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The Global Food Economy

The Global Food Economy

Tony Weis



The Global Food Economy examines the human and ecological cost of what we eat.

The current food economy is characterized by immense contradictions. Surplus 'food mountains', bountiful supermarkets, and rising levels of obesity stand in stark contrast to widespread hunger and malnutrition. Transnational companies dominate the market in food and benefit from subsidies, whilst farmers in developing countries remain impoverished. Food miles, mounting toxicity and the 'ecological hoofprint' of livestock mean that the global food economy rests on increasingly shaky environmental foundations.

This book looks at how such a system came about, and how it is being enforced by the WTO. Ultimately, Weis considers how we can find a way of building socially just, ecologically rational and humane food economies.

Praise for the first edition of The Global Food Economy:

‘This is the book I have been waiting for. Tony Weis gives an ecological foundation to analysis of food regimes, something that many of us having been attempting in less capable ways for some time’ 
Harriet Friedmann, Journal of Agrarian Change

‘Finally, a book summarizing the current state of agricultural policies that my mother could read, and that can stand up to a critical eye…In this effort, Weis succeeds with flying colours’ 
K.R. Avilés-Vásquez, Development and Change

'I hadn't imagined that a small book could do justice to so large a topic before I read Tony Weis on the global food economy - it's necessary and terrific: intellectually rigorous and informative, full of insight and provocation.' 
Henry Bernstein, SOAS

'A searing indictment of big agri-businesses ... A sane and passionate plea to reorder the global food economy ... The book ... should find a place in our bookshelf.' 
Economic and Political Weekly

'A sweeping overview of the contradictions and crises in the global food economy.' 
Food Ethics

'Compact and readable, Tony Weis confronts head-on the forces that have brought about the paradoxes in the production and distribution of food around the world.'

The New Agriculturist

 'A patient and enthusiastic insight into a key aspect of international development and environmentalism.'

Red Pepper

 'A powerful book ... incorporate[s] so many components into its contained and up-to-date narrative, it is well worth reading by both scholars advanced along the road of global food and agricultural studies, and by those who reside in Weis’s state of original unconsciousness ... Weis has made an impressive and valuable contribution to a burgeoning scholar-activist literature that seeks not just to show us the dangerous flaws and injustices of our contemporary models of food production, but also to indicate where we might go for practical and meaningful alternatives.'

Josh Brem-Wilson, Organization and Environment

 'Students new to the political economy/ecology of food and agriculture…sometimes struggle to place the various components of the global agrifood system into a coherent conceptual framework. This book will be a useful tool for such students, as it outlines both the causes and impacts of accelerating structural changes around the globe in one accessible narrative.'

P.H. Howard, Agriculture and Human Values

 'Tony Weis ... presents a highly informative narrative ... [and] provides abundant fact-based arguments to confidently engage in political dialogue on the driving forces of a food system seemingly in perpetual crisis ... With his important book on this vital topic, Tony Weis has provided nothing less than a solid departure point for such debate.'

Glenn Brigaldino, Review of African Political Economy

 'At last, here is a book that draws together the differing historical-geographical trajectories that today invite discussion of a specifically global agricultural dilemma, and what might be done about it ... this is an uncommonly synthetic and focused book.'Daniel Niles, Annals of the Association of American Geographers

Tony Weis is an associate professor in geography at the University of Western Ontario. He is also the author of The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock (Zed 2013), as well as co-editor of A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice (2014) and Critical Perspectives on Food Sovereignty (2014).

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover
Contents v
Preface 1
Different worlds of food and farming 1
Aim and outline of this book 3
1: The global food economy: contradictions \rand crises 11
Uneven bounty 11
The industrial grain-livestock complex 16
A snapshot of global agro-food trade 21
The great agrarian question of the twenty-first century 24
Assessing the ecological footprint of industrial agriculture 28
Conclusions 44
Notes 46
2: The temperate grain-livestock complex 47
Speeding agrarian revolutions 47
Managing a state of chronic surplus 63
Agro-giants: the ascendancy of transnational corporations 70
The polarity of production in industrial agriculture 81
Conclusions 86
Notes 88
3: From colonialism to global market integration in the South 89
Land and the colonial inheritance 89
Struggles for (and against) land reform 91
The marginals: the construction of food import dependencies 99
The powerhouses i: prioritizing domestic food self-sufficiency 104
The powerhouses ii: building competitive agro-exportplatforms 112
Structural adjustment and agriculture 116
Conclusions 125
Notes 126
4: Entrenching an uneven playing field: the multilateral regulation of agriculture 128
The rise and imbalances of the WTO 128
The push to regulate global agricultural trade under the WTO 131
The new ‘discipline’ for the global food economy 133
Unpacking the imbalances: from contestation to a crisis of legitimacy 138
Moving from impasse to impasse 143
Beyond Cancún: which way forward? 150
The uncertain future of the WTO 154
Conclusions 157
Notes 160
5: The battle for the future of farming 161
The (resistible) trajectory of the global food economy 161
Battling for what? 163
The multiple scales of resistance and change 176
Notes 188
Bibliography 190
Index 208