Hebden Bridge writer and
food expert wins award

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hebden Bridge writer, consultant and food system expert, Geoff Tansey is one of seven people to be awarded up to £40,000 a year to change the world. Geoff is going to challenge international laws governing food systems, including global patents and trade restrictions.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has named seven Visionaries for a Just and Peaceful World - their brief to make the world a better place. One of the seven wants to close down Guantanamo Bay, another wants to address healthcare inequalities in the developing world, while another hopes to challenge racism through black-led projects.

Liverpool-born Geoff Tansey settled in Hebden Bridge after returning from working on development projects in Turkey. He help found the journal Food Policy, spent much of his early career working on Turkish agricultural projects and has travelled the globe as a writer and consultant, visiting such hotspots as Uganda, and Rwanda.

Geoff fears that unless poorer nations get a fairer deal, the First World will end up sowing the seeds of future conflicts, which fits in with the Rowntree peace objective. His central strategy is that while events such as Bob Geldof's Live 8 are useful, the whole global rule book needs rewriting to be fairer if the developing nations are to have a chance to prosper.

One concern is the way the West, having enjoyed centuries of freedom to develop success stories, often by copying others, is now using its power position to prevent developing countries doing the same.
The "pulling up of the ladder", as Mr Tansey calls it, involves forcing a raft of copyright, intellectual property rules, and patenting on poorer countries, through groups such as the World Trade Organisation.
He said: "We have more and more hungry people in the world and more and more obese people. The food system is not working effectively and it raises questions about long-term sustainability. I want to change the rules and law to reflect the interests of the poor and hungry, not the interests of large corporations."

He believes the West is behaving like a Premier League football club facing a relatively weak team on an uneven pitch. He said patenting life first reared its head in the 1980s with the rise of biotechnology, which meant big corporations wanted to protect inventions in the development of plants, animals, and genes. He added: "I never thought about it really 10 years ago. I worked with people on the ground in the villages and countryside. But I became more and more aware that things were changing and the new rules on patents and biodiversity were affecting people.

"For one thing, patents underpin high prices for medicines and pharmaceuticals and that affects access to medicine for HIV and AIDS in the developing countries."

The effects could also be seen in the way the new rules had been adopted by the World Trade Organisation.

He explained: "The WTO is an international organisation that differs from UN organisations. It is a club which Governments are encouraged to join. It is about trade and liberalisation. But by joining they agree to follow its rules.

"Since the mid-1990s these had also included agreements on intellectual property rights following pressure from the film, music, software and pharmaceutical industries to protect things which could be copied relatively easily."

Now Geoff wants that rule book rewritten with the closer involvement of the poorer nations.

To help to achieve this he will be liaising with non-governmental organisations, academics, and leading charities such as Oxfam, and the Food Ethics Council as well as writing and researching.

See Guardian article

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