation in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, with deforestation contributing overall about a quarter of human-induced global warming).

All this, too, is facilitated under the cover of governmental subsidisation in the form of plenty of scope for tax avoidance/evasion; direct funding for irrigation schemes and development; freedom from pollution costs (including greenhouse gases) for as much and as long as possible; etc. In the longer term, industrial dairying is simply not environmentally sustainable, and certainly not on the scale currently practised, let alone envisaged. At the same time, accumulating debt and other costs spur on the processes of corporate concentration and foreign control within the dairying sector and allied spheres, e.g. rural services. Many mainstream media commentators are like Martin van Beynen who compares Aotearoa/NZ very favourably with Greece, indulging in the fond delusion of riding on the cow’s back, and so repeating our experience with sheep farming (“Cows Yes, Greece No”, Press, 25/6/11). For such commentators, we are still on the road to advancing prosperity, despite some “terrible things to rural NZ” done by industrial dairying (ibid.). Of course, in the globalised economy, the fate of Greece and similar countries ultimately affects the prospects of everybody.

Feeding The Few At The Expense Of The Many

From a global perspective in fact, climate change, and such costs as just outlined, point to a complex of mounting constraints on the productive capacity for human consumption and proper food security. Most bizarrely, however, Trade Minister Tim Groser claims “high quality foodstuffs” like meat and dairy products somehow serve to fill the food security gap (Speech, op. cit.) when these foodstuffs are intended for the richest section of the target country’s population. As usual, it is all so much blatant, self-serving propaganda!

Furthermore, when it involves the establishment of such operations overseas – even factory farming of cows as practised by Fonterra in China – “NZ Inc” is deliberately participating in the creation of an ecologically damaging, wasteful, luxury culture of consumption that will increasingly deprive poorer people of their fair share of the world’s food supply. Even vital rice farming in China is losing out to this process as an agrarian crisis looms there. But Fonterra is setting up a second big dairy farm in China (with more farms planned), getting land to develop a pilot farm in Brazil, and investigating the feasibility of one in India (Press, 21/10/10; Otago Daily Times, 13/5/11). “A group of Taranaki farmers has [also] announced plans to set up a Kiwi-style model dairy farm in the south of China” (Press, 10/6/11). Fonterra’s venture in Brazil where certain NZ business interests already have similar investments is a further step in supporting Dairy Partners Americas (DPA), a joint venture with Nestle, the world’s biggest food company and one of the most obnoxious.

More Harmful Market Machinations

The corporate food giants are intent on exploiting socio-economic inequalities and environmental problems wherever and as much as they can. In Chile (another Cairns Group member), Fonterra’s predatory “plans to merge its largest wholly owned South American business with Nestle” fell foul of the country’s competition regulator (Press, 7/4/11). Fonterra wanted “to form a joint venture between Nestle and its [i.e. Fonterra’s] Chilean unit Soprole” in order “to bring its Chilean business into line” with DPA in “the rest of the continent” (ibid.). One Chilean politician denounced the proposed merger as creating a “corporate monster”, which would effectively crush the local dairy industry (ibid.). It is lamentable that our foremost primary industry cooperative acts overseas so much like a typical exploitative TNC, and even operates in close conjunction with the likes of Nestle. Meanwhile, it certainly suits Nestle and other TNCs to keep a close, prospective eye on Fonterra for a future takeover, or carve-up. Within Aotearoa/NZ itself, there are constant pressures to subvert the cooperative structure and functioning of Fonterra, especially by external forces linked to comprador domestic agents.

Worldwide, TNC-manipulated market perversions go beyond actual straight up farming for meat and dairy for affluent consumers in countries with large poor or low income majorities. More and more land (including rainforest, whether directly or indirectly), water, and other scarce resources will be allocated to the production of animal feed, as well as higher priced vegetables and fruit for those who can afford such “high quality foodstuffs”. Already about half the world’s cereal production and a third of the total fish catch are used for animal feeds. It can take about ten kilograms of food grain to produce a kilo of meat. Moreover, it takes “100,000 litres of water to produce one kg of hamburger beef”, far more than for the equivalent amount of vegetables – up to 200 times more in the case of potatoes! (quote from “101 Facts You Should Know About Food”, John Farndon, Icon Books, 2007, p13). Further, and very pertinently too, production of one kg of beef requires approximately 1.5kg of oil. It can be well said that: “We are literally eating oil”! (“A Short History Of Progress”, op. cit, p115 & also p177).

Agriculture alone accounts for an estimated third of emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change, with around 18% (by the previous mid-decade) coming from the livestock industry, a figure that has probably already increased significantly (“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues & Options”, United Nation’s (UN’s) Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2006). In Aotearoa/NZ, of course, agriculture accounts for about half our greenhouse gas emissions. As well, along with environmental standards, animal welfare will also be further sacrificed on the altar of free trade as sentient creatures become just so much raw material for callous exploitation, given current trends aggravated by the application of biotechnology and related practices, e.g. in China and Argentina the genetic engineering of cows to produce “human” milk (Press, 4/4/11 & 11/6/11); see Compassion in World Farming:

Corporate Bonding And Milking The Poor

The tangled web of NZ capital and overseas’ interests in agricultural investment is getting intricately involved in exploitative systems, both socially and environmentally. Yet the ironies continue to multiply too. Both Aotearoa/NZ and Uruguay are members of the free trade exporter Cairns Group with the former in recent times trying to milk the latter. But PGGWrightson’s (PGGW’s) investment vehicle New Zealand Farming Systems Uruguay (NZFSU) - so thoughtfully promoted by the Government via MFAT for foreign TNC takeover – has certainly come home to bite us. The NZ government has blithely and stupidly wasted taxpayers’ money on this venture, a public private partnership (PPP) gone wrong! In fact, it was wrong to start with on a number of grounds. Singapore-based Olam International, which has been eagerly swallowing as many NZFSU shares as it can get, is now intent on taking over all of NZFSU if possible with some NZ shareholders still hanging out for higher prices (e.g. Press, 24 & 25/5/11; and 1, 3, 7, 18 & 28/6/11). In 2010 TVNZ1 raised some questions about Trade Minister Tim Groser’s own shareholding in NZFSU, following an earlier visit by him to Uruguay where he met company representatives (6pm News, 28 & 29/710).

