Saturday, December 22, 2007


An unpleasant resonance in a couple of pieces linked in the Ethicurean digest for today:

First, this bad news about global food supplies:
In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

To blame: a decrease in farm subsidies in the interest of free markets, climate change, and a heavy US demand for virgin biofuels like ethanol:

Part of the current problem is an outgrowth of prosperity. More people in the world now eat meat, diverting grain from humans to livestock. A more complicated issue is the use of crops to make biofuels, which are often heavily subsidized. A major factor in rising corn prices globally is that many farmers in the United States are now selling their corn to make subsidized ethanol.
And this, on the outcry by meat and dairy producers (among others) about rising costs of grain:

But now the price of some foods is rising sharply, and from the corridors of Washington to the aisles of neighborhood supermarkets, a blame alert is under way.

Among the favorite targets is ethanol, especially for food manufacturers and livestock farmers who seethe at government mandates for ethanol production. The ethanol boom, they contend, is raising corn prices, driving up the cost of producing dairy products and meat, and causing farmers to plant so much corn as to crowd out other crops.

[ . . . ]

“We did get whipped,” said Jay Truitt, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association,.“We continue to be caught up in this fervor, almost spirituality, about ethanol. You can’t get anyone to consider that there is a consequence to these actions.”

He added, “We think there will be a day when people ask, ‘Why in the world did we do this?’”
Did, uh, what, exactly? Elected to produce meat on an absurd and monumental scale, industrially, in feedlots, with corn? Decided everybody in America needed to eat some cow or chicken every single goddamned day? Concluded we all needed to haul around -- in addition to our fat selves -- several tons of not especially aerodynamic steel and plastic because this makes us safer? Or believed we wouldn't have to change anything -- our diets, our cars, our idling with the air conditioner running -- because market-based science would save us?

How did bread get mixed up in economies of scale? Is this the legacy of the Green Revolution?


MT said...

Economy of scale comes from feeding your animals on one feed purchase, or on only a few. That means the feed has to be cultivated in huge amounts by a just few farmers, and the less perishable and/or more perennial the feed, the better. So re: the Green Revolution being a cause, I'd say that's for sure. Pollan must say as much about corn in Ominvore's Dilemma.

jenhargis said...

Well, you have to have sausage for breakfast because to wake your body up. Then you have to eat steak for lunch so that you can settle your stomach from all the spices in the sausage. This means you have to have chicken for dinner so that you can use those teeny bones to get the steak out from between your teeth. Duh.

barba de chiva said...

Don't forget yer daily servings of fruit!

Yeah, Pollan addresses the corn issue pretty thoroughly in TOD, and I imagine it'll resurface in his new book.

Anonymous said...

To blame: a decrease in farm subsidies in the interest of free markets, climate change, and a heavy US demand for virgin biofuels like ethanol: