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TV Review: Tomorrow's Food
Huge potential to change lives, limited by capitalism
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Tomorrow's Food is a new BBC One documentary series hosted by comedian Dara O'Briain which aims to look at future trends in the food industry.
In its first few episodes we see futuristic farms, robot waiters and chefs and miracle pills. The potential of some of these innovations could be huge - one high-tech farm had a 400-500% increase in the yield of tomatoes grown and in an environment that used minimal, if any, pesticides.
Socialists welcome any advance in technology that can make the lives of working people easier and help provide to meet people's needs alongside better utilising the resources of the planet. Undoubtedly, some of the ideas showcased could massively impact on people's lives.
The second episode looks at the wide use of robots in Ocado's online order warehouse. Miles of conveyer belts are operated by a handful of human workers in a vivid encapsulation of the increasing concentration of, as socialist thinker Karl Marx would have described it, 'fixed capital' (buildings, machinery etc) as opposed to 'variable capital' (human labour).
Rather than the destruction of jobs and increasing long-term unemployment, in a socialist society this could reduce the working week without loss of pay.
It also demonstrates how the supermarket companies collect huge amounts of data from their sales which can be used to predict stock levels. It would only be a tiny step to use such technology to meet the needs of humanity as a whole rather than to carve out market share and greater profits.
Disappointingly, many of the segments of the programme only take a skin deep look at some of these developments. There are critical questions that need to be asked, but aren't, about food additives and also 'processing aids' which do not have to be listed as ingredients.
The programme is also uncritical on the use of genetic modification. Socialists should be sceptical about 'wonder-foods' created in such a way that haven't been fully tested. We should also recognise that often these are making up for dietary imbalances which are themselves caused by low pay and other problems endemic to capitalism.
The limitations imposed on food quality by capitalism are most aptly demonstrated in the segment on food fraud in the second episode. They showcase the implementation of scientific technique to spot food adulteration that works in seconds identifying cheap cuts of fish, or whether sunflower oil has had colouring added and been resold as olive oil with a significant mark-up.
Yet this is the logic of capitalism to maximise profits. They speak to a government scientist whose aim is therefore limited to make food fraudsters 'take it somewhere else' outside the UK.
Only by taking the big players in the food industry into public ownership under democratic workers' control and management will workers have any real control over the quality of our food, and the low pay that exists from rural workers to supermarkets.
In The Socialist 9 December 2015:
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