The Political Economy of “Food Security” and Trade: Uneven and Combined Dependency


  • We thankfully acknowledge the Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding from a Standard Grant. Anonymous reviewers for Rural Sociology made very constructive and useful comments, as did Jacobo Calles. Gerardo Otero acknowledges the Highfield Fellowship held at the University of Nottingham in January–March 2012, where he started this research, and especially Adam Morton and Wyn Morgan at this university, for nominating him.
  • Corrections added on 23 July 2013, after first online publication: Philip McMichael was spelled incorrectly as Phillip McMichael on pages 7 and 25, and has been corrected in this version.


This article critiques the notion of food security through trade promoted by suprastate organizations like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. We use and refine the food-regime perspective to contest this unwritten rule of the neoliberal food regime. Rather than “mutual dependency” in food between “North” and “South,” as argued by Philip McMichael, however, we show that food dependency has been stronger on basic foods in developing countries, while advanced capitalist countries' dependency has been mostly on luxury foods. Also, the more that developing countries become dependent on food imports and exports, the more they will be importing the “world food price” for the relevant commodities. Food-price inflation will more adversely affect their working classes, which spend larger shares of their household budgets on food. Our empirical focus is on food dependency in emerging nations—Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Turkey—in comparison with long-standing agricultural exporting powerhouses, the United States and Canada. Using longitudinal data from FAOSTAT, we show that food security in the neoliberal food regime can best be characterized as “uneven and combined dependency.”