Human food systems have experienced a tremendous shift from small farming to the global food industry. This evolution has led to many challenges to sustainability, fair trade, and human rights.
Agriculture started as a means of getting food for end-consumption within small communities, not trade or commerce. It changes with the emergence of urban lifestyle, as large concentrations of people without enough land called for a more complex agricultural system. Gradually, the development of commerce in the Middle Ages establishes trade networks for agricultural products and regional specialization. Finally, the Industrial Age deepened the commercialization of our food system by involving technology and science. Colonization and globalization processes have finally shaped up the food system as one intensified and demand-driven global network.
The intensification of production and the growing involvement of technology threatens sustainability. The environment suffers from the expansion of agricultural lands and irresponsible farming methods. The cycle of producing human food has an adverse effect on climate change, as the globalized network requires transportation, which contributes to pollution. Moreover, the growing demand for more food challenges the ability of our planet to provide for the growing human population. The solution lies in sustainable development based on respect for our planet.
Secondly, the present network of food supply is severely regionalized. In a nutshell, this means that specific food industries prioritize particular geographical areas of food production. Wine, coffee, cheese, and tea are typical examples of this compartmentalization trend. As a result, it leads to economic inequalities between different parts of the world, where certain countries remain heavily dependent on producing agricultural products at a low cost. Consequently, richer economies can exploit the resources of the developing world. In this case, the notion of fair trade is the best solution as it adjusts trade policies to the close the gap between rich and poor economies.
Finally, global food industries also involve human exploitation. Transnational corporations pose a significant threat to human rights, as they have the resources to abuse weak labor protection laws in developing countries. The steadily growing demand for more food pushes corporations to fin cheap labor and exploit the economic situation of underprivileged workers. Hence, stricter regulations binding transnational corporations are needed to ensure a sufficient degree of human rights protection.