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Food system upside down

14 February 2012 - 02:33 By Crispian Olver

It irritates me that I often shop "blind" - when prices indicated on supermarket shelves are not easy to link to the products.

Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver
Crispian Olver

Naturally, I choose the freshest organic vegetables and the most natural-looking bread. Not only do I select the best-looking food - it so happens that when I get to the till, I realise I have taken the most expensive goods too.

Where I shop, a pack of free range chicken fillets costs about R12 more than a (bigger) pack of the no-range kind.

In our modern, globally-integrated food system, the more environmentally friendly it is, the more expensive it is.

Our food system is upside down. Naturally produced goods should cost less than foods stuffed with hormones, although this isn't the case for short-sighted economic reasons.

The sheer inequity of it frustrates me . Nutritional health seems to be reserved for a small percentage of the global population . In most countries, certified organics consist of only about 1% of total food sales.

One of the reasons for this is the shrinking pool of organisations cultivating, processing and selling food.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the 10 largest companies in agriculture control 80% of the world market, and two companies distribute 80% of the world's grain.

This is frightening, with price increasingly becoming an instrument of exclusion.

Another annoyance is that labelling is related to food quality. More expensive organic productslistingredients and nutritional value and exhibit their fair trade, organic or biodynamic certification.

So you have to pay to know if hormones were used to increase milk volumes in the cow.

Uniform labelling that listed health information as well as environmental and social considerations would be a small step in the right direction.

A simple traffic light system of red, orange and green would go a long way to providing everyone with the same information.

Only a small section of the global population eats healthy, environmentally-sustainable food. And producers regularly get squeezed with tighter margins.

Something has to give.