The GreatestnRevolutionnby Tobias J. LanznFood Is Different: Why We Must Getnthe WTO Out of Agriculturenbv Peter M. RossetnNew York: Zed Books; 163 pp., $17.50nMost people throughout the industrialnworld see cheap and readilynavailable food as simply another modernnamenit}’, such as electricit)’ or runningnwater. Few understand that agriculturenhas always been political, because it isntied to human survival. Even fewer knownthat the world is currenfly undergoingnone of the greatest agrarian revolutionsnin history: one in which small farmers,nen masse, are being driven out of businessnand off the land by large farmersnand agribusiness, creating widespreadnpolitical, economic, cultural, and environmentalnchaos.nThe instruments of this revolution includenthe World Trade Organizationn(WTO), regional trading agreementsnsuch as NAFTA, and the EuropeannUnion. These promote international agriculturalntrade over domestic agriculturalnequit)- and stabilit}’. Up until the earlyn1990’s, almost all governments followednsupply-management policies that kept agriculturalnprices high through price supports,nset-asides, and loans. These policiesnwere never perfect, but they allowednsmall farms to thrive and helped stabilizenrural societies—always an importantnpolitical goal, especially in developingncountries with large and impoverishednrural populations.nThese policies began to change withnglobalization. Large producers and theirnhost countries—namely, die United Statesnand the European Union—began aggressivelynto promote policies that increasednsupplies to lower prices, thus makingnthem competitive on the world market.nThey used the WTO and other internationalnagreements to gain access to worldnmarkets and force governments to changentheir agricultural policies to accommodatenfree trade. As a result, trade barriersnhave fallen, the volume of global tradenhas risen, and large farmers and agribusinessesnare making record profits. But thisnrapid policy shift has devastated smallnfarmers and rural communities through­nout the world.nFree-market advocates see these changesnas simply another consequence of competitionnand a movement toward greaternmarket efficiency. But this is a false understanding.nThese new agricultural policiesnand trade agreements have shiftedngovernment support away from thensmall to the large producers. One suchnpolicy in the United States is direct paymentnto farmers for lost income resultingnfrom falling prices. This compensationnbarely covers production costs, forcingnmany smaller producers out of business.nLarge producers can still make hefty profitsnbecause of their greater economies ofnscale. They also receive the bulk of incomensubsidies. In 2003, the wealthiestnone percent of American farmers receivednan average of $215,000 per year,ncompared with under $9,000 per farmernfor the poorest 80 percent.nAs farm incomes dwindle, more farmersngo out of business. (Two thousandnwent under in Europe every week fromn1995 to 2000, and farm foreclosures arenat all-time highs in America.) Lower farmnprofits also reduce land prices, so evennwhen small farmers want to cash out ofnfarming, they lose. Naturally, large farmersnbuy up cheaper land, which only increasesntheir control over production andnsupply and their market power.nThese changes in agricultural policynhave had an even greater impact atnthe international level. Because of massivensubsidies, large firms can sell theirngoods on the world market at up to 60npercent below production costs. EvennThird World peasants, with far lower landnand labor costs, cannot compete withnthis “free trade” onslaught. These firmsn(hardly farms) are dumping their excessnproduction on world markets. In ThirdnWorld countries, the social consequencesnare worse than in America or E.U.ncountries, because there are no economicnalternatives for poor peasants who losentheir farms. They flood into already overcrowdedncities or enter international immigrationnstreams (legal or illegal).nPeter Rosset, an agronomist and foodnactivist, has spent years working in ruralnMexico, where he has seen the effects ofnfree-trade policies firsthand. Because ofnher proximity to the United States andnthe warm relations between Mexicannand American government and corporatenelites, Mexico has borne the brunt ofnthis global revolution. Over one millionnfarmers have been forced out of businessnover the last decade, and countiess mil­nnnlions have left the countryside for the cities,nor the United States, for good. Manynsend money back home to support theirnfamily farms so they can stay in business.nThese laborers are subsidizing their Mexicannfarms with money made in America,nwhere the government subsidizes the bignbusinesses that destroyed Mexican farmsnin the first place.nAgriculture is the last economy beingntransformed by industrialization andncommercialization, and Rosset arguesnthat this should not happen. Food productionndiffers from other forms of productionnbecause it is so closely linked tonhuman health and survival. In additionnto providing nourishment, a stable foodneconomy sustains social and political stabilit)’nin rural areas and preserves culturalntraditions and the environment. Rossetnargues that food is more than a commodit}’;nit is the foundation of a complex webnof social and ecological relationships thatnare simplified and ultimately destroyednwhen big businesses (and big government)nreduce agriculture to mere productionnfor the market.nRosset’s goal is food sovereignty, whichnwould be based on creating governmentnprograms and markets that support smallnproducers and rural communities overnthe interests of big corporations. Withnthe right policies, small producers cannprovide stable food supplies at reasonablenprices and higher quality than largenproducers can. Rosset realizes that subsidiesnare viewed with suspicion in Americanand Europe. However, he explains,nsome type of government support is necessarynin agriculture more than in anynother economic sector, given the inherentnrisks involved. The real question is.nWho benefits from these policies? Rossetnargues convincingly that policies thatnsupport small farmers are most critical innrestoring equity and stability in agrarianneconomies the world over.nRosset discusses the social, cultural,nand environmental benefits of local foodneconomies. He fails, however, to addressnthe significance of sound food economiesnto national security: Local and regionalnagriculture reduces risks to food supplies.nFood is now grown far from its ultimatenplace of consumption. Most foodnconsumed by Americans travels over anthousand miles to its final destination,nmaking it vulnerable to war, disease, naturalndisasters, economic downturns, andneven terrorism.nRosset explains well the technical aspectsnof agricultural policy and globalnAPRIL 2007/31n