Wed

Sep

1011:25

On when to say yes and when to say no

 

In today’s world, one of our biggest challenges is to say ‘no’ to the right things. ‘No’ to the supermarket shelves bulging with fat, sugar and prefabricated foods of all kinds. ‘No’ to toxic toothpaste and tomatoes. ‘No’ to fake spring water and consumer goods produced by underprivileged child labour. It’s not easy.

In fact, it is incredibly hard. Almost impossible. This is no secret to the manufacturers and distributors of these so-called ‘goods and services’, which could be more accurately named ‘evils and entrapments’. Let us use the otherwise-innocent tomato as an example. What is now produced, marketed and sold as an ‘ordinary’ tomato is in fact little more than a evil clone, loaded with toxic pesticides and almost completely deprived of its natural nutrients. The ordinary tomato is now manufactured, marketed and sold as an organic tomato. A biodynamic tomato. Really, it’s just a normal tomato.

The same goes for all produce. Whenever you see a banana labelled ‘organic’, rest assured that the other bananas in the unmarked box are slightly poisonous. Not enough to see, smell, feel or taste, but enough to have a long-term deleterious effect on your health. Some farmers don’t eat the ‘ordinary’, ‘conventional’ potatoes they grow.

It’s hard to resist the temptation and say no. Unfortunately, there is also a class element involved. Organically grown – not to mention biodynamically-farmed-super-moon-calendar-yin-yangish-Rudolph-Steiner veggies – don’t come cheap. In fact, only the most privileged can afford to run a completely organic household made up of two parents and two kids.

Manufacturing, distributing and selling toxic things, be they electronics, toys, clothing or foods, should be considered a crime against humanity and treated as such. This is not news, the informed reader might say. And while this is regrettably true, Danish food minister Dan Jørgensen’s ‘gurken-zeit’ crusade against unhealthy Danish food habits, as well as his recent ‘ministerial action’ on listeria poisoning, have once again raised the question: is our government really working for the greater good of its citizens, or for the greater good of its corporate sector?

In fact, Jørgensen’s crusade smells of the deep, dark corners of the food industry. I might have written ‘well-meaning’ crusade, were it not for the fact that Jørgensen’s Food and Agriculture ministry has actually pushed to dramatically increase legal levels of truly toxic pesticides in meat and other foods. According to the newspaper Arbejderen, the new threshold for some pesticides will be as much as three thousand times higher than before. While the ministry did open the proposal to public comment, the consultation period lasted only six days over the Ascension Day bank holiday, leaving a mere two working days for submissions.

Sure, it’s not exactly news that political institutions bend the rules to serve their agendas. But a stench is also rising from some supposedly impartial organisations meant to serve the public good. Take the European Food and Safety Agency, an independent agency spawned by the supranational overlord that is the EU. According to a report by the Corporate Europe Observatory, half of the EFSA’s 209 scientists have direct or indirect ties to the food industry.

“Even without checking for undeclared interests, the number of conflicts of interest in this agency is very worrying,” says Stéphane Horel, who co-wrote the report. “Experts with conflicts of interest dominate all but one panel. We found that the bulk of conflicts are from research funding and private consultancy contracts, but certain crucial institutions for scientists (scientific societies, journals) are also targeted by industry lobbying, and EFSA seems to ignore this.”

So who are these powerful national agencies – the operational divisions of the ministries themselves – working for? Is it the citizen? You and me? The guy next door? Or is it corporate, capital interest? The answer, dear reader, is sadly obvious. These formerly-trusted entities, once believed to provide a well-informed and value-neutral barrier between the political tide and good governance, that are supposed to work in the best interest of citizens, really work for a whole other set of interests. We are not, in other words, their primary clients. Companies are. The huge slaughterhouses are. The pig-farmers are. Faceless conglomerates with only greed and survival on their minds are their real clients. Not you and I.

And this is another hard thing to keep saying no to. But even though it may seem like the walls of the castle have no ears, and that our voices are useless, we need to keep saying ‘yes’ to the right things and ‘no’ to the wrong. No matter how hard it is and how confusing it all seems. Even if it means looking to alternative media, like The Murmur. Even if it means putting your ear to the ground and sniffing the air.

We need to read between the lines, because neither the private sector nor the government will do it for us. Their agencies, and the civil servants working for them, will become ever more politicised, spending more on ‘informative’ campaigns of persuasion to modify our opinions and perceptions of them, while leading us all down the same road paved with good intentions, straight to you-know-where. Nobody needs that. So lift your finger and say ‘nay’, or lift your thumb and say ‘yea’. But please do it right, because it is among our biggest collective challenges. ‘Yea’ to life, love and laughter. ‘Nay’ to slave-planet poisonous. M

Commentary

By Claus Ankersen

Claus Ankersen is an internationally acclaimed writer, artist and performance poet.

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