Schiller Institute brings its food campaign to
The following article by Feride Istogu Gillesberg and Michelle Rasmussen from June 25, 2008, is to be published in the German paper Neue Solidarität and on the homepage of the Schiller Institute in USA. To listen to the presentations in Danish go to www.schillerinstitut.dk/ft_foedehoering.html.
On June 23, the Danish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the international food crises, which the Schiller Institute (SI) in Denmark participated in. On May 22, the SI had testified before that same committee, about its international campaign to put doubling food production on the agenda of the FAO summit in Rome (Read that testimony at: www.schillerinstitut.dk/folketinget220508eng.html). Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gitte Seeberg (independent), present while the SI gave its testimony, and who had attended the FAO meeting in Rome, had taken the initiative to hold the hearing, and chaired it.
The hearing was attended by approximately 100 people, including parliamentarians, representatives of food-related institutions, humanitarian organizations, private persons, and five members of the Schiller Institute. The purpose was to provide a forum for discussing the causes of the food crisis, and to advise parliamentarians on initiatives they could take to deal with it. Four experts were invited to present their views, and the participants were encouraged to join the debate.
Three of the SI members were able to help shape the debate by presenting, firstly, what has caused the crisis, and the urgency of politicians intervening into the “free” markets to help double food production, and, secondly, Lyndon LaRouche’s campaign to change economic policy from his 1988 Food for Peace campaign, up to the current campaign for a global New Deal and New Bretton Woods monetary system.
As the participants arrived, a stack the latest SI campaign newspaper with the headline, “We must Double Food Production,” was available, next to literature from the speakers. The hearing itself was divided into two parts. In the first half Henrik Hansen, professor and head of the Institute for Food and Resource Economics of Copenhagen University spoke first. He began, in a real sophist manner, by saying that he was talking from the standpoint of en economist, and would not make any ethical evaluations. He then actually said that that press coverage of a food crisis is a “big hype,” and tried to “prove” that the crisis of rising food prices does not exist, if you take inflation, and government subsidies into account. Malthus was wrong -- there is no food supply crisis, only a distribution problem, he said.
Next, a Danish representative of the United Nations’ World Food program, Torben Due, who was more in tune with reality, went through the effects the rising food prices are having for the poorest people in the world, which is getting worse and worse. One important point he made was that malnutrition in children from 0-5 years old has severe consequences for their ability to contribute to their society later in life. The problems can even be passed down to the next generation. When girls who were undernourished become mothers, they can give birth to underweight children. He also pointed out that investment in the farming sector of the poorest countries have been cut in half during the recent years.
After the first two speakers, the floor was opened for questions and comments. The participating parliamentarians asked the first questions, one of which was Lars Barfoed (Conservative), who had attended the SI’s testimony. At that time, he had asked Tom Gillesberg if he had understood him right, that the SI wants more regulation of the markets, and wants to stop the liberal free trade policy, and at the same time, the SI is against so many environmentalist restrictions. This time, Barfoed started out by saying that he thought the economists were uncritically singing the free trade tune. “I’m not a liberalist, but a conservative.“ He raised the question whether something fundamental was missing in securing and stimulating effective food production in Africa, which he was greatly concerned about. It seems that he is losing confidence in the policy of consensus, and is starting to listen to some of the wise words of LaRouche.
Chairman Gitte Seeberg called upon Tom Gillesberg, chairman of the SI in Denmark, by name, to take the microphone, which transformed hearing from that point on. After introducing himself, he said the following: ”We have a campaign, where we, up to the FAO meeting, actually said that we have to discuss doubling food production. What is missing here is why food production per person in the world has gone down in the last 20 years. That is a result of a conscious policy. The World Trade Organization, WTO, went in with gunboat diplomacy, to simply force nations to give up their national food programs. If we are to get out of this situation, we have to go back to the post war policy, where we actually had progress, where every nation had the right to secure their national food production, which more or less would provide food for the nation, and even produce a little extra. That was banned because the economists said that we can’t have regulated markets. This crisis is the writing on the wall. If we can’t react to the current global food crises, and acknowledge that this is the result of the policy of global liberalism, where the markets decide everything, then the world is going to collapse around us. It must be recognized that the economists have been wrong, and that economic liberalism has failed. Politicians have to intervene to secure national food production, and regulate the markets. When we see price increases due to enormous speculation, as we see today, politicians have to intervene and stop speculation. They must declare: ‘Food is something everyone needs. It is too important to let market mechanisms decide over it. We have a political responsibility to make sure that everyone can get the food they need.’”
