Project Bridging TIME Theory & Practice ESRC (R000222946):
A pilot to a large Europe-wide project that explores processes and barriers involved in translating into practice academic knowledge about pertinent TIME issues in the food system. The aim is to enlist the help of key players in the food system in order to make transparent what at present is an implicit and taken-for-granted dimension of the food system, that is, TIME in its multiple functions, dimensions and uses. Project Leader: Barbara Adam
School of Social Science, Cardiff University,
50 Park Place, Cardiff CF1 3AT
Tel: 01222-875565 FAX 01222-874436
E-mail: Adamtime@Cardiff.AC.UK

TIME Politics & Food

Politics tends to be understood with reference to space and matter, that is, the defence of the realm and territory as well as the distribution of a country's resources and wealth. TIME, in contrast, is an implicit aspect of the political process.
The mandate for political action is bounded not only by the territory of nations but also by election cycles. Regulations, policies and their effects, however, invariably exceed these temporal boundaries.
The Powell Committee, for example, was set up in 1962 to review the future of nuclear energy in the UK. It was charged to come up with recommendations for 20+ years. At that time, de-commissioning, reprocessing and the securing of waste for an open future was not on the agenda. These issues were not only outside the commission's brief but beyond its imagination.
Politicians always operate in successors' futures and societies are continuously responding to policies and regulations of previous governments.
For some 200 years governments have relied on science to predict the future and provide them with truth and proof. In many policy contexts today these TIME-based expectations are no longer appropriate. BSE & the Belgian food crisis being cases in point.
TIME as economic value and resource tends to be promoted, allocated, structured and compressed without much debate on the matter. Economic TIME is imposed globally as an unquestioned norm. This in turn affects the production, trade, retailing, preparation and consumption of food.

TIME in Politics & Policy Formation
TIME enters politics/policy in a number of largely taken-for-granted and implicit ways:

  • PERIODS of office
  • TIMING & sequencing of policy/regulation
  • TIME FRAME of activities/implementation
  • TEMPO, pace of action & innovation
  • TEMPORALITY which is change
  • action in PRESENT focused on FUTURE and based on knowledge of PAST
  • RHYTHMICITY of parliament & election cycles

  • creating collective FUTURES
  • coping with UNCERTAINTY
  • coping with indefinite TIME LAGS between action and outcomes

  • TIME as VALUE:
    temporality - as change & innovation
    speed = efficiency & productivity
    resource - individual & collective
    economic exchange value
When TIME is Money
In industrial societies the TIME of the public sphere is tied to economic exchange: TIME is money. This economic TIME is rooted in the machine TIME of clocks. As such it is invariable and precise. It knows no seasons, no context, no periods of peaks and troughs. It is part of the non-stop world of 24-hour, all-year-round trading and finance.

In nature everything has its TIME and season. From an economic perspective, however, this natural TIME is a barrier to efficiency and improvements in productivity.

In a world where TIME is money

  • Speed is tied to efficiency because of competition and the need to have a quick return on investment. This means, when TIME is money, then the faster something moves through the system the better it is for business.
  • It is economically prudent to borrow from the future and to get as much TIME as possible for nothing since both strategies enhance profit and global competition.
  • Any un-used TIME is money wasted, and any unproductive TIME is money lost, hence the development towards a 24-hour, non-stop, a-seasonal food system.
  • Control of seasonality, ripening TIMES, reproduction cycles and 'freshness' of food irons out peaks and troughs, improves transportability, storage and shelf life and it enhances export capacity. GM offers the ultimate TIME control.

Conflicting TIMES - Public Unease
Contemporary agriculture operates in a global economic system where TIME is money. But it works with plants and animals that are governed by natural TIME, a time system that works to different principles from those of economic TIME.
The TIME of soil, plants and animals varies with seasons and place. Life pulses to the natural rhythms of the sun and moon, night and day, growth and decay while money & clock TIME are a-contextual; one hour is the same be it summer or winter, day or night.
In order to be economically efficient, farmers have to transcend natural TIME and impose economic TIME on agricultural production and reproduction processes.
The conflict between these two time systems is left unaddressed. Yet it is central not only to successful food production but citizens' concern about food quality and safety.
  • Getting the balance right is a key to being competitive in a global economy and central to taking account of animal welfare and the long-term productiveness of land.
  • How this balance between economic and natural TIMES is managed distinguishes the different farming sectors: large, medium and small scale, conventional and organic.
  • The trade-off between economic and natural TIME is also tied to food quality, wholesomeness and safety. That is to say, the immense gains in efficiency and productivity - ever increasing quantity and size in ever decreasing TIME spans - has a price tag attached.
'Quality TIME' and Taste
The price of time compression and control relates to:
  • Quality - We can taste TIME in the quality of the food we eat. Loss of taste is an inevitable by-product of the TIME that has been compressed by forcing growth and harvesting in an unripe state. Ripening that is guided by the food's TIME rather than economic TIME translates into quality. But the slower pace, higher human labour input and shorter shelf-life make it more expensive. The TIME factor increases the cost of locally grown fresh food.
  • Wholesomeness - The TIME-is-money regime depends on high levels of medical intervention, antibiotics and chemical assistance. Control of TIME via artificial ripening produces just-in-time food but reduces the vitamin and nutritional value.
  • Safety - What is considered and declared safe now may not be so in the future. In the trade-off between natural and economic TIME safety can and is be compromised.
Time and Genetic Modification
From an economic time perspective GM is the holy grail. It reaches the frontiers of time. It promises
  • the temporal equivalent to spatial globalisation
  • extension of scientific reach to the beginning and end of TIME: to the beginning of shared genetic origins and open-ended future effects
  • SPEEDING UP of reproductive change to achieve instantaneous results
  • control not just of nature's products but its processes, that is, TEMPORALITY
  • control of TIME at the level of reproduction
This extension in TEMPORAL reach and the massive leap in TIME compression and control have a price tag attached and it is important not to lose sight of this over the excitement of the economic potential. The price of success:
  • Unprecedented increase in control in the laboratory over SHORT-TERM processes is matched by an equally unprecedented loss of control over LONG-TERM effects in humans and on the environment.
  • Once released into the environment, GMOs know no boundaries. Their effects are unbounded in TIME & space. Thus, gene pollution is FOR EVER without possibility of recall or undoing mistakes.
  • Where science used to operate on the basis of trial and error, GE conducts trials where errors may not show themselves for a long TIME and where errors may materialise in different bodies (successor generations) and in different species (dispersed across nature in TIME and space).
Innovation, Risk, Contested Futures
It is in the nature of INNOVATION that the PAST can act neither as guide for action in the PRESENT nor as predictor of the FUTURE. Innovation is the context of inescapable UNCERTAINTY of outcomes and contested FUTURES.
This has discomfiting political consequences.
  • There can be no risk assessment since FUTURE risk can be calculated only on the basis of a known PAST.
  • Science cannot give the customary answers that guide political action: no prediction of the FUTURE, no truth, no certainty, no proof of causal connections.
  • With truly INNOVATIVE science, therefore, politics and policy operate in the realm not of science but contested values & morals.
  • The conflict between economic and natural TIME belongs to this world of values.
TIME Literacy for Informed Debate
The global economy & national politics operate with economic TIME as unquestioned norm. The public in contrast live and value the quality associated with the TIMES nature. To reconnect citizens' understanding of quality with the politics of food thus requires TIME literacy as basis to informed public debate.
Cardiff School of Social Sciences