Grabbing Control Of Land, Food And Lives

Taranaki farmer Rob Poole, a spokesperson for a group of minority shareholders put it like this: “There is amongst the members of our group a fundamental underlying belief in the business in Uruguay . . . We believe that the business is starting to hit its straps and will be a valuable supplier of milk. We are seeing Asian and Middle Eastern interests trying to secure positions in food and protein value chains throughout South America and Africa. Olam’s objectives are presumably no different” (Press, 18/6/11). The politico-economic processes resulting in people being either stuffed or starved certainly have some deep roots and connections with NZ these days.

NZFSU represents just one type of overseas’ control of Uruguayan agriculture (for more detail on it see my article “Corporatising NZ Agriculture: The Growing Costs At Home And Abroad”, pp16/17, in Watchdog 125, December 2010, Parallel to this sort of TNC dairy enterprise, Brazilian capital has grabbed prime control of “Uruguay’s most important agricultural sector, the meat industry”, including much of the dairy sector ( ). As well, “the same has happened with rice, the country’s largest export crop” (ibid.). Uruguay has also experienced the inroads of mainly Argentinian-instigated soybean cultivation for animal feed for factory farming in the Northern Hemisphere, squeezing out many family farmers from the nation’s land (ibid.). Soybean planting has displaced traditional crops such as wheat, sorghum and sunflowers. Overall, just a few TNCs like agribusiness giant Dreyfus have gained a very sizeable slice of the total arable land, a quarter by 2008. Around the globe, the sharks are gobbling up the small fry fast and furious as new power blocs are created from Uruguay to Aotearoa/NZ in the global capitalist division of labour, land and resource use.

Artificially induced increased dependency on the world food trade, as engineered via free trade agreements, can then only help push up prices for human consumption. This will be especially so in a situation of growing population, rising incomes for some consumers, and other leading trends - especially increasing production for bio-fuels - as well all the various other interlinked factors indicated above. It is no exaggeration or hyberbole to say that what the NZ government and its agents have promoted on free trade in food over the past 25 years or so has been part of a monstrous evil, a systematic assault on the basic human right to life itself (Walden Bello in “The Food Wars”, Verso, 2009, gives a sobering review of the results, but also sounds the clarion call for positive rebellion). Of course, the US plan has long been to try and exercise greater political control through the use of food as both a means of creating dependency, and as a weapon (e.g. Susan George, “How The Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons For World Hunger”, Penguin, 1976). Killing people can be very profitable for certain capitalist interests, whether directly by manufactured war, or indirectly by manufactured starvation.

Global Rural Rebellion

Damningly enough, the free trade viewpoint was at the heart of the rebellion and debate by “developing” countries - involving India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, and others - over the WTO’s prescription for agriculture and food security as articulated by the US, NZ, and co. First World promotion of grossly hypocritical free trade policies induced these “Third World” nations to break off WTO negotiations on the Doha Round, and these have been in limbo ever since. In July 2008 at the time of the WTO breakdown over agricultural trade, India claimed the support of over 100 nations rallying against the First World agenda (The Hindu, 21/7/08). At the centre of the dispute has been the issue of adequate protection and support for poor Third World farmers against import dumping by wealthy producing countries (Press, 9/8/08).

In their “Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice” (Food First, 2009), Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez, and Annie Shattuck revealed the real story behind the world food crisis and what we can do about it. The giant food TNC s and their comprador confreres have been enjoying obscene profits at the expense of the world’s poor. The analysis and call for action by the authors of “Food Rebellions” was heartily endorsed by Olivier de Shutter, the UN Special Rapporteur who defends the human right to food. He declared that this book “confronts the real issues: How do we reform our food systems to avoid environmental disaster? How do we recapture the production and distribution of food from the tyranny of unchecked markets?” ( His view was similarly endorsed by the President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Ecoto Brockmann (ibid.).

Protecting Vested Interests

Meanwhile, mainstream media coverage of the issues here has been outrageous – in line with the whole history of such coverage in Aotearoa/NZ – for the systematically evasive silence and dissimulation. Protectionism in regard to the suppression of what is seen as embarrassing information affecting national interests is pretty well pervasive in NZ media operations. These “national” interests are of course usually very narrowly defined according to the strategic precepts of much bigger powers: pre-eminently dictated in recent times by our participation in the US-engineered global resource war, i.e. the so-called “War on Terror”, as well as by US-led free trade globalisation ever since the late 1980s.

Along with certain other groups, GATT Watchdog and CAFCA did get a few token warnings and predictions in the mainstream media about the dangers of global free trade: i.e. about diminishing food security; growing inequalities; corporate concentration of control over world resources, including rural land; environmental constraints; increasing conflict and instability; etc. (e.g. Christchurch Star, 1/7/1991; Sunday Star, 26/9/1993; Press, 11/1/06). CAFCA specifically warned our farmers of runaway industrialisation and sharply declining fossil fuels; the impact of such factors on NZ agriculture; looming TNC takeover; the demise of the family farmer; declining food safety and bio-security; and even the threat of eventual global collapse (The NZ Farmer, 14/12/94, p9). Capitalist globalisation is turning the world upside down. But you never get any kudos for being anti-capitalist Cassandras in capitalist bastions, only resentment. But, then again, we always soldier on . . .

Peak oil, i.e. the peak of world crude oil production, was apparently reached in 2006, as now acknowledged by the International Energy Agency (IEA), a quarter of a century earlier than it had anticipated! (; also Radio NZ interview with Kathryn Ryan, 25/5/11). The age of cheap fuel is over. Significantly, Qantas announced in early May 2011 that it was cutting staff and flights because of soaring fuel prices and the impact of global natural disasters. But the news in the mainstream media about peak oil and its enormous, far-reaching implications remains deafening. Peak food now looms . . .

Contradictions Galore!!

