DECEMBER 14, 2013
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About the Author:
Robert Paarlberg is the B. F. Johnson Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College and Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is has also been a Visiting Professor of Government at Harvard University and is an Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Paarlberg received his BA in Government from Carleton College in 1967 (which honored him in 2012 with a distinguished alumni achievement award), and his PhD in International Relations from Harvard University in 1975. Paarlberg’s central research interest is international food and agricultural policy. He has been the author of academic books on food and agricultural policy published by Cornell University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, the University of Chicago Press, and Harvard University Press. His 2008 Harvard Press book, Starved for Science, included a foreword by Norman E. Borlaug and Jimmy Carter. His most recent book is from Oxford University Press, and is entitled Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know. A second edition of this book was published in 2013.
Who Makes Global Food Policy?
Internationally, many different institutions compete or combine to make policy in the area of food and farming. In our modern age of globalization, the most influential institutions are sometimes expected to be those from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors that have global reach, such as transnational corporations, intergovernmental organizations, and international NGOs. Following the international food price spike of 2008, food and farming issues did grow in prominence on the agenda of global intergovernmental organizations such as the G8, G20, FAO, IBRD, and IMF, and also with a number of transnational non-governmental organizations, most conspicuously the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yet despite globalization, separate sovereign national governments remained stubbornly in political control. Even global corporate actors—including international banks, and agribusiness firms such as Monsanto or Cargill—can be heavily constrained by the sovereign powers of individual states. As for intergovernmental organizations both within the UN system and beyond, these are little more than assemblies giving voice to separate nation state authorities. In the global food system, nearly all politics—and nearly all public policy—still operates at the national level or below. The first task of food policy researchers should be to understand why these national governments so often act in ways that compromise our economic or social ideals, and to seek changes in those adverse national policy actions.