Wenonah Hauter is the founder and Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on food, water, energy and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Her book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America examines the corporate consolidation and control over our food system and what it means for farmers and consumers. The following transcript is from an on-camera interview for Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds. Any textual errors are the fault of the transcription, not of Ms. Hauter.
SEED MOVIE: What’s at stake if we don’t teach kids how to grow food and teach them about agriculture?
Wenonah Hauter: Well I think it’s really important that young people know where there food comes from. That they understand the interconnectedness of food, water, land, biodiversity, and most of these young people won’t become farmers but they will remember the experience.
Now I also don’t think it’s enough just to teach them about farming and the environmental aspects of growing food. I think we also need to teach young people about the need for political action around food because we’re really in the shape that we are today with a dysfunctional food system because we haven’t worked hard enough around the politics and we have to tie these important issues to the people that we elect.
We have to vote with our fork, we have to vote with our vote and then we have to hold people accountable. And we need all of these energetic, inspirational, young people to get involved in farming and in politics.
SEED MOVIE: Can you elaborate more on what that means to be political?
Wenonah Hauter: Well I think politics happens at a number of different levels and everything is political. So I think it depends on where people live and how much time they have. But one of the things that we need to do is organize in our own communities. And sometimes there are local issues that choose us.
You know maybe there’s a development going in or there’s something really terrible happening environmentally in our community. Other times we have more of the luxury to choose our issues. And to be able to fight for things that are larger, things like labeling GE foods. And I’ve been really inspired over the last year to see how many grassroots groups are fighting to label GE food.
And I think that this is the kind of politics that we need at the state level. Because what happens at the state level, largely determines what kind of Congress we have. Because every 10 years states redistrict and that’s why we have members of the House of Representatives that aren’t necessarily reflective of the American people.
Because there hasn’t been enough work to elect State legislators who reflect the values in the state and then we end up getting people who gerrymander districts to get the kind of representative that they want. So you know this isn’t easy, but I think it means educating ourselves. It means going out and organizing agitating, mobilizing people to get involved in all these important issues.
It starts locally, but you know we also have to work at the State and National level. If we’re going to really fix the things that are wrong with our food system. And our democracy. I mean we’re really talking about trying to save our democracy.
SEED MOVIE: What is at stake?
Wenonah Hauter: I think we won’t fix our food system if we don’t fix our democracy. You know we obviously have to get money out of politics. I’m really excited about all of the activism around trying to undo citizens united. And have a constitutional amendment that would get some of this money out of politics and I think that that’s why we need young people involved in the political system because we do want to have a democracy that’s not for sale to the highest bidder.
And today we have more of a system of legalized bribery and that needs to change. And that’s why we have a food system that’s really out of whack.
SEED MOVIE: Where would you say that seed saving and seeds in general fit into us being able to fix this food system?
Wenonah Hauter: I think seeds and saving seeds is just critical because we’ve lost so much of the diversity and we know that we need resilience and so having these programs that train people about seed saving and making sure that we have programs in place to do this is going to be critical to having a food system that really works. And we need people, young people to understand why seeds are important. And why we should be concerned about GE seeds and what it means for the long term.
SEED MOVIE: How has consolidation affected the seed industry?
Wenonah Hauter: Well I think that consolidation has affected every aspect of our food system especially seeds. We have just a handful of seeds that are we have just a handful of companies today that control seeds, Monsanto of course is the most powerful and the largest 90% of soy and corn have genes patented that are owned by Monsanto.
It’s very frightening. And they not only charge farmers high prices for seeds, they are actually threatening the diversity and they have bought public policy at Food and Water Watch. We did a study of a 10 year period of how much the biotech industry had spent on lobbying and campaign contributions.
They spent 572 million dollars they hired 13 former members of Congress, 300 former White House and congressional aides and they have a hundred lobby shops in Washington and that’s why Monsanto and the biotech industry can write public policy.
SEED MOVIE: You mention about reinstating the strategic grain reserve. Why is that important?
Wenonah Hauter: You know in the 1930s the Roosevelt Administration wanted to raise the standard of living in rural areas because there was so much poverty. So the first farm bill passed in 1933 and one of the important programs in that farm bill was a strategic grain reserve. That meant that in years of abundance farmers would store grains in silos on their farms and in years when there was a drought or some kind of crises, those grains could be used so that prices would stable and consumers would have enough bread to eat.
China has had a strategic grain reserve since 54 AD so, you can imagine that there are some companies that do not want prices to be stable for grains. They want access to as cheap a commodity as possible.
So over a period of time there was a lot of lobbying and political pressure to get rid of the grain reserve. And in 1996 when the farm bill called Freedom to Farm (dangerous name) was passed it eliminated the grain the strategic grain reserve and all of the supply management functions of the USDA.
Which maintained prices. And were a really good insurance against climatic problems. And the reason this happened was that the grain traders the food processors, the meat industry wanted access to as cheap a commodities as possible. And if there’s a reserve, it acts as a price stabilizer. Now let me give you an example of why it’s important.
You’ll remember that there was a famine a major food crises in 2006 through 2008. In fact 200 million people didn’t have enough to eat. And there were speculators who bought commodity futures and then controlled them and held them the price went way up. If there’s a grain reserve and if there are these supply management mechanisms that make sure that there aren’t too many or not enough grains.
We don’t have famines like that. And farmers get paid a fair price. And consumers can be assured that there’s going to have enough food. So that’s why we need to reinstate some of these really common sense programs like a grain reserve.
SEED MOVIE: What is the global genetic commons?
Wenonah Hauter: Well you know we have a commons those are the resources that all humanity and nature share. And our genetics are also our commons. And we don’t want to see corporations in control of something as important as the genetics in seeds or in medicine these are the things that should be controlled by the public and should be available for the use of the public and should be available for nature as well.
SEED MOVIE: Great. Anything else you’d like to add?
Wenonah Hauter: Well I think a lot of times people feel that we can fix the food system just one small community project at a time. And I think these community projects are wonderful, they build community, they educate people. But they’re a piece of the puzzle and we need to have people take a step further vote with their fork vote with their vote and then hold their elected representatives accountable. And that’s the way that we can make the big structural changes that need to happen if we’re going to have a democracy that works and a food system that nourish people.
Thank you very much.
For more information visit Food and Water Watch