“We are witnessing the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history. The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before.” So says Lester Brown, an analyst of global resources and president of the Earth Policy Institute. Even some on the other side agree, as the former CEO of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, has stated that “if as predicted we look to use biofuels to satisfy twenty percent of the growing demand for oil products, there will be nothing left to eat. To grant enormous subsidies for biofuel production is morally unacceptable and irresponsible.”
And the U.S. is not the only culprit. Brazil and Europe, along with the U.S., produce the majority of biofuels as well as consuming the most. China also has an active biofuels program, which involves importing feedstock from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Nigeria. In 2007, GRAIN, a Spanish non-profit, released a paper citing that in Tanzania, “thousands of rice and maize farmers are being evicted from their lands in order for large companies to plant sugarcane and jatropha trees (whose seeds are a feedstock).” The practices contributing to the ongoing global food crisis, which do little more than enrich such industrial giants as Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Syngenta, Dupont and Monsanto, are also supported by the USDA, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. The futures of both food and fuel are being controlled by unregulated global trade in agricultural commodities and more genetic “fixes.” By displacing more and more farmland and using that land for biofuel production, we are increasing the cost of food worldwide.
A food crisis erupted in 2008, which many see as the root cause of social and political uprisings in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. Although other factors, such as poor weather, high oil prices and investment into agricultural commodities certainly contributed to the crisis, this “perfect storm” of factors in 2008 recurred in 2011, and nothing has been done to stem the tide of increased hunger worldwide. Currently, close to 50% of U.S. corn goes into biofuels, and the EU is planning to double the amount of biofuels it uses within the next decade. And given that farmland in rich countries is finite, the industrial giants continue to look elsewhere, particularly in Africa and other developing countries. As more and more land is designated for the growth of biofuels, the price of food increases even as the number of people sinking into poverty rises.
Ultimately, the global food system, entirely controlled by multinational grain traders, industrial seed, chemical and fertilizer corporations, will continue to reap profits under governments that offer no leadership or regulation. The food crisis affects half of the world’s population; even people in the richest countries are spending more of their income on food. Since 2007, food prices have risen more than 85%. The price of corn, rice and soy, all staples, continues to rise dramatically every year since biofuels were first planted in 2006. The number of hungry people has risen accordingly. In the U.S., 47 million people have been driven into the national food stamp program because of rising food and fuel prices, and very little is being done to address these issues. Food banks have been picking up the slack since 2007 and have been forced to seek donations apart from government surplus. According to Hunger Notes, “The USDA distributes surplus when stocks are high or commodities prices fall below a certain level. Like international food aid, they respond to the needs of the grain market first, tending to decrease distribution when food is most needed and increase it when it is less needed.”
Free market reforms, which continue to be pushed onto governments by industrial giants, have eroded support for local agriculture and have led to the consolidation of Big Ag. Deregulation and consolidation together make markets vulnerable, which can drive up the costs of food and fuel. What is required to fix the food crisis is regulation, reducing the power of Big Ag and supporting sustainable agriculture worldwide. Personally, one can contribute by supporting local farmers and voting appropriately. We must reduce the choke hold Big Ag has on our government and force a renewal of antitrust laws and increased regulation.
Recipe of the Week
Soup and salad is the best combination I can imagine, and this soup is particularly satisfying, if a little strange for American tastes. I haven’t made it in a while, but I love it. As always, organic ingredients and homemade stock are essential.
Tomato Bread Soup
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped
8 ounces of dense, stale French bread, cut into 2″ chunks
2 qts. homemade chicken stock
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, pureed
Heat oil in a heavy soup pot. Add bread and stir constantly until most of the oil has been absorbed into the bread and it’s become a little toasty. Toss in the garlic and sage, stir quickly, then add the stock and tomatoes. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Taste to see if it needs a little salt. Serve with a green salad.