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Luengo: “Lobbies move the strings of European agri-food policy”

What is at stake in the food industry? Power, money or health? The Cineclub Más Madera, with the collaboration of the Ateneo Libre de Benalmádena, closes the month of May tomorrow, Wednesday, with the cinema forum Limits to growth. will be projected, at 7:00 p.m. at the House of Culture, the documentary The price of progress, -with free admission until full capacity-, and afterwards, a debate on industry and food safety in which the director of the film, Víctor Luengo, and Antonio Flores Moya, dean of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Malaga, will participate.

We interviewed Víctor Luengo about The Price of Progress, where he breaks down the set of pressures and political and corporate interests of the food industry and its detractors. Luengo gives us light on a topical issue. He reveals to us the lobbies of the agri-food industry from a European perspective and how large corporations pull the strings in the food sector, prioritizing their economic interests over everything else. It explains what food genetic modification really pursues and ultimately makes us reflect on power, but in capital letters. The director not only answers all of Ole Benalmádena‘s questions, but also throws one to the people of Benalmadena who go to see his film tomorrow: Can the environment allow this agriculture?

How did The Price of Progress come about?

I come from an urban family. I have always lived and enjoyed in large cities and I have never had any relationship with agriculture until, for a series of jobs for the NGO Education without Borders In Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru I learned about the concept of food sovereignty and all the conflicts that exist around the Earth… and especially, the one that occurs between industrial agriculture and land grabbing, which is very pronounced in Latin America, and the small producer, who has been dragged or fleeing to big cities, to sell his product or to be one of the workers of these large stores.

Since then, I began to be interested in this subject and then, years later in Madrid, a movement for the sale of organic products from small producers developed. I wanted to make a movie and that caught my attention. At first it was going to be something very homemade, with four interviews and little else… but it grew and grew until I brought out the big cake…

-Victor has me in suspense…

-For me the most interesting thing was to discover how the lobbies, which are still representatives of the large agri-food industries, influence and have been influencing in the last 50 years to condition the agri-food model we have today…

-The version of these lobbies is very clear in the documentary. Did you suffer any pressure from these big companies?

-No. I am a corporate video producer and I was lucky enough to do a job for a pesticide and herbicide company. An official from Brussels came, I interviewed him and it turned out to be who, at that time, was the director of the association that represents the producers of phytosanitary products (in short, pesticides) in Europe.

The price of progress is not a protest documentary… it exposes, in my opinion, with great success, all the faces, the different discourses, of this ethical kaleidoscope…

It was a strategic decision. I have been in a position from the beginning and I thought that the moment I made a documentary denouncing or protesting they were going to put it directly in a drawer… When I was looking for financing, the same thing happened to me… they told me: “You’re not going to tell anything that hasn’t already been told.” But the truth is that there was a part that had never been discussed and I am referring to that policy that had to empty the countryside and accumulate land, cattle, so that only the large holders of capital would enter the agricultural business. Agribusiness only benefits big businessmen…

-Your documentary deals with a topic that directly affects us: food and the environment…

-Imagine that water is privatized and that every time you open a tap you have to pay a multinational and on top of that it is foreign… well, that, somehow, has happened with agriculture and livestock. Something that belonged so much to the peoples, to the territories, has ended up belonging to large capitals. The result is a very dysfunctional model, which does not respect the environment or health… All this model is supported by companies that in turn put pressure on the great planner of agriculture in Europe: the community agricultural policy (CAP). This accumulates around 60%, or even more, of the entire budget of the European community. Since 1986, which was created when we entered, the PAC has greatly modified the Spanish countryside… I remember in my grandmother’s town how in a very short time all the small producers stopped being small producers because if you didn’t have a certain number of hectares or cattle, you didn’t receive a subsidy.

-I imagine that in the EU there is no transparency regarding these matters, but I also do not notice that there is much social pressure in this regard…

-One of the problems is that agriculture is not sexy… making a film about transgenics sounds boring, like something very specialized. Farmers have even told me that they don’t see people going to the cinema on a Saturday to see a movie with their cows… They don’t talk about politics either. They do not include it in the debates even though it is a subject that touches us so closely.

