Some reflections on health, agroecology, food sovereignty and socialism

Some reflections on health, agroecology, food sovereignty and socialism

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By Manuel Almisas Albéndiz

The type of diet, especially meat, that is promoted in many capitalist countries, together with sedentary, consumerist, socially and family unstructured ways of life, etc. And all this, on a planet increasingly threatened by increasing pollution, global warming to which it is being subjected, the loss of forests and soil as carbon sinks, etc.

One year after the first case of infection by Escherichia coli O104: H4 of the deadly outbreak that occurred in Germany (46 deaths in Europe) (1), a piece of news appears in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with which it apparently has no relation : the socialist agroecological livestock company "Marisela" (State of Apure) takes hold and has already produced more than three million tons of meat for the Venezuelan people (2).

On the one hand, we are witnessing the worrying proliferation of epidemic outbreaks by various bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, etc.) that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, or with recombined forms such as the last one in Germany (strain with recombinant characteristics of enteroaggregative E. coli and enterohemorrhagic E. coli), which are produced in many capitalist countries, and which is associated with the predominance of intensive grain-fed livestock farming in polluting and unhealthy establishments called “feedlots”. The type of food, especially meat, that is promoted in these countries, together with sedentary, consumerist, socially and family unstructured ways of life, etc. that carries with it the ideology of maximum economic benefit and social numbness, is leading humanity to the contradictory reality of increasing famine, on the one hand, and of cardiovascular diseases due to overweight and obesity and emerging food poisoning on the other (3 ). And all this, on a planet increasingly threatened by increasing pollution, global warming to which it is being subjected, the loss of forests and soil as carbon sinks, etc.

Large agricultural corporations not only constitute an immense warehouse of pathogenic microorganisms that recombine genetically in a dangerous way and with unsuspected consequences, and that cause resistance to antibiotics in an alarming way, as the WHO itself denounced in 2004 (4). They also originate a process of concentration and privatization of companies, lands and waters that is ruining more and more small farmers and ranchers, depriving them of their means of subsistence and throwing them into misery.

Together with this reality, we are witnessing a process of theft at the hands of multinational energy, pharmaceutical, food, agricultural, etc., many of them associated with each other, which, sometimes covered with development aid (capitalist, of course) and "humanitarian aid ”, Threaten to deprive the peoples of their ancient natural knowledge, their culture and their ability to decide on their eating habits, among others. The process of capitalist accumulation on a global scale implies the reduction (if not the destruction) of the sovereignty of the peoples, and especially in what we are dealing with, food sovereignty.

Food Sovereignty (a concept proposed by Via Campesina at the Forum parallel to the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996) is committed to the relocation of agri-food systems and peasant production models, but it would also increase food security from the perspective of toxic-infectious risk. On the one hand, food would be appropriate to the cultural context, but on the other hand, peasant agriculture and livestock, from the agroecology approach, would favor the production of food without toxic substances, reducing the risk of consuming contaminated food at the farm level, and socially fair. Likewise, the shortening of the food chain and the reduction in the number of intermediaries and transformations suffered by food reduce the critical points where food could be contaminated.

What happened in the epidemic outbreak of E. coli in Germany a year ago, where the globalized chains of commercialization of seeds and products caused it to take several weeks months to achieve traceability to determine the origin of potential sources of contamination and reduce the consequences of this food crisis, it would be unthinkable if society were based on the principle of food sovereignty, where a short marketing chain would allow to know immediately the origin of the products consumed (5).

It has been known for years that beef cattle that are fed with natural pastures have a number of nutritional advantages compared to those fed with grains such as corn, sorghum, barley, etc. Not only does it have less total and saturated fat, and it has higher amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotenes, conjugated clavulanic acid (protector of some tumors) or omega-3 fats, among others (6, 7, 8 ). It is that in addition to this indisputable reason for human health, there is increasing evidence that feeding with grasses reduces contamination by E. coli in beef and in the feces of these ruminants that greatly contaminate the rivers and aquifers of intensive breeding establishments.

The grain-based feeding system generates a high level of acidity in the colon of animals, forcing E. coli to mutate to adapt to that acidity and therefore become resistant to the acidity of the digestive system of humans, causing a more virulent disease (9). This is what happened with the O157: H7 strain, which appeared in the USA in 1982 in epidemic outbreaks associated with the consumption of hamburgers. A Cornell University team found that compared to the more than 6 million bacteria they found in the feces of grain-fed cattle, they found only 20,000 in those fed with grass, and in the stomach of humans, the survival of E. coli from the former was in a ratio of 250,000 to 100 (10).

