The Consumer and Food Security - the Agenda for the Next Millennium

Address by Anwar Fazal at the International Conference on Food Security organised by the Consumer International on 5-7 March 1999 at Penang, Malaysia

Dinner speeches are rarely popular. The Consumer International (CI)  Asia Pacific office was even more cruel to me. They told me it was a “Keynote” address. This meant not only had I to be entertaining, I had also to be profound, be a compass, uplift your soul and get you moving!  At the end of the first day of an international conference, most people are jet-lagged, have heard 20 speeches already and know clearly where to go next - that’s to bed!

The CI Asia Pacific office did not stop there. Not only did they want me to cover the past, present and future of the consumer movement (after all, this is a special anniversary event: 25 years of our host’s life), they also wanted me to take on the challenges of food security in the next millennium. Josie F, the Director of the CI Asia Pacific was asking me for a miracle!

The good things about those of us also in the citizens movement is that we have a high pain threshold. And, secondly, we are also used to performing miracles! So I will try. I will speak about some of those miracles and I will speak about a possible agenda, I would say a radical agenda, for the consumer movement. I will also speak about how we may get there.


Brothers and sisters, firstly let me say Assalamualaikum, may peace be upon you. I start with the word “salam”, peace, because more than any other word, it represents the essence of our work, of our agenda for human security and our mission. This “peace” has three dimensions:

  • Peace with ourselves
  • Peace with mother earth and the profound and infinite space we call the universe
  • Peace with all living things, people and others.

Today, unfortunately, we live in a world where “peace” is severely shattered, decimated by the evil forces of violence, waste and manipulation. We have a global politics dominated by insincerity and double standards. We have a global environment that is under severe critical stress. We have a global economy that is driven by an ideology of greed and selfishness.


Fortunately, there is a world wide and magnificent proliferation of citizens movements that are seeking the common good, making a difference,  and are making waves and miracles.

Several of those special local and global champions have their homes in this lovely island of Penang, an island with an activist attitude, island with a special combination of hills and heights and a view of the sunrise and the horizon that cannot be beaten for their capacity to uplift the soul.

It is an island led by a caring Chief Minister, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, who was himself nurtured by the consumer and environment movement here in Penang. It is an island that is now engaged in a unique popular social movement to promote citizens’ agenda around a holistic framework based on a five-point vision:

*          Ecological sustainability

*          Economic productivity

*          Popular participation

*          Social justice

*          Cultural vibrancy.

It is an island that is known as the “street food capital of the world”, that has a “street of Peace and Harmony” where most of the major religions of the world actively live side by side.

The First Food

Penang is also the home and headquarters of two groups, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) dealing with one of the fundamentals of food security, the first food - breastmilk, an unparalleled economic, ecological, medical, nutritional and psycho-social resource; one of the miracles of life. The movement to protect breastfeeding succeeded in a miracle - getting the first international code to stop advertising of breastmilk substitutes and related products that undermine breastfeeding. Malaysia itself is among the three countries with fully baby friendly hospitals in the public sector, a programme that UNICEF, WABA and IBFAN are intensely involved in.

I say if we cannot get the first food right, we won’t get much else right. And if you study the way breastfeeding was undermined you learn all about the perverse aspects of power, economics, integrity, manipulation, greed. You will understand food security better. You will understand the links between the food, culture, and the environment better.

Fruitful Years

Penang has also been the home of Consumers International Asia Pacific office for 25 years. For many years, it was also the operational headquarters of the world movement. It gave the movement vision and soul especially through making the right to having basic needs met and the right to a healthy citizens’ environment central to the work of the consumer movement. It was a trigger and home or support to nearly 20 networks spread globally. It was office to the late Peter Goldman of UK, a former President of Consumers International and, one of the icons of the consumer movement, called “the most beautiful and exotic and fruit bearing tree in the whole consumer forest.”

I gave 17 years of the best part of my life to this movement and every moment was a joy. And now, it is a joy to see the vigour with which it continues to move on burning issues. When on 19 September ‘78, some 20 years ago, a young woman representing the Klang Consumer Association, who lived in Kekayan Estate in Paloh, Johor, came to see me, I knew instantly that here is another of those miracle workers and today, that woman older and wiser, Josie, heads the office.  The building bustling again with enthusiasm and energy. The next 25 years will be interesting times indeed.

The Seven Challenges


What are some of the grand challenges that we have to confront now as we head, often out of control, into the next millennium. I would like to suggest seven of them and speak about them briefly. Like the word, “Consumer” and “Challenges”, they will begin with the letter “C”.

1.       Casino Capitalism - Trillions of currency units now move recklessly across borders with devastating consequences to economies and the social fabric.

2.       Criminality and Corruption -The Gross Criminal Product (GCP) is among the fastest rising index in the world. We need to work with Transparency International on this.

3.       Communications and Cyberspace - These are changing relationships of power and perceptions and creating new ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

4.       Cloning - The terrible consequences of genetic engineering and its many uncharted issues ethical and technical are going to require serious attention.

5.       Conservation - The environment challenge will need to be high on our priorities; the ‘endocrine disrupters’ reminds us of our sins.  The “conspicuous frugality” movement is gaining strength everywhere and you must link with it.

6.       Commercialism of everything - Important basic needs like health get commercialised beyond reason and ethics. Insidious sponsorships and advertisement placements are added so you don’t know what paid advertisements are anymore, e.g. in movies (cigarette ads). “Corporatisation” and “privatisation” and the World Trade Organization (WTO) need to be challenged more effectively.

7.       Lastly, the insidious Colonisation of mind and stomach - when through sheer technology and marketing and brute intrusion, the mind and stomach are ripped out of their natural integrity and balance.

I hope you will roam the seven “C”s and they will find some place in your discussion on food security and human security in general. It is often fundamental structural issues that are the root. As we learnt in fighting the infant formula industry, it is not enough to save children who are drowning. We have to look upstream and at those who are throwing them into the water!

The Panchasila of Power

Let me in conclusion, share with you what I call the “Panchasila of Power” (the five principles). Panchasila means:

1.         The power of  One - never underestimate the power of single individual. Through their example and action, individuals have transformed the world as history shows.

2.         The power of Many - networking, alliances and partnerships can build your strength - Social movements must link and build on the core values we share.

3.         The power of Faith - belief and drawing from spiritual traditions can provide powerful universal and inner as well as external strength.

4.         The power of Information - access to research, education programmes and working with the media can provide the outreach we need for transformational change. Links with the United Nations, its resources, information networks and global agreements need to be better developed.

5.         The power of Success - every victory however, small should be shared and celebrated. That glow inspires and grows.

Lastly, I want to share with you a poem that I contributed to a book for the next millennium, a poem to remind us that we are all in this together and that it will require eternal vigilance.  It is called, “Remember, we are one, and we are forever.”

“We all drink from one water

We all breathe from one air

We rise from one ocean

And we live under one sky



We are one

And we are forever


The newborn baby cries the same

The laughter of children is universal

Everyone’s blood is red

And our hearts beat the same song



We are one

And we are forever


We are all brothers and sisters

Only one family, only one earth

Together with live

And together we die



We are one

And we are forever



We are one

And we are forever


Peace be on you

Brothers and Sisters

Peace be on you”


Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening and I look forward to working with all of you for a better future for all.

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