All this in turn raises the question of just how escalating conflict over resources and free trade fit together into Groser’s world vision, given the “vast shift in relative power and wealth to the developing world” (Speech, op. cit.). In particular, Goldman Sachs and people like Groser point to the rising BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Western capitalism is in decline then even as the worldwide competition for resources hots up. Consequently, Western lifestyles, levels of consumption, and overall standard of living will get much harder to maintain. This consumption has in fact been carried out on the backs of the world’s poor over several centuries. Of late, China and India in particular, in the WTO and elsewhere, have been substantially challenging Western dominance of the world market.

The key question here certainly cannot be resolved if one subjects MFAT’s overall position to scrutiny. The Government’s foreign policy openly embraces a huge contradiction. At the very same time as we seek more trade and investment with China, we are seeking closer military ties with the US to help counter China’s growing influence and presence in the Asia/Pacific region. Australia is even more committed to the American strategic posture, with a wary orientation as well to Indonesia and other Asian countries. Most ironically, it is worried about the security of its growing energy industry off Western Australia and in its north.

History Professor Richard Overy describes the 20th Century background in these terms: “In China and around the Pacific Rim, new economic powers emerged to challenge the long held monopoly of the developed industrial world beginning the reversal of one of the central features of the century: Western economic imperialism” [my emphasis] (“Collins Atlas Of 20th Century”, 2005, p138). The WTO and US-led free trade have been a prime element in this economic imperialism that is now under attack on a range of fronts. Even within the Trojan Horse free trader Cairns Group pushed by Australia, Canada and NZ (members of the CANZUS strategic Anglo-Saxon bloc along with the US), Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and others broke ranks to join the majority viewpoint in one form or another.

Instability Abounds

The international scene is much more volatile these days and for the foreseeable future with: mounting turmoil; socio-economic stress, rising social conflict, and failing economic growth for certain big world players, as well as for a wide range of smaller nations. The credit crunch and food crisis of 2008 roll on in their spreading ramifications. Back in 1986, Susan Strange, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, prophetically warned that financial markets were becoming unstable and largely uncontrolled, even predicting global collapse if preventative action were not taken (“Casino Capitalism”, Basil Blackwell). The “financial uncertainty and volatile prices” of commodity markets had got deeply entangled with financial markets (ibid, p117), with gross speculation today adding an estimated third or so to oil prices, and inflating the cost of food worldwide.

There are now continuing intermittent protests in Europe, and elsewhere in the West and its subsidiaries. Debt-ridden countries like Britain, France - and especially the PIIGS, i.e. Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain - will never recover to their former state. Greece is the current flashpoint but there will inevitably be others. For the weaker cot cases, conditions could quickly get critical, with much of Europe on the brink of free fall and politically divided one way or another (see comment by Nobel Prize winner Professor Paul Krugman: IMF is warning of a possible global crunch (Press, 22/6/11).

American and British banks’ “indirect exposure to euro zone countries” amount to well over $US2 trillion (ibid.). “This includes contracts insuring investors against debt defaults” (ibid.). US/British TNCs and other foreign capitalists are now poised to exploit “a huge privatisation programme” in Greece and elsewhere, having already helped generate the situation that they have then milked so comprehensively. In turn, as with President Obama’s backing of Wall Street, this is leading to ongoing accumulation and concentration of wealth and power within the West - indeed at unprecedented levels. Disaster capitalism is moving rapidly on many fronts today. While more and more “ordinary” people are forced to the breadline, the captains of capital are smiling on the way to the bank (e.g., “What Recovery?: The 5 Myths About The US Economy?”, Time, 20/6/11; echoed in NZ, Sunday Star Times,13/6/10) But, again, while harsh austerity measures are hurting many people, these measures are also putting fire in their bellies.

Given such growing problems, the great overarching question is whether Western capitalism will descend into the gaping maw of emerging neo-fascism or chaos - or whether enough of us can help chart paths to a genuinely more sustainable and co-operative future. Here in Aotearoa/NZ, the debt burden - at least in the way the Government and its associates are manipulating the issue - and other problems raise the same critical question, especially since we are so locked into the wider international system. Globalisation is proving to be the ultimate human folly.

Mucking Up Our Marine Resources

Australia, whose standard of living some of us want to emulate, is nowadays even more conflicted than Aotearoa/NZ, despite its aura of material success (another “recession” even currently threatens!). China is siphoning off greater amounts of Australian mineral resources, much of which are likely to be used to extend China’s military reach. But if Australia’s imbalanced mineral economy feeding China and other big new powers is suspect for various reasons, then so too is NZ’s reliance on the very specialised dairy monoculture.

It is surely most ironic that some Western countries are now being shaped along the lines of so many in the Third World - in the sense of becoming primary resource-based suppliers for big, newly industrialising nations. We are becoming a dairy republic a la banana republic (with more mineral mining for good measure)! White and black gold fever in another wild rush: what Ronald Wright calls being seduced “by a kind of progress that becomes a mania, an ‘ideological pathology’”, which turns out to be yet another “progress trap” (“A Short History Of Progress, op. cit, p61). Certainly, our “clean and green” myth is on the verge of complete self-destruction! We are ripe for plunder.

Claiming Chinese backing, an Australian mining company, Greywolf Goldmining NL, sought “to drill the seabed for oil and gas, as well as prospect for coal in Golden Bay” (Press, 4/5/11 & 1/6/11). Thankfully, local People Power helped drive it away, although apparently the venture was too financially shonky even for this Government. Besides our land and internal waterways, fishing and other marine resources will be under increasing siege, making further damaging inroads on both our fragile coastal ecosystems and outer regional waters. The prospects include ironsands and other minerals besides fossil fuels (e.g. Sunday Star Times, 6/9/09; Press, 19/1109). Deep seabed mining depredations are imminent (Sunday Star Times, 29/5/11; TVNZ, 6pm One News, 10/6/11; see also “Save the Oceans: Cradle Of Life”, Pacific Ecologist 20, Winter 2011:

Seas And Oceans In Critical Condition

Yet, acidification and other forms of pollution of the world’s oceans are already dire (e.g. “Good Living”, p3 [Press], 9/6/11; Press, 22/6/11; Pacific Ecologist, ibid.). The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) testifies to “shocking” findings, and that “the health of the oceans is deteriorating far more rapidly than expected” (Press, 22/6/11). IPSO says that a “deadly trio of factors – climate change, pollution, and overfishing – are acting together” (ibid.). “Mass extinction” looms (ibid; Pacific Ecologist, op. cit., has an in-depth, detailed review of marine problems).

