How have the discourses of ‘trade-oriented food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’ contributed to a politics of international agri-food policy? Discourse is understood as the meanings given to phenomena (both social and physical) and the practices associated with those meanings. Consequently, metaphors are regarded as powerful sense-making constructs. In their classic forms, these two discourses constitute seemingly irreconcilable paradigms: one representing a hegemonic assertion of neoliberal economic rationalism, the other an oppositional and populist social movement. Analysis of public-facing discourse reveals distinctive meanings and metaphors concerning the role of trade in food security and in the conceptualisation of nature (particularly in reference to agricultural biotechnology) along with elements of co-construction. While both forms of discourse face challenges in retaining coherency, trade-oriented food security enunciates a poorly specified and increasingly arcane vision, relatively unconcerned with ecological sensitivities and resource constraints. New opportunities for the discourse of food sovereignty may involve continuing to specify and exemplify a politics of the particular founded on agro-ecological practices.