Therefore, if there is scientific evidence about the nutritional and health problems of meat from intensive livestock, in addition to what is so often denounced about the recombinant growth hormones that are injected or the therapeutic and preventive antibiotics due to diseases caused by digestive hyperacidity, overcrowding and stress in livestock, how does this type of industrial livestock complex based on this type of feeding and breeding continue to grow?

But the solution is not to build large cattle farms with extensive production so that they eat pastures and obtain organic and healthier meats. The planet could not withstand the pressure that a cattle ranch supposes at the rate of growth that capitalism gives it. Even the United Nations have made a dramatic appeal to the industrialized capitalist countries so that their livestock use only natural resources, grasslands and leaves of trees and shrubs, without competing with the land necessary for the cultivation of cereals and the water essential for human consumption. : It cannot be that 8% of world water consumption is destined for livestock, and of it 70% is destined for irrigating pastures and forages (11). Furthermore, it is essential to reduce the impact on the climate of the livestock activity promoted by the system, since it is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, a percentage higher than that corresponding to the means of transport (11 ). It is also noted that the livestock sector emits 37% of anthropogenic methane, which comes mostly from the fermentation process that occurs in the intestinal digestion of ruminants and has a global warming potential 23 times greater than that of CO2, and 65% from anthropogenic nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas), most of it from manure. Although also, on the subject of the large-scale livestock industry that we are dealing with, when tropical forests are cut down and transformed into grasslands, nitrous oxide emissions increase three times (12).

But not only the pollution and the climate are real dangers of a cattle production seeking only the benefit of the livestock multinationals. The 30 percent of the land area that livestock occupies today was previously inhabited by wildlife, so it is argued that the livestock sector could be the first responsible for the loss of biodiversity since it is the first cause of deforestation and it has a high participation in soil degradation, pollution, etc. An analysis of the Red List of Threatened Species of the prestigious World Conservation Union (IUCN) shows that most of the threatened species in the world are subjected to habitat loss due to livestock activity (12).

Here, in the Spanish state, the capitalists do not heed these reasoning and continue the process of industrialization and concentration of companies, with the consequent dismantling of small livestock facilities. This has happened with the recent formation of one of the largest European corporations, “Campofrío Food Group”, which controls Spanish companies such as Navidul, Revilla or Oscar Mayer, as well as other Portuguese, Belgian, French, Romanian companies, etc. of the sector. In addition, intensive Spanish industrial livestock farming, which has Catalonia as a reference by becoming the main producer of pork in the state, is the main devourer of cereals and the main engine of importing them for the manufacture of feed, being a sector key sucker for soybeans produced in Argentina and Brazil in worrying monoculture conditions. If we add to this the total foreign dependence on Spanish production of industrial meat, milk and eggs, we must be aware that this state of affairs not only diminishes our food sovereignty but also contributes to destroying that of other more disadvantaged regions of the world.

And of course, we do not want to add to this situation the role of the proliferation of transgenic crops (GMOs) in the Spanish state and in the world, for the manufacture of feed as is the case of corn, because we would extend a lot and we believe that It has already been made clear in other studies (3), although both problems are closely related and this fact should not be lost sight of.

The peoples must regain their food sovereignty. They must once again have the ability to decide what, how much and where it is produced, and how it is produced, and what type of food is in line with the balance of nature, as well as with their social, cultural, community and ecological interests that provide true health understood as personal and social well-being in interaction with the world around you.

As has always happened, capitalism does not shrink from the setbacks that the animal and human health crises or the smear campaigns of consumer groups who question its agricultural policy can bring on it. On the contrary, it adapts to new conditions and tries to attract new consumers. Capitalism goes "green" to continue with its profits and its exploitation of the working population and the depletion of the planet's natural resources. That cows have a bad press, because they are crazy or cause epidemics of E. coli infections, because pigs and chickens are raised. That epidemics of bird flu or swine flu appear, as it is decided to close borders according to the origins of those products, or it is used to increase the prices of alternative livestock, or cattle are raised again, but now ecologically and in large areas of grasslands although be it clearing jungles, or favoring “green” poultry farms with less crowded chickens and feed-based feed made from soybeans grown in Argentina as a monoculture after dispossessing poor peasants of their land. The circle has been closed.