Besides these factors, there is a raft of associated adverse “internationalising forces” and “international tides” already at work in the seas surrounding Aotearoa/NZ. “NZ’s fishing industry is in crisis with much of the fish caught in our waters exported to China for processing and then shipped back to supermarkets here with no local involvement at all” (Sunday Star Times, 17/4/11). As well, a switch is under way to “foreign charter vessels, infamous for sweatshop conditions” (ibid.). Very cheap wages and union-free conditions in China are undermining NZ’s domestic fishing industry with the longer term outlook grim (ibid.). All this stems too from the US’s internationally mandated free market approach after the Reagan Administration rejected the International Law of the Sea Treaty (“A Short History of Progress”, op. cit, p181).

Corporate Engineered Free Trade Crisis

The latest findings about the crisis in the NZ fishing industry come from a Ministry of Fisheries report by Dr. Christina Stringer of the University of Auckland Business School. The report was criticised as inaccurate by Fishing Minister Phil Heatley in that he claimed China took only a quarter of the fish exported by volume. But the dominant trends and overall pattern are certainly clear enough. CAFCA’s Secretary/Organiser Murray Horton pointed them out back in 1993 in the conclusion to his own wave breaking report: “As in so many other aspects of NZ life today, the ideologically driven corporate agenda will extend into the ocean [my emphasis].The Government plans to leave it in the hands of private enterprise – meaning that the people of NZ will have no ownership, no oversight, and no say in the running of an industry that is now one of the country’s largest, most profitable, and which provides basic food for all New Zealanders” (“In Deep Water?: Fishing in NZ”, CAFCA, p39). Our fishing industry is turning out to be yet another chapter in the sorry, ongoing saga of free trade/investment.

As Murray also pertinently commented, the fishing industry’s record “is exploitation, not conservation”. It’s all very sad and bitterly frustrating to be proven so right again in our warnings and dire predictions! Ideally, fish is a high quality food to which everybody around the world should have some access, but unfortunately over-fishing is rampant in most areas. Even in Aotearoa/NZ fish has become less affordable to many people with Australia taking much of our catch (Sunday Star Times, 17/1/10). And now there is a host of compounding problems in our own regional waters.

Instability And Increasing Imports

While there might be a big international shift in relative power and wealth away from the West, it is mostly benefiting a global elite and TNC-linked comprador interests at the expense of the majority of the planet’s people. Inequalities are deepening as the disruptive processes of globalisation bite, bump and grind even deeper. And of course the type of industrial and consumer development pursued is far from sustainable anyway. From the Maghreb in North Africa to Mexico on the US border - the latter incidentally once touted as a shining free market model and courted eagerly by NZ - more countries are becoming violently conflicted, or running into major problems of one sort or another. So-called “failed states” may soon be piling up, often the victims of Western militarist globalisation since the inauguration of the WTO in 1995, besides the legacy of Cold War competition and aggression.

Again, even in the West itself, the pejorative term “failed state” may be gaining some relevance and applicability, most tellingly and ironically to the enormously indebted and imperially over-stretched US (tellingly enough, the American Establishment media is pretty worried, e.g. Time, op. cit.). And to think that just a few years ago the American “neo-cons” were revelling in triumphalist hubris. Greek tragedy lives again!

Critical Self-Sufficiency

To take another key example of economic-environmental crisis, Western ally and Asian economic giant, Japan, is in serious difficulty. Grossly indebted Japan is already desperately dependent on imported energy resources, as well as other vital mineral, raw material, and food inputs. “Japan is the world’s largest net importer of agricultural and marine products”, with its position officially perceived as the “country’s greatest weakness” (Press, 19/6/10). Today, “Japan’s brewing agricultural crisis” stands out in stark relief (ibid.). Yet Japan is aiming to revive its agriculture and be as self-sufficient in food as much as it can in certain produce, above all in rice. NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser is however pleased that Japan has recently shown interest in joining the TPPA despite an expected backlash from its strongly protected agricultural sector. Trade certainly weaves a tangled web. In the bizarre world of the global food trade, food-constricted Japan actually exports vegetables. The contradictions of international market economics go deeper: “For such is the weird and wonderful world of global commodity markets that countries often end up exchanging exactly the same products . . . even such generic products as milk are exchanged” (“The Rough Guide”, op. cit, p157).

Failing Systems

The recent Fukushima nuclear disaster has ruined one of Japan’s prime food producing areas. For Fukushima, unfortunately: “Its famous vegetables and sake will have no more appeal than Chernobyl potatoes or Three Mile Island grapes” (Press, 2/4/11). Several nations have banned milk and vegetables from the Fukushima area while Japan itself imposed a related export ban (Press, 25/3/11 & 1/4/11). In the circumstances, Japan may well become more open to free trade overtures, given that “fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant continues to blight Japan’s agricultural heartland”, even contaminating its famous green tea (The Press, 11/6/11).

This is just another instance of the various widespread events and processes that are quite rapidly diminishing the planet’s food producing capacity. In the case of Chernobyl, an area around the size of Switzerland has been abandoned for centuries ahead. Worldwide: “Each year, an area of farmland greater than Scotland is lost to erosion and urban sprawl, much of it in Asia” (“A Short History Of Progress”, op. cit, p126). On some scale or another, problems of food security are growing everywhere. In rapidly changing and fluctuating conditions, world policy for food security has to be flexible enough to meet sudden and unexpected demands. A pre-emptive combination of increased self-sufficiency and adequate exporting capacity across nations is urgently required. For instance, take Japan as a case in point again: in late 1993, the Japanese government, suffering from its worst rice harvest since the 1950s, decided to import rice from the US, China and Thailand in order to meet domestic need. In the second decade of the 21st Century, however, essential international reserves are getting very precarious, and stocks must be built up for future such requirements. We are poised on the edge of an abyss.