This caused the sophist economist to freak out. He said that he doesn’t believe that the world is going under. He put up his diagram, as if it were a magic board, showing that food production has been going up, therefore, doubling it doesn’t make sense in his universe. But, even he hit the nail on the head when he said, on the question of regulating the markets, looking at it from the standpoint of an economist, I say would say, ‘absolutely not,’ but as a human being, I would say, ‘yes, of course.’ Gillesberg’s intervention changed the entire setting; this, then, became the dominant theme of the hearing – the issue of free market vs. political intervention to secure the food supply.
Leading off the second round of the hearing was Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a Danish professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University, in New York State, and World Food Prize Laureate in 2001. He started out by saying that he is not against the free market economy, because it is not the system and the market’s fault, but the lack of investment. He emphasized that for the free market to work efficiently, the prerequisites have to be there – farming districts require transportation infrastructure development, communication, improvement of health care and educational systems, and scientific research and development. He explained that investing in agricultural production would create a multiplier effect for the economy as a whole. We have to now use this so-called hype around the food crises to finally act and solve it.
The last speaker, before taking more questions, was Morten Emil Hansen, political adviser to the Danish Church Emergency Aid Organization, and a coordinator for NGO Forum. He started out saying that every 5 seconds, a child dies of hunger. He told the audience how disappointed he was with the FAO Rome conference, which he attended. From the beginning, he mentioned that the food crisis is integrated with the international financial crisis, speculation in food prices, rising oil prices and ethanol production, but without going through why, only that it is a complex problem which has to be approached as a whole. He stressed that while the financial world collected 1,000 billion dollars to help ameliorate the credit crunch, only 8-10 billion dollars has been collected for the FAO. He also called for stopping all biofuel production. He ended by saying that food is a human right.
When the floor was opened up again for further discussion, SI organizer Feride Istogu Gillesberg got a turn to speak. She identified herself, and told the audience that Lyndon LaRouche campaigned for ”Food for Peace“ already in the 80s, which had the aim of creating a global New Deal, or a Marshall Plan for the world. He was not listened to. Instead, we got a globalized financial system. Financial bubbles have been created, that are collapsing now. The new trend is speculation in raw materials. The food crisis crystallizes that we have gone too far with the so-called free market economy. What do you think about a New Deal for the world? What do you think about doubling food production? Carlos Brobjerg, a Danish-Argentinean LaRouche activist, who just came back from Argentina, got to ask the last question. He asked if the speakers support establishing a New Bretton Woods, which is supported by Italian Finance Minister Tremonti, and economist Lyndon LaRouche, which could help fend off the food crises. Mr. Pindstrup-Andersen answered that he didn’t know how you could get nations to double food production, but as for the last question, he has not heard about this proposal before, but would be very interested to learn more about it. Afterwards, he happily took literature to study this further.
The SI members were also able to informally discuss with many of the participants, and distribute literature during the breaks. The Parliament is making a CD of the proceedings available for all interested, so the SI contribution to the debate, both the causes of the food crisis, and what policy changes have to be made in order to double food production, will be heard by many more people who are concerned with solving the most serious crisis the world is faced with today – not enough food to feed the people. There is a program to correct the most grotesque example of the bankruptcy of the current financial system, and the SI ideas expressed during the hearing will definitely help to create the political will to implement it.
Gitte Seeberg, formand Udenrigsudvalg
Prof. Henrik Hansen, Fødevareøkonomisk Institut
Torben Due, World Food Program
Tom Gillesberg, Schiller Instituttets formand
Prof. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Cornell Univ.
Morten Emil Hansen, Folkekirkens Nødhjælp
Feride Istogu Gillesberg, Schiller Instituttet
Carlos Brobjerg, Schiller Instituttet
Fotos: Michelle Rasmussen