Bitter Truth: Biodiversity and The Business of Food

2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity and offered the world the opportunity to reflect on the role of biodiversity in our daily lives – in fact our bodies and our selves.

Author Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 10.13.10

We rarely make the connection between biodiversity of plants and animals, which we celebrate in the wild and our culture of food and lifestyles. But it is important to make the link – as disappearance of biodiversity in the world affects our bodies.

The Business of Food Has Changed to The Business of Profit

Take honey. We never think about the golden product we buy off the shelf and consume from the jar with a label we trust is linked to the biodiversity of bees in the world. We never consider how, as this biodiversity disappears and how, as Indian-adapted bees (Apis cerana and Apis dorsata) are replaced by foreign, in this case European bees (Apis mellifera), the business of food changes. It changes because now, instead of the bee that is naturally found in our backyards, our forests and fields, we move towards bee cultivation. Then industry grows. It replaces the small informal bee producers, to build an organised business with reach across the country to outsource production and collection. The company that sells us the honey under its label, has little to do with its production. It buys from the organised business, bottles and sells. The business of food has changed to the business of profit.

New Diseases and New Threats

The biodiversity of food is lost – only one bee type now produces our honey – and the biodiversity of business is lost. But nature has a way of getting back at us. As industry thrives in pumping up production by overworking the bees – taking out immature honey so that bees have to make more and then feeding them supplements and antibiotics for growth – it finds that it is dealing with new diseases and new threats to its profits. This industrial agribusiness – which our honey now belongs to – needs more inputs of antibiotics to keep business going and bees healthy.

But this only means that our food – our honey that we take with trust and belief in goodness and purity – is full of contaminants of antibiotics as the Centre for Science and Environment’s laboratory found. All major brands – including two big foreign brands – had antibiotics far in excess of any standards in the world. This contaminant is bad for our bodies as it builds antibiotic resistance and even toxicity. The circle is complete: loss of biodiversity, loss of food culture and bad health and disease.

The Art of Food

There are two ways ahead in this biodiversity-food-body connection. First, we need to build the science of food regulation, which is protective of our health. Current efforts at creating a food policeman in the shape of the Food Safety and Standards Authority have been disastrous. The Authority, set up a few years ago, has been dead on entry. It does little to protect consumer interest in food, instead works to protect business interest over our food. This is even more deadly, when you consider how the business of food has changed and become more powerful and more global. Clearly, big business and weak regulators are bad for our bodies.

Second, we need to build the art of food again. This means understanding food as an outcome of living and lived biodiversity and culture. We cannot take all diversity out of our food and expect to have good health. It is clear we are losing the connection between what we eat and why and where and how it grows as we blindly and foolishly allow industry to take over the business of our kitchens.

Food is about the ultimate celebration of nature. Let us not lose it.

Author: Sunita Narain, Director of Centre for Science and Environment

A Food Wrap Made of Beeswax Generates Buzz Around the World

Want to save your food leftovers without using plastic? No problem! A small business in Vermont produces an eco-friendly food wrap made of cotton and beeswax.

Are Mobile Phones Killing Off Honey Bees?

Could radiation from mobile phones be causing bees to die off? A group of schoolkids in Germany have carried out an award-winning experiment to find out exactly that.

Bump Mark: the Smart Sticker Against Food Waste

A lot of food is thrown out because it passed its expiration date. But very often, the discarded products are still good. A gel tag could help curb this type of waste in the near future: Bump Mark lets you feel when food has actually gone bad.

From Harvest To Checkout: How Fresh.Land Is Revolutionising The Way Supermarkets Work

How long does it take for an apple to go from orchard to shopping basket? Too long, according to the B2B startup Fresh.Land. They want to fast-track the process by setting up direct digital supply chains between farmers and supermarkets.

Education, Innovation and Climate Smart Agriculture: a Multifaceted Approach to Environmental Sustainability in Nigeria

Climate smart agriculture is one of several different initiatives interested parties in Nigeria have undertaken to mitigate climate change. The situation on the ground as regards to how much individuals in Nigeria are affected by climate change reveals how important it is that everybody appreciates and acts on this issue to develop a sustainable system that protects their environment.

The Plight of the Humble Bee and How it Affects You and Me

Albert Einstein once said,“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.