Food Fights

To recap then, in 2011 and beyond, free trade fantasists like John Key, John Allen, Tim Groser, Colin James, and their mates look forward to selling more highly processed meat and dairy products to the Chinese and Indian upper/middle classes in particular, as well as facilitating associated NZ operations within such countries. Their vision is based on a hopelessly flawed model of capitalist growth that will continue to be increasingly contested at a multitude of environmental and social points of crisis and cleavage. When will they wake up to the realities of globalisation?! As reality hits harder, the answer is unfortunately that we should expect more market fundamentalism, and pleas for accommodation. As well, capitalist ideologues a la Don Brash and ACT will drive white racism and other reactionary manifestations. Greed and power, plus growing insecurity, will fuel ideological delusion and scapegoating, as typically so in such situations.

Around the planet, in fact, a bitter struggle is intensifying as the rich and powerful try to maintain and extend their extravagant lifestyles in the face of the misery of the poor and destitute. In the agricultural sphere, this ranges from the outright plunder of food producing resources, including land, to the widespread cultivation of meat and dairy diets for more affluent consumers at the expense of those on lower incomes. Rene Dumont aptly dedicated his 1966 book, “The Hungry Future” (co-author Bernard Rosier, English edition, Andre Deutsch/University Paperback, 1969/1970): “To the children of ‘backward’ countries who never attain their full promise, or who have died of kwashiorkor, because the fish meal which might have saved them has fed the chickens gorged by the rich”. This is the kind of specialisation inherent in global free trade so praised by MFAT CEO John Allen (Speech, op. cit.). In 2011, the corporate free market continues in its brutal fashion on an unprecedented scale, and the NZ government and some big business players are deeply implicated.

India And The Tragedy Of Industrialisation

One of the countries with which NZ is currently trying to negotiate a free trade agreement is India. PM John Key and Trade Minister Tim Groser visited India in May 2011, with TVNZ and co. as usual playing down any critical views of such free trade deals. TVNZ’s superficiality was typified by its enthusiasm for a new “Bollywood” deal (TVNZ1, 6pm News, 30/6/11). In 1991 India embarked on the free market/free trade track, in the face of massive protests. Since 1991, India has become “one of the most economically stratified societies on the planet”, with much the same proportion of Indians as ever going hungry (“Fire In The Hole: How India’s Economic Rise Turned An Obscure Communist Revolt Into A Raging Resource War” by J Miklian & S Carney, Foreign Policy, September/October 2010). In fact, agriculture in India, intimately interlinked now with the global market, is headed in a disastrous free market direction (“Caught In The Food Pirates’ Trap”: Furthermore, capitalist globalisation has generated increasing social conflict and fragmentation within India. Let us take a closer look at the most extreme example.

What was once a declining guerrilla force, the Naxalite rebellion, has sparked into a spreading Maoist movement. Its heartland comprises the two “dirt poor” central/eastern states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. “If you were to lay a map of today’s Maoist insurgency over a map of the mining activity powering India’s boom, the two would line up almost perfectly” (“Fire In The Hole”, op. cit.). Both these states have been ravaged and deeply damaged by mining for coal, iron, and more exotic minerals. The local peoples have been grossly exploited, repressed, and abused. TNCs like Toyota and Coca Cola rely on this exploitation today. It stems from British imperial pillage in the 1890s. Unregulated mining has continued to cause both deleterious social and environmental effects very reminiscent of the depredations of Shell & co. in the oil (and blood) soaked Niger Delta. Agriculture for people’s needs has been sidelined. Consequently, the guerrillas inveigh against the “evil consequences [driven] by the policies of liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation” (ibid.). They are actually thriving on India’s “breakneck [breakdown!] modernisation”, as many of the population become more marginalised than ever in the grim market competition unleashed upon them (ibid.).

Many innocent Indian civilians have died in the internecine violence, victims of the guerrillas or the authorities, mining companies, and their security forces/militias. “In a sense, however, India has already lost this war. It has lost it gradually over the last ten years, by mistaking industrialisation for development” [my emphasis] . . . Its Government has conspicuously failed to address “the concerns that drove the residents of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand into the guerrillas’ arms in the first place – concerns that are often shockingly basic” (ibid.). The “resource curse” that the local peoples have suffered, and are suffering, is not only expressive of the current India, but of wider planetary injustices. “This isn’t just an Indian story – it’s global one” (ibid.). Anglo-American-inspired neo-liberalism has set out to crush any stirrings for social justice everywhere it can, from the Middle East to the Philippines. So much of it is now unravelling or instigating “blowback” in one form or another with Western interests scrambling in response/reaction. The awesome Western hypocrisy on violence, freedom, and social justice is now reaping the whirlwind worldwide.

Food Security Close To Home

Yet perhaps the most ironic aspect of all about the closely interconnected issues of food security and social justice is how they are emerging as a major challenge within Aotearoa/NZ itself. In a land virtually flowing with milk and honey, an increasing number of people are actually going hungry, or are at least painfully malnourished. Nothing could then more clearly demonstrate the inanity of Groser’s position as his Rightwing Government presides over this phenomenon. To their credit, certain mainstream media have drawn attention to the phenomenon, along with the “burgeoning gap between the haves and have-nots”, and the rising anger of the latter (in particular see The Sunday Star Times, 20/2/11 & 23/1/11; this paper has been prominent too in pillorying the new Brash-led ACT Party). There is indeed a complex of very disturbing dimensions to the growing lack of food security in Aotearoa/NZ. By a summary of some of these dimensions, we can see just how big this problem has already become in our own food-rich country.

Firstly, there is as stated, an increasing number of hungry people. Social welfare groups have been voicing concern and agitating for more assistance as they struggle to meet these people’s needs. A couple of years ago “Otago University researchers found the high price of milk and other dairy products in recent years had harmed the health of NZ children” (Press, 20/6/09). Deregulation and trade priorities got the blame (ibid.). The latest research from the University of Otago has also found food deprivation “associated with elevated levels of psychological distress” ( Secondly, at a less acute level of need, rising food prices, especially dairy, are depriving a wider section of the population of certain nutritious “high quality foodstuffs”. Even members of the middle class are complaining that they can only afford dairy products “on very special occasions” (Press, 16/4/11, opinion piece by columnist Michele A’ Court). Dairy product pricing in particular has been the focus of ongoing strong debate and controversy. Thirdly, not only are many beneficiaries suffering from food insecurity, but a significant number of the “working poor” are now experiencing the same condition. More generally, the rising cost of food is becoming a political party issue.