For this reason, the food sovereignty that is present in the demands of the peasant and environmental movements of the entire world, only makes true sense if it is linked to social and economic sovereignty. The peoples will be masters of their destiny if they manage to be free and sovereign of their present in all areas: social, cultural, food, etc. And for that they must have the power to decide and act, and they must have the land and water of nature that they inhabit. To say "food sovereignty" is to say "land and freedom", and in most of the world, and in our Andalusia as well, that means "agrarian revolution" and "socialist revolution"; it means socialist power to plan the production and consumption of food, the treatment of seeds and the management of water with the sole purpose of providing a dignified and healthy life for human beings on a living and diverse planet.

This is how Cubans now understand it, with the development of the cattle farm in the Basic Unit of Cooperative Production (UBPC), after emerging from the mistakes that led them in the 60s and 70s of the last century to make their agriculture and livestock depend of the large imports of feed and agro-toxic products from the former USSR, when the Soviets and their allies understood nothing other than exorbitant and unnatural growth as a way to fight capitalism, even at the cost of committing the same aberrations as they did in the food, agricultural and ecological plan. Now, through the UBPCs, they are developing agroecological models and are returning to self-sufficiency and sustainability, achieving a favorable transformation in areas destined for grazing, forage crops and agroforestry, as well as an increase in biodiversity and the integration of livestock-agriculture ( 13).

This is in line with the defense of the so-called «peasant farm» as a unit of production and consumption that has developed in many areas of Latin America historically and that is being put as an example of the important role that the livestock component (ruminants and non-ruminant) performs when they are integrated into diversified systems, such as family units or agricultural production cooperatives where multiple interactions between their biophysical and socioeconomic components are manifested. Forage, grain and crop residues are used to feed the animal component (horses, sheep, goats, pigs, birds and rabbits) and, conversely, animal services and waste are used in agricultural and forestry activities (fertilizer and animal traction force). In turn, animals have multiple purposes, whether they are intended for community consumption or for the market, either as a source of animal protein or as a coat in the form of wool and leather (14).

But especially Venezuelans are understanding it in their experience of building a socialist society in the American continent. And in this the “Hato Marisela” (“herd” or cattle ranch, in countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, etc.) is an example that we must analyze to provide an alternative to our day laborers and small farmers and ranchers who fight for the often stark and ethereal food sovereignty.

In Marisela (which sounds similar to Marinaleda, an Andalusian example of popular self-management) they understood food sovereignty by occupying, producing and distributing the idle lands held by the former landowners of the El Frío farm (on the border with Colombia). With this they broke the latifundist schemes to include the working people, peasants and peasants, in popular participation as protagonists of their own power to choose the appropriate production model in order to have free lands and people. They understood it by building a socialist company of more than 63,000 hectares dedicated to the integrated management of herds and crops (including agroecological fish farming lagoons) in order to create a new comprehensive vision of the modes of production with agroecological and sustainable principles. Marisela, through the Communal Councils, understand it as a historically determined way of promoting forms of self-government and popular self-defense among workers, workers and communities oriented towards achieving food sovereignty and the integral defense of the Bolivarian nation. .

Now that the Andalusian Union of Workers and Workers is promoting the occupation and reoccupation of the Somonte farm (Palma del Río, Córdoba), the demand to give land and freedom to the working people of the Andalusian countryside comes to the forefront, and with it advance their food sovereignty. But at this time of systemic crisis of capitalism, it is not enough to just give “land to the people who work it”, or “SOC Monte to the people”, but also to educate and promote the way of managing and holding that land and the way in which farm products are produced and distributed. For this reason, the current socialist experiences of Cuba and Venezuela must be made known to raise communal and communist consciousness and advance in the process of social liberation.

Of course, there are also traditional experiences that must be reactivated, promoted and updated, as is the case in our peninsula of extensive transhumance grazing. As J. Garzón of the Mesta Council Association says, “For at least 7,000 years, Iberian farmers have known how to adapt to the climatic conditions of our Peninsula, moving with their herds between the valleys in winter and the mountains in summer, traveling hundreds of kilometers each spring and each fall. They have thus contributed to the conservation of an extraordinary network of ecological corridors, the livestock routes, with more than 125,000 km in length and 400,000 Ha of surface, maintaining natural grasslands with one of the greatest known biological diversities: more than 40 different species of plants for each square meter of land ”(11).

The transhumant movements of livestock, in addition to guaranteeing the conservation and optimal use of the available pastures and water, adapting immediately to changing climatic conditions, have a very important function for the transport and dispersal of seeds throughout the territory. maintaining the interrelation between ecosystems and helping to conserve their biological diversity. It is estimated that each herd of 1,000 sheep or 100 transhumant cows, daily disperses more than 5 million seeds and 3 tons of compost in the form of manure, along hundreds of kilometers of valleys, rivers, hillsides, mountains and plateaus, during their trips of approximately one month in spring and another in autumn walking through the glens (11).