-Perhaps it is not interesting that there is citizen reflection….

-One of the things that most impressed me during the investigation is, as I was saying, the enormous weight that lobbies have in shaping the design of European politics and that factor is crucial to understanding why this topic is not discussed.

-Does Europe effectively defend the health of its citizens?

(Looks at me thoughtfully). It’s a pulse, Saioa. I wouldn’t dare say no outright. Within the continents we are at the best in this regard. The European regulatory agency, despite having its internal corruption, which exists, and its revolving doors, which are highly identified, compared to the United States, Australia or Asia, is the less corrupt, less bad regulation. Even so, the levees are falling. We have one of the examples in the United Kingdom where one of the first modifications that were made with Brexit was aimed at breaking down the different brakes with respect to the agri-food genetic modification that Europe imposed.

-Now that you mention it, what are the benefits and dangers of food genetic modification?

-Around genetic modification there is a lot of confusion and ignorance. Even many times in interviews and newspaper articles what is at stake is not really defined. In genetic modification there are two very clear debates. In the first place, it is not there to improve the plant, or even to improve its productivity. In reality, it has been developed because it allows complete possession of the copy rights, reproduction of that seed and in the future of those animals, and therefore, the possession of that specific variety will be owned by a single company, which will have absolute control. … It favors monopoly. One of the first products of genetic modification were hybrids, which are sterile seeds so they are very productive. What many are unaware of is that they are designed for a package of fertilizers and pesticides from that same company… The farmer has no choice but to purchase the complete pack and being sterile, the following year he is again forced to buy and becomes one more piece of this great machinery, where the vast majority of the benefits go to a single company.

Food genetic modification affects more this path of monopolizing product patents than other interests. In reality, only two genetically modified products have been massively produced: corn and soybeans. Both are designed for animal feed because it is what later generates more money. Neither this corn nor the soybeans are more productive, but are more resistant to a pesticide that the same company has developed.

It’s all money…

-Well yes. That is one of the keys. Everything is power and money…

-Víctor, do you think that society will be able to create a system that can feed the world population in a healthy and economically sustainable way?

-The big industry will always say no. But if, for example, I go to a store that sells pants and I ask the clerk how they look on me… what is he going to tell me? same. One of his myths is that industrial agriculture and livestock is the only one that can feed the planet and that we have no other alternatives. He understands and accepts that there is a long payment in return: pesticides, impoverishment of the soil, poisoning of the aquifers, neuronal diseases, cancer, among a long etc. And I wonder that perhaps it is not that there is no alternative, but rather that there is no will because there is no interest in undoing the entire productive scheme that has been consolidating since the late 50s… Approximately between 50 and 70 percent of everything that is produced in the world in terms of vegetable food comes from four large companies.

-We are what we eat?


-And what can the ordinary citizen do?

-That same question has been asked to me a lot in different debates… I am not an expert, I am very curious and after these years working on the documentary and listening to many experts, I believe that small producers should be favored and, above all, consume local products. In this way, you are favoring a cultural fabric, a territory, you create a demand… the farmer here will take care of you and will choose the best for you because he knows you and his product. You also have to bet on the ecological. Look, in the interviews I did for the documentary I discovered many surprising things… in one of them they told me that organic production has skyrocketed and that consumers demand it (the more they ask for it, the cheaper it will be) but in the CAP is not favored… in Europe it does not matter, they only bet on what they call conventional agriculture.

-Shortly we will have general elections, perhaps we should review what each political party plans to do in Europe, an issue about which little is told and debated…

-It is essential that the citizen knows what the party they vote for is doing in Europe because here we vote for the colors or identification of the heart, but the political parties where the duster is really seen is in Europe, which is where they vote for decisive policies that commit us a lot. I am sure that many will be surprised… we should be more attentive to what is happening in Europe and the role that our politicians play there, how they defend our rights and what they are committing us to… maybe that price of power They don’t tell us, but we end up suffering.



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