Think Global, Act Local!?

In the global context, it was very significant in early 2011 that World Bank chief Robert Zoellick was warning about the political implications of rising food prices for aggravating violent unrest (Press, 17/2/11). His warning was triggered by the explosion of revolts in North Africa/Middle East. Like his immediate predecessor Paul Wolfowitz, Zoellick came to head the World Bank with a baggage of past warmongering activities and associations, hating America’s “enemies” ( Having been deeply involved also in capitalist business machinations for the American empire, Zoellick is committed to free trade as an instrument of US national interests. So when he warns of global food prices at “dangerous levels”, it is a real signal that capitalism’s movers and shakers are getting worried (Press, 17/2/11). The Reuters news item just cited cutely labels the World Bank as the “Washington-based poverty-fighting institution” instead of the agency of global capitalist regulation and enforcement that it really is, responsible through its structural adjustment programmes (with the IMF), and enforcement of free trade in food, for much of world hunger (ibid.)

Rising food prices have been “causing pain and suffering for poor people around the globe” (ibid.). Moreover, with the legacy of “storms and droughts” in lands like Australia and the US, as well as potential social unrest in certain other countries, the world food system and many societies are again under severe stress, or likely impending stress (ibid.). Oh dear, even one of Groser’s “respectable food exporters” might be suffering the extreme effects of global warming, along with the biggest of all food exporters and free trade exponents!

The Cassandra “Syndrome”

No doubt, Groser would regard scientific prophets of the imminent dangers of global warming like James Lovelock (“The Revenge Of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back And How We Can Still Save Humanity”, 2006) and James Hansen (“Storms Of My Grandchildren*: The Truth About The Coming Climate Catastrophe And Our Last Chance to Save Humanity”, 2009/11) as green “extremists”, a label that he freely tosses around. Yet during April 2011, some American southern states suffered a succession of killer tornados during an extraordinarily large tornado outbreak, the most violent in fact in almost 40 years. This was then followed by an even more explosive outbreak, with a monster tornado obliterating much of Joplin, Missouri, in late May. More dramatically as well, this particular monster tornado was unprecedented for over 60 years. * “Storms Of My Grandchildren” was reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 124, August 2010, Ed.

In all, tragically, hundreds of people in the US have died, and many more have been injured during this tornado season, which is turning out to be the worst on record ever. Tornados are reaching beyond the corn-belt zone and intruding more into cities and towns. Dr. Hansen’s warning about very unstable and volatile weather – as expressed in the title of his book – seems to be already impacting as predicted, and in line with the general scientific consensus (e.g. Press, 3/2/07 & 6/12/08; TV1; Planet Science, 18/7/10 & 10/10/10). Auckland even got a killer tornado in early May 2011. On his visit to Aotearoa/NZ in May 2011, Dr. James Hansen condemned the NZ government’s climate policy as “fake” and “a recipe for disaster” (The Press, 21/5/11). Again, for the US - the world’s self-proclaimed principal food basket - add in the May 2011 Mississippi floods, peaking at levels not seen for 75 years, and flooding well over a million hectares of farmland. Yet, by June 2011, the US was suffering a searing heatwave. Scientists say Americans will have to get used to this sort of heat in the future (TVNZ, 6 pm One News, 9/6/11). Wildfires even threatened the birthplace of nuclear weaponry at the Los Alamos Laboratory, New Mexico (Press, 29/6/11). The symbolism here could not be more potent.

Growing Crises

Beyond the US, following on from the destructive wildfires in Russia and massive flooding of Pakistan (another Cairns Group member) in 2010, a drought in northern Europe has “hurt upcoming harvests and efforts to bring food prices down” (Press, 30/5/11). Dependence on food imports for many people is thus proving horrendous. “Third World nations are braced for riots as Europe’s heat wave creates a rise in food prices and drives millions deeper into poverty”, with the FAO also fearing “rioting in poor countries” (ibid.). Compounding Europe’s heat wave have been droughts in China and the southern US states, with similar episodes in Africa, and Brazil where the Amazon has had two 100-year droughts in the past five years. During mid 2011, a terrible drought has been afflicting the Horn of Africa, the worst in 60 years, with widespread social disruption and millions of lives at risk. Sadly enough, scientists warn that global warming means that there will be more frequent droughts in Africa" (TVNZ1, 6pm News, 5/7/11). Even in Europe itself anti-government sentiment prompted by rising food prices could have significant political impact. Indeed, this phenomenon is already impacting in Greece and some other countries, given the implementation of austerity programmes.

China could already be in agrarian crisis. Several provinces accounting for about half of the country’s rice production have been deeply affected by floods following the worst drought for 50 years along the Yangtze. Likewise, Cuba has been suffering its worst drought in 50 years. Wild, unpredictable weather is now seen as the “new normal” (Press, 20/5/11). American scientists and government planners today talk about “global weirding”, i.e. “more extreme weather” aggravated and fuelled by human-induced climate change (ibid.). Global warming is also apparently acting to trigger greater earthquake and volcanic activity with volcanoes recently erupting from Iceland to Chile, having widespread and disruptive fallout around the earth, including a deleterious impact on agriculture. But politicians and big business worldwide, as climate change campaigner Bill McKibben says, are in denial, refusing to connect the dots (Sunday Star Times, 29/5/11; Those at the top of the social pyramid have a vested interest in the status quo and business as usual (“A Short History Of Progress”, op. cit, pp108/9). Suicidal stupidity reigns!

On a recent front page of the Sunday Star Times (12/6/11) there were two articles illustrative of the social and environmental threats confronting us today: one on the resource feud between Tonga and Fiji over the Minerva Reefs, related to deep sea mining prospects; and the other on ash clouds from Chilean volcanoes disrupting aviation schedules here in Aotearoa/NZ for Qantas and other airlines. Both these phenomena are interconnected, however distantly this may seem, in the context of the wider web of human interaction with the planetary ecosphere.