In our Andalusia and Extremadura the raising of the Iberian pig in the pastures of the centuries-old meadows of holm oaks and cork oaks must be defended, whose perfect ecosystem in which the wooded area, the meadows, the crops and the pasture have mutually interact and enrich each other. given rise to alternative proposals to intensive livestock farming systems, where the livestock and agricultural components are no longer linked and forests are viewed more as objects of desire to get new pastures, rather than as a complementary element of the ecosystem. Ecoverger is an example of this attempt to return to pastured agrosilvopastoral systems of mixed use (orchards, montados, meadows, olive groves ...), which were emblematic landscapes for several centuries in other areas of Europe such as Portugal or France and where productivity is not measured not only for livestock production but also for other products such as honey, cork, wood, liquors, fruits, etc., and for the healthy harmony produced by the interpenetration of human beings and nature (15).

Navas Panadero recognizes that silvopastoral systems constitute an alternative for the sustainability of bovine production, in which the tree is incorporated as a productive element, which contributes to animal nutrition and generates positive relationships between the soil, pastures and animals, since it increases the fertility of the soil through the recycling of nutrients, improves the water balance, reduces evaporation and heat stress in animals through the production of shade, etc. (16). But it makes clear why it is proposing this alternative, to gain access, above all, to environmentally conscious customers and consumers, "to special markets where the conservation of natural resources and animal and social welfare are fundamental pillars" (16). This is the reasoning of the defenders of “green” agribusiness capitalism: increase and improve production to reach new markets. But we and those determined to build self-managed, socialist and communist societies, cannot think and act like that.

At an individual level, if our purchasing power allows us, or if we have decided to live in the countryside and work the land and its fruits in a respectful and sustainable way, we can eat healthy, organic agricultural and meat products, promoting local production and trade. , return to the austerity of the balanced relationship with nature and combat the unbridled consumerism of our capitalist system. But that is not enough. We must also act on a social and global level if we want this way of life to reach our descendants. We must propose and promote new forms of consumption and production based on the small plots of popular and self-managed power that we can achieve in all spheres of human activity. Agroecological experiences of the past and of other peoples and societies must be studied, assimilated, and applied as far as possible in order to create awareness of this scourge that the capitalist system is leaving as an inheritance. Until today, the lives of people and the planet had not been more closely linked in their future and in their probability of survival. Advanced and decaying capitalism, in a twisting step in the development of the world, has achieved more than a crash course in dialectical materialism by helping to expose to many people the rich interrelationship of the global ecosystem formed by living things and nature as a whole. of which they are part. If in the past it was difficult to be a revolutionary and an environmentalist and not see this interrelation, and the proof of this is the many communists who in the 20th century failed to understand this reality, today it is more transparent than ever.

But there were exceptions. Among others, the Marxist philosopher W. Harich wrote at the end of the 1970s (17): “Fighting in the capitalist metropolises against the destruction of the environment and the waste of energy and raw materials means offering, on the march towards the suicide undertaken by humanity, a resistance such that thanks to it a capitalist recovery from the structural crisis of the present is impossible, a recovery that, if carried out, would only reinforce ... the power of large multinational corporations at the expense of natural base of society and to the detriment of underdeveloped peoples ”(p. 270). And advocating a reduction of superfluous consumption in the German socialist society of the former GDR, and criticizing the fetishists of growth, he wrote: “Individual circulation with cars, the use of most household appliances that consume electricity, ( …) Mass tourism in airplanes, but also the current proportion of meat and animal fats in our diet are some things among many others that will have to disappear very soon and forever from our lives… ”(p. 297). Food consumerism and consumerism of all kinds to which we are being subjected by the system, feeding incredible amounts of individualism and selfishness, is something that must be fought from now on, inside and outside the revolutionary organizations. We must achieve a degree of austerity in our lives if we want to build a "homeostatic" communist society, as Harich puts it. It is very difficult because we are imbued with the bourgeois and imperialist ideology, but I share the optimism of the German philosopher when he expresses his confidence in the capacity for sacrifice and heroism that working people have shown in numerous experiences of combat and resistance throughout the history. There is no other option if we want our planet and the life that we want for our fellow human beings, and the rest of the living beings that populate it, to have a future.

Manuel Almisas Albéndiz - Rebelion -


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Video: Prof. Bill Moseley and Julia Morgan 17 on the complexity of feeding the planet (May 2022).