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Why Food Should Be a Commons Not a Commodity

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Food is treated as a private good in today's industrial food system, but it must be re-conceived as a common good in the transition toward a more sustainable food system that is fairer to food producers and consumers. If we were to treat food as a commons, it could be better produced and distributed by hybrid tri-centric governance systems implemented at the local level and compounded by market rules, public regulations, and collective actions. This change would have enormous ethical, legal, economic, and nutritional implications for the global food system.  

A common resource versus a commodity

Food, a limited yet renewable resource that comes in both wild and cultivated forms, is essential for human existence. Over time, it has evolved from a local resource held in common into a private, transnational commodity. This process of commodification has involved the development of certain traits within food to fit the mechanized processes and regulations put in practice by the industrial food system, and it is also the latest stage in the objectification of food-a social phenomenon that has deprived food of all its non-economic attributes. As a result, the value of food is no longer based on the many dimensions that bring us security and health, including the fact that food is a:

Basic human need and should be available to all 
Fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to every citizen 
Pillar of our culture for producers and consumers alike 
Natural, renewable resource that can be controlled by humans 
Marketable product subject to fair trade and sustainable production 
Global common good that should be enjoyed by all

This multidimensional view of food diverges from the mainstream industrial food system's approach to food as a one-dimensional commodity. Even so, the industrial food system has yet to enclose, or to convert into private property, all aspects of our food commons, including:

Traditional knowledge of agriculture that has been accumulated over thousands of years 
Modern, science-based agricultural knowledge accumulated within national institutions 
Cuisine, recipes, and national gastronomy 
Edible plants and animals created in the natural world (e.g., fish stocks and wild fruits)  Genetic resources for food and agriculture 
Food safety considerations (e.g., Codex Alimentarius) 
Public nutrition, including hunger and obesity imbalances 
Extreme food price fluctuations in global and national markets       


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