(Revised) Article by Donna Andrews and Desiree Lewis
It is often observed that neo-liberal capitalism revolves around the knowledge economy, with information and its control now being pivotal to big businesses’ capital expansion. Information, technological expertise and data management currently further enable corporate capture of resources, expertise and markets, so that the efforts of progressives and socially marginalised groups to develop equitable, liberating and healthy ways of producing, obtaining and eating food are ruthlessly outmanoeuvred. At the same time that corporations use knowledge and scientific expertise ruthlessly, they function behind the veneer of being benign, logical and efficient drivers of efforts to address the world’s food crisis. Their logic is that, given the Malthusian crisis of expanding populations in an environment of limited resources, only large-scale, technology-driven and corporate-controlled methods can guarantee steady and reliable supplies of food across the world. Central to this myth are corporate monopolies over the knowledge and prescription of what seeds to grow, how to grow them and where to grow them.
The power of the knowledge economy that now dominates food production became very evident at a recent seminar, co-organised by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) and the Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA). The seminar focused on campaigning against proposed mergers among six of the world’s greatest seed- and food-producing companies. During the keynote speaker, Patrick Mooney’s address on how big data management is used to control food, the ramifications of the surveillance and regimentation of food production through seed became increasingly and horrifically clear. “Data management” ranges from laws that license genetic modification and privilege producers’ monopolies (through countless legal mechanisms, such as patents and plant breeders’ rights) through the actual growth of food (for example, the use of robotic and electronic technology to plant and grow) to the discursive representation and mass marketing of certain food stuffs for consumers . The corporate food industry’s data management and information production, therefore, shape hegemonic meanings about food, and increasingly are determining how we come to encounter, value and discredit certain foods.