FOOD COLONIALISM: The problem with our current food imports and the threat of future trade agreements.

George Richmond discusses the urgent need for a global humane food system.

With Parliament now on recess, the process of passing Bills is paused including for the much-debated Trade Bill. The Trade Bill has been the source of great anxiety for environmentalists and farmers in recent months. On Monday 20th July, Clause 11, the amendment put forward by Keir Starmer and Caroline Lucas demanding legal guarantees for food standards and animal welfare in trade agreements, was voted down; 251 for: 337 against.

A ‘blanket’ ban on the importing of products with low food standards and animal welfare may not be effective in making trade agreements accountable; for according to the first report of the National Food Strategy released on Wednesday 29th July by Henry Dimbleby, any blanket legislation requiring other countries to meet our own food guidelines would make it nigh-on impossible’[1]. Yet the need to seriously hold this government to account on its promise of upholding such standards could not be more crucial. Although chlorinated chicken seems to be the headline issue, there are a great many other worrying prospects under this government’s potential trade deals and their role in furthering an already damaging western food trade.

With Britain being a populous nation, small in land-size and with only a third of our farmland able to produce crops, we already import vast quantities of food. This food is largely part of the global cheap food industry and is colonial in the character of its production.  The likes of the UK and other Western nations over the decades have compelled the environmental destruction demanded by their food consumption, to be taken up by others. 91% of the Amazon Rainforest has been cut down in order to provide beef[2], mainly mass-produced and cheap to the consumer markets of America and Western Europe. Meanwhile, crop productions which provides food which the UK imports heavily, causes 27% of global food emissions.[3] The human misery brought by this food colonialism is also atrocious. In June, the Washington Post published a long-piece on child-labour exploited by West African cocoa farmers to supply Western demand for chocolate, from companies such as Nestle and Mars[4].

Much of this global food colonialism is fuelled by Western monopolies, particularly the seed and pesticide markets, with four companies, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and Dow-Dupont controlling 60% of the global seed market.[5] This holds farmers, often in developing nations such as Brazil, at the mercy of western offerings of pesticides and seed supplies and of the vast demand for cheap food, taking little account of the environmental or health costs. The environmental damage of our imported food from across the world, often in developing countries that desperately seek to exploit their natural resources in order to keep up with the capitalist global economy, is not just killing the birds and the bees, its risking our food security. Our global soils are being depleted due to this food colonialism,  resulting in the erosion of 75bn tonnes of global arable soil a year[6]. With out these soils our ability to grow crops and put food on the table is gravely endangered.

Now our global food systems are under immense environmental and economic strain. Our trade agreements cannot afford to add weight to that strain. Ultimately as Luke Pollard MP has stated, we need to make ‘food political’[7], and this must begin at its basis in production, and include the trade economies that drive this. Our Trade Bill should uphold trade as a means to providing true global leadership for a sustainable, pluralistic, and humane food system.

George Richmond is an undergraduate History student at Cambridge University; Disability Officer for Cambridge University Labour Club and has a food and politics focused podcast- Chat with George (available on Spotify). 
He tweets at @ChatwRichmond



[1] Dimbleby, H., 2020. [online] Available at: p.6. [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[2] Rainforest Foundation US. 2020. Agriculture -Save The Rainforest- Rainforest Foundation US. [online] Available at:,change%2Dproducing%20methane%20per%20day!  [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[3] Ritchie, H. and Roser, M., 2020. Environmental Impacts Of Food Production. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[4] Whoriskey, P. and Siegel, R., 2020. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 19 July 2020].

[5] Hubbard, K., 2020. The Sobering Details Behind The Latest Seed Monopoly Chart | Civil Eats. [online] Civil Eats. Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2020].

[6] 2020. Global Soil Partnership Endorses Guidelines On Sustainable Soil Management | Global Soil Partnership | Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[7] 2020. Twitter. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2020].

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