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Is the increase in basic food prices, that has sparked off violent popular uprisings in Tunisia and Algeria, the result of natural causes or as has been demonstrated in the case of the food crisis of 2007/2008 of cynical financial speculation?

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation sees the current wave of price rises as being even more dangerous than that of 2007/2008, threatening food shortages and popular unrest at least as severe as three years ago. The surge in the cost of flour, sugar and other primary foodstuffs in Tunisia and Algeria -added to a context of growing unemployment - has led to rioting and protest that have brought dozens of deaths and profound political instability. Today, however, we know that these crises are not caused by natural factors, but are the outcome of cynical speculative market manipulations and commercial manoeuvres.

The vast fires in Russia, the flooding in Australia and the drought in Argentina are officially cited as the causes of the present food crisis: crops destroyed, plummeting supply and rocketing prices. But numerous investigations and analyses of the crisis three years ago have amply proved that such natural factors are basically excuses wheeled out to justify to public opinion certain phenomena which are in fact artificially engineered.

In the summer of 2009, after a year of research, the ‘Levin-Coburn Report' ordered by the permanent investigative commission of the US Senate demonstrated that rise in food prices in the 2007/2008 had not been connected with the scarcity of food reserves provoked by natural factors, nor with problems in the supply chain: it had been caused by unprincipled financial speculative activities.

The following year, in the summer of 2010, the prestigious American magazine Harper's Bazaar published a detailed enquiry under the title "The food bubble: how Wall St. made millions of people go hungry and got away with it". The article described in great detail the speculative investment funds set up by Goldman Sachs together with strategists from US multinational food groups like Cargill and CanAgra, and how billions of dollars in profits had been made out of famine and popular uprisings.

Further research and study in fact revealed that the world food price crisis of 2007/2008 was not only caused by financial speculation but also by commercial strategies aimed at promoting American GMOs in developing countries: once the crisis and the scare had passed, American corporations active in this sector made huge profits promoting and selling their genetically modified seeds as solutions to the problem of stable food supplies.

This strategy was implemented with the support of the government in Washington, thanks to pressure from the powerful American food and agricultural lobby. One of the WikiLeaks cablegrams documents the pressure exerted on African governments by the US Department of State, urging them to "accept genetically modified food imports and the cultivation of genetically modified seeds."

Last Monday the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini declared that the ‘bread revolts' in Tunisia and Algeria are "the result of global speculation focused on the price of food materials". These words undoubtedly reveal the Berlusconi government's desire to absolve its ‘friends' governing Tunisia and Algeria of any responsibility, but - given the precedents of the recent past - there may well be some truth in the affirmation.


 

Enrico Piovesana