Cooperating Pre-Emptively?

In 1988, about the time of the dawning of public awareness on global warming (when Dr. James Hansen gave his “now famous testimony to the US Congress”, [Press, 11/6/11]), the authors of a “groundbreaking work” on natural disasters entitled it “Natural Disasters: Acts Of God Or Acts Of Man?” (A Wijkman & L Timberlake, Earthscan). They concluded, among other things, that: “Natural disasters are failures in interactions between vulnerable people and a vulnerable environment. Disaster mitigation, therefore, should aim at changes to improve both human and environmental conditions and the interactions between them. One cannot be isolated from the other. The major disaster problems are essentially unsolved development problems” (ibid, p128). As a UN-backed report showed, the poorest people are the most vulnerable with some 300,000 humans dying annually as a result of global warming (Guardian, 29/5/09).

Yet these days the effects of this massive, human-induced environmental problem - the outcome of industrial globalisation - are reaching further into the over-developed countries as well. Global hazards expert Bill McGuire warns of an angry planet under pressure and so the need for pre-emptive, co-ordinated action (“Good Living”, 2/6/11, p5). For sure, far better international coordination is desperately needed to combat such challenges across the planet. Again, this should be paramount with regard to enhancing the global sustainable capacity for food production and ensuring the fairer distribution of this production. Publicly and democratically accountable measures and mechanisms are necessary at the global, regional, national, and local levels. But our global political rulers and policy mandarins fiddle and party up while the planet burns and drowns . . .

Future Prospects And The Politics Of Control

It was always glaringly evident on a small planet with ecological limits (climate change aside) to economic growth that rising population and capitalist globalisation would go on increasing the divisions between and within countries. Indeed, world industrialisation - whatever the accompanying political creed - must inevitably end in conflict, resource wars, and collapse. How can such an obvious truth be suppressed or denied given the human record?! Many factors are involved here but by far the worst has been the systematic hoodwinking of the public by vested interests. In Aotearoa/NZ, an important landmark was the abolition in 1982 of the Commission for the Future by the then Muldoon National Party government. Democratic discussion on futures issues was deliberately suppressed because questions were being raised about the long term viability of capitalist enterprise. The Commission was becoming politically disturbing for the Government. It was encouraging the country’s citizenry to consider and reflect critically on future trends and prospects, including agriculture. Participatory democracy was a keynote of the Commission’s approach, conscientiously getting feedback from the public. Compare the approach of the elitist, self-serving Hugo Group!

On agriculture, the public response wanted to: “assist underdeveloped countries to grow more of their own food” (“Options For NZ’s Future”, James Duncan, Victoria University Press, 1984, p226). As well, the public response called for “much more extensive aid for and collaboration by NZ with underdeveloped countries”; and for NZ to “seek international and national political accountability of multinationals”; and to act “as the bridging voice between developed and underdeveloped countries, presenting the needs of the latter and calling on the former to meet them, and vice versa” (ibid, pp226/7). Sadly, in sweeping away Muldoonism, Rogernomics and its neoliberal “revolution” buried any positive public policy experiments of this nature too.

The Big Picture

In 1993 as the WTO talks were nearing their final stages, a visiting scientist to Aotearoa/NZ, Dr. Brian Tucker, observed that the current material standard of living could not be sustained into the future. Dr. Tucker, at the time “a recent President of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics”, put the problem in terms that we hardly ever hear from a member of our well-placed, well-fed elites: “If we are going to have an egalitarian system, then clearly our standard of living has to take a great drop” (Press, 10/3/1993). In other words, with less to go round, we have to devise new, cooperative socio-economic systems that are also environmentally sustainable.

Dr. Tucker was putting this challenge in the context of “growing world population, and developing nations’ appetite for energy” and, he might well have added, food. He declared that, “continued development on a world scale was impossible. Nations had to be realistic and plan for a changing world” (ibid.). Industrialisation in South-East Asia was “proceeding helter-skelter”, and their carbon emissions would not come down “for the next 40 years. There is a lot of self-delusion going on” (ibid.). Despite all this however, he remained hopeful about the human ability to adapt positively to the future. We need to be both realistic and constructively forward looking.

So there we have the current great challenge to capitalism clearly stated. In an increasingly constrained world, globalisation must inevitably run into mounting interrelated problems. Since: “The quality of life cannot be maintained in the future” (ibid.), we have to ensure the human rights of the most vulnerable in our societies are secured. This is of course the real crunch: in the capitalist system enforced inequalities are paramount, and in the West these inequalities have depended historically on the surplus extracted from the Third World. So often the rich leech off the rest at obscene levels of indulgence in many diverse ways. And this syndrome is pervasive at varying levels across the world with the BRIC countries particularly to the fore in their internal exploitation. Humankind keeps on digging a bigger hole for itself.

Beyond Myopia?

The well-known American economist Robert Heilbroner had varying takes on the prospects for capitalism over the years (he was always well worth reading). In one of his studies, originally published in 1974, “An Enquiry Into The Human Prospect” (Calder & Boyars, 1975) he was especially farsighted. Looking at both industrial capitalism and socialism, he referred to “the myopia that confines the present vision of men to the short term future”, and so warned that “the outlook is for what we may call ‘convulsive change’ – change forced on upon us by external events rather than by conscious choice, by catastrophe rather than by calculation” (ibid, p132).

Most remarkably for an economist, Heilbroner even predicted the adverse results of climate change! He was actually concerned about the long term effects of “manmade heat” rather than the related and far more immediately relevant impact of greenhouse gases (ibid, pp51-53). But he certainly foresaw relatively imminent dangers on a number of compounding fronts: rapid population growth; uncontrolled industrialisation; worsening socio-economic inequalities and the unwillingness to share; weapons of mass destruction; dwindling resources; overall environmental limits to economic growth; energy constraints; and “the race between food and mouths”.

Against his best wishes, Heilbroner thought we might have to turn to authoritarian or even totalitarian government to survive the coming crisis, a dead end solution to say the least, even if understandable enough in the circumstances. In the 21st Century, we are certainly going to struggle to maintain the value and practice of democracy in the face of mounting problems, and so counter the resort to repression by increasingly desperate governments and upper echelon vested interests. And, of course, “democracy” has its own huge problems and conundrums in any efforts to get effective outcomes.

