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Multinationals bring hunger

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Issue 1691

Famine stalks Ethiopia again

Multinationals bring hunger

WE HAVE just left the century with the greatest potential to eliminate hunger and malnutrition forever. Instead it boosted both to record levels. The market system has produced a world where today 1.2 billion people are officially obese and 1.2 billion go hungry every day, according to a recent report from Worldwatch in the US.

Neither extreme is necessary. Food production is left to giant corporations which put profit before health. As a result, people in the developing world go hungry and die from lack of food, while others in developed countries like the US and Britain eat terribly unhealthy diets.

The Third World

SOME 800 million people across the world are chronically hungry according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Every day 30,000 children die because of famine and hunger related diseases. The survivors are often physically or mentally stunted for life.

Some 21 percent of India’s population are chronically undernourished, while 49 percent of adults and 53 percent of children are underweight. The number of children in Africa who are underweight has nearly doubled in the last 20 years. Hungry children are more susceptible to disease.

Diarrhoea, generally from unclean water, prevents children from absorbing vital nutrients. Yet nearly 80 percent of all malnourished children in the developing world live in countries with a food surplus. Most people there are poor, and so have little access to the food on the market, or to credit and land.

The concentration of land ownership in the hands of the local rich and multinational corporations increases poverty and therefore hunger. The richest 5 percent of farmers in India control nearly 60 percent of the land. The Structural Adjustment Programmes pushed by the IMF and the World Bank are supposed to “revive” Third World economies. In reality they mean poor countries privatising and slashing social spending. Every study of the effect of such programmes has found growing levels of malnutrition.

Many developing countries promote the export of “cash crops”-such as coffee and bananas-to pull in foreign currencies to pay off debt to Western banks. The main beneficiaries are big landowners, large corporations and foreign investors. In Chile, Paraguay and Guatemala the production of baby broccoli and cut flowers for export led to “a significant loss of land over time by small and middle-sized producers”, says one study. Trade agreements allow big farmers in Europe and North America to sell subsidised grain and oils cheaply in developing nations. Importing food supplies leaves poorer countries vulnerable to price fluctuations in the world market.

Cheap imports of corn from the US initially benefited people in Mexico. But the price of corn doubled within a year when the Mexican currency was devalued in 1995.

Ten firms rob us all

ABOUT 20 multinational corporations control most of the world’s agricultural trade. They manipulate markets to get the best deals, overpricing where there is no competition and underpricing when they want to kill competition. The world’s top ten agribusiness multinationals are:

(1) Phillip Morris (US) Owns: Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Benson & Hedges, Players and many other cigarette brands. Controls 50 percent of cigarette sales in the US. Also owns Kraft Foods (largest packaged food company in the US) and Miller Brewing Company (second largest brewing company in the US). World sales of $78.6 billion in 1999. 
(2) Cargill (US) Secretive private company that controls most movements of grain across the world. It drove many Indian farmers close to bankruptcy by selling sunflower seeds that produced a third of normal yields. It also bought up seeds across India and then sold them elsewhere in the country at 20 times the price. Made $597 million in 1999. 
(3) Nestl (Switzerland) The world’s largest food manufacturer. It has factories in more than 80 countries and a turnover of $52 billion. It takes over 1,000 a second. It owns Nescaf coffee, a string of chocolate brands, and grocery manufacturers Rowntree, Sarsons, Findus, Buitoni, Perrier, Branston, Sun-Pat, Shredded Wheat and many more. Nestl controls 40 percent of the world market for baby milk, which it aggressively promotes in developing countries. Its labels do not provide clear information. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than a million babies die every year as a result of unhygienic bottle feeding. 
(4) Unilever (UK/Netherlands) Owns: Batchelor’s, Birds Eye, Boursin, Brooke Bond, Comfort, Domestos, Elida Gibbs, Flora, Krona, Lipton, Lux, Mattessons, Mentadent, Omo, Oxo, Pears, Persil, PG Tips, Ponds, Radion, Ragu, Red Mountain coffee, Signal, Sunlight, Surf, Timotei, Vaseline, Wall’s, John West, Mr Whippy, Wisk, and many perfume and cosmetics companies. 24.7 billion sales, 20.8 billion stock market value. (5) Pepsico (US) 
(6) Coca-Cola (US) 
(7) Con Agra (US) Second biggest food company in the US. 
(8) Nabisco Group Holdings (US) Owns many brands, like Weetabix. Recently sold off big tobacco wing. 
(9) Grand Metropolitan (UK) Owns Aqua Libra, Baileys, Burger King, Cinzano, Croft Original, Gilbey’s, Green Giant, Haagen-Dazs, Heublein, Malibu, Metaxa, Old Orleans, Pillsbury, Pearle Vision, Le Piat D’Or, Smirnoff, International Distillers and Vintners. Sales 7.9 billion, stock market value 9 billion. 
(10) Elders IXL (Australia) Owns Fosters.

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