The trouble with local food

There’s lots to like about the local food movement. Fresh, local seasonal fruits and vegetables taste better. Farmers markets enhance the vitality of city life. Cutting “food miles” reduces carbon pollution, and money spent by locavores stays with nearby growers.

Alberto Weisser, the CEO of Bunge, a $60-billion a year global agribusiness and food company is, not surprisingly, unimpressed. His global business is built on trade. Bunge operates in 40 countries. It charters 150 ships a day to carry agricultural products. Only one terminal to export grain from the US has been built in the past 25–and it was built by Bunge, near the Columbia River in Washington, to ship grain from the US to Asia.

But Weisser, who spoke today [Dec 11] at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, made a good case that an expansion of global trade  will be the best way to feed the world in a sustainable way, as well as increase the incomes of millions of poor farmers. Like it or not, he said, the world is more interdependent than ever.

Alberto Weisser

“When it comes to agriculture, no country is an island–even the ones that are islands,” Weisser said, displaying a flash of humor in what was otherwise a sober look at the issue of global food security. “I remain firm in my belief in free markets, and what they, and only they, can deliver.”

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GE, AT&T, Facebook and DC: a lament

Living inside the Beltway, I’m acutely aware of how much time, money, energy and creative thinking are poured into struggles over how the federal government should regulate business. The winners in this game are the powerful: Republicans, Democrats, corporate America, government employees and the industry associations, law firms and lobbyists who keep Washington’s restaurants full and its upper-end real-estate market healthy, even as the real economy struggles. The losers are everybody else.

The way out of this conundrum, I’ve come to believe, is, first, to radically shrink the size and complexity of the government. Then, regulate modestly, carefully but aggressively when necessary—in such areas as energy/climate and banking. Then, allow markets to do what they do well, which is create wealth.

Three recent stories from The New York Times and one from the Wall Street Journal that just got my attention prompted me to offer up these ideas. The headlines:

GE’s strategies let it avoid taxes altogether

AT&T Lobbyist Faces Beltway Test in T-Mobile Deal

Facebook Prepares to Add Friends in Washington

Cash softens a trade blow

These stories share a common theme. The show how big corporations exercise influence in Washington (or are just starting to, in the case of Facebook) in ways that damage their competitors, consumers or taxpayers. The Times’ GE story—which should be required reading in college government classes—is the most shocking and revealing, reporting, as it does, that GE in 2010 [click to continue…]