Aotearoa/NZ And Another Turning Point

Citing Environment Minister Nick Smith, Colin James poses the question of our trading relationship with China (Press, 9/5/11). He gives slightly different figures on China to Groser but a striking new statistic stands out – China has only 2% of the world’s water. With China poised to make big investments in our water and its use, “Crafar Farms and PGGW are just the beginning” [of the Chinese corporate takeover] (ibid.). Indeed, the Government is looking eagerly to some six billion dollars worth of such investment! James sees a forthcoming balancing act “between preserving some economic sovereignty (whatever that is in today’s global economy of complex interdependencies) and keeping the northern trading giant sweet” (ibid.). As we have noted, James’ approach has long been to rationalise and justify the changes within Aotearoa/NZ inspired by the neo-liberal “revolution”. Consequently, he has pictured the subversion of our democracy as a process to which we have to adapt. Economic sovereignty - and so democracy - is obviously pretty indeterminate for him! So much for the freedom of capitalism!

Accommodating to the demands of globalisation is ultimately the same as trying to adjust to “resource wars”, which ironically again, James also enjoins (NZ Herald, 2/10/07). The bankruptcy of capitalist ideology could hardly be clearer. As the contradictions of global capitalism close in on James (and indeed on all of us!), his intellectual position gets ever more twisted and tortured as does that of self-serving capitalist ideology in general. In criticising the Green Party for eco-doomsaying, he enjoins them to embrace the system and be “practical and positive” (Press, 6/6/09). But it is very hard to knowingly embrace systematic self-destruction . . .

Comically enough, James looks forward to “an adept policy” to manage NZ water here for China’s interests (Press, 9/5/11; echoed by a Press editorial: “A Delicate Balance”, 11/5/11). “Water is a serious problem for China”, given China’s sheer lack of water, over-extraction, pollution, etc. (Press, 9/5/11). According to an up to date official Chinese “bleak assessment of the environmental price of the country’s economic boom”, a significant amount of river “water was unfit even for farmland” (Press, 23/6/11). With regard to Aotearoa/NZ, James suggests that the NZ government’s likely solution is a new Crown company, “capitalised from the proceeds of sell-downs of State-owned enterprises, and operating in PPPs to get projects under way and then sell them on to farmers” (Press, 9/5/11). In conclusion, he asks where does China fit into this? (ibid.). Yeah right! In this connection, it can be observed that James looks forward to “China owning a large slice of our economy” by 2030 (Press, 5/7/10). Having ravaged its own environment, China is embarking on the pillage of other countries, treading a well-worn neo-colonialist trail.

Confronting Crisis

Whereas NZ is ranked “No. 2 for water quality” (Press, 9/5/11), China’s water management is abysmal. Moreover, extensive evidence also shows that a lot of our own freshwaters are in serious trouble, whatever our supposed world ranking, yet another very revealing indicator of the general state of the planet. The Government acknowledges these conditions to some extent, but again it is also in denial. In fact, we have huge water problems with most of our lowland waters in serious condition: whether from over-extraction; invasive fish and weed pests such as koi carp and didymo; or general pollution, particularly due to the industrial dairy sector. In a world characterised by global warming, water is more than ever our most precious natural resource.

In Aotearoa/NZ, the prime dairy region Waikato lakes and waterways are very badly affected, with the illegally or accidentally introduced koi carp proving a most destructive problem (TVNZ1, Close Up, 16/6/11): one too that will inevitably spread with climate change and human agency (Sunday Star Times, 15/5/11). Across the country, another big concern relates to rising nitrate levels in ground water (Sunday Star Times, 19/6/11). Appropriately, the Green Party has highlighted the Government’s reprehensible failure to adequately address the issues of rural water safety (ibid.). Our environmental history and current policies demonstrate that any pretence at “an adept policy” hooked onto runaway industrialisation (and runaway climate change) would simply be more self-deluding myopia - ludicrous to say the very least.

Indeed, it is at the very peak of intensification, on the breaking crest of a failing system, that resource exploitation reaches its most destructive level, driven by the self-interest of the ruling rich and powerful (“A Short History Of Progress”, op. cit, p109). The historical record – from ancient Sumer to the Niger Delta and the Amazon - demonstrates that humans repeatedly push ecosystems to the maximum, and then beyond. Environmental boundaries and limits are thus exceeded, and the system spirals down in deepening crisis. Ultimately, globalisation and free trade now mean the scale of destruction is planet-sized.

Given all this, we desperately need to forge new economic directions with food and other basic needs as a central concern (Pacific Ecologist 14, Winter 2007 “Food And Agricultural Security For The Long EMERGENCY”; & “Why The World Needs An Economics Revolution”, no. 19, Winter/Spring 2010). In light of the work of the former Commission for the Future and current trends, we should be preparing ourselves to cope with some very challenging scenarios ahead. Our global “civilisation” is in deep trouble. Radical change is coming, one way or another.

Mounting Challenges And Breaking Free!

In announcing the birth of the new Mana Party, TV3 painted it as threateningly “anti-capitalist” and “ultra-Left” in an emotively negative fashion (6pm 3 News, 30/4/11). Similarly, TVNZ’s Political Chief Reporter Guyon Espiner brands Mana as “far Left” (e.g. 6pm News, 29/5/11). The ruling status quo is certainly going to feel more and more uneasy as the years pass. It is very easy to predict the eventual polarisation of NZ society. On the Left, as we work in politically committed and well established groups like CAFCA and the Alliance Party, along with new organisations like the Mana Party and the Coalition for Social Justice, we also need to network as widely as we can. At the minimum, we need to promote more generally the ideas and values of a more cooperative and ecologically sustainable society, protecting and safeguarding above all the needs of those most at risk for their well-being. The outlook otherwise is pretty ugly to say the least.

It takes a lot of work to compile and write the material presented on these pages - if you value the information, please send a donation to the address below to help us continue the work.

Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. August 2008.


Return to Watchdog 127 Index