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Food & agriculture - Feb 13

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Our culture of wasting food will one day leave us hungry

Alex Renton, The Observer
All the talk of genetically modifying crops would be unnecessary if the supermarkets - and consumers - weren't so wasteful
... Tackling waste could do a lot for food security. Hilary Benn, Defra's minister, likes to tell people that the entire international food aid programme amounts to only a fifth of what a single developed nation throws away in a single year.

In Britain, some belt-tightening could hardly hurt. Start with imports. A look at our shopping list reveals a nation of gluttons and wastrels; we make party-planners for Roman feasts look canny. If Lucullus imported tigers' sweetbreads and other exotic amuses-gueules, it was because he could not get them locally. We bring lamb and butter from the other side of the world and most of our bacon from Europe, not because it tastes better but because it is marginally cheaper.

A mixed salad illustrates the absurdity. We must have fresh salad all year, so we import 60% of it. Processors and retailers throw away on average 40% of what they eventually sell, because of the problems in forecasting demand (if it's raining, shoppers buy less salad, but buyers have to place orders two weeks ahead). Then, at home, we throw away 60% - £620m-worth - of all we buy because we never get round to eating it. At a rough estimate, Britain imports twice as much salad as it actually eats.

Most of these statistics come from a fascinating exercise in dissecting the nation's rubbish bins, carried out by the Defra-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap).
(8 February 2009)

Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production

Eric deCarbonnel, Market Oracle
After reading about the droughts in two major agricultural countries, China and Argentina, I decided to research the extent other food producing nations were also experiencing droughts. This project ended up taking a lot longer than I thought. 2009 looks to be a humanitarian disaster around much of the world

To understand the depth of the food Catastrophe that faces the world this year, consider the graphic below depicting countries by USD value of their agricultural output, as of 2006.

... The countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions. Whether you watch a video of the drought in China, Australia, Africa, South America, or the US , the scene will be the same: misery, ruined crop, and dying cattle.

... The deflation debate should end now

The droughts plaguing the world's biggest agricultural regions should end the debate about deflation in 2009. The demand for agricultural commodities is relatively immune to developments in the business cycles (at least compared to that of energy or base metals), and, with a 20 to 40 percent decline in world production, already rising food prices are headed significantly higher.

In fact, agricultural commodities NEED to head higher and soon, to prevent even greater food shortages and famine. The price of wheat, corn, soybeans, etc must rise to a level which encourages the planting of every available acre with the best possible fertilizers. Otherwise, if food prices stay at their current levels, production will continue to fall, sentencing millions more to starvation.
(9 February 2009)
Recommended by EB contributor Michael Lardelli who writes: "The ongoing worldwide financial panic seems to have obscured a more important issue that is described in this article."

Author Eric deCarbonnel does not have a background in estimating food production (Bio on his site, so approach this analysis with care. Nonetheless Michael is right that we shouldn't lose sight of the food situation. -BA

The Geopolitics of Food Scarcity

Lester Brown, Spiegel online
In some countries social order has already begun to break down in the face of soaring food prices and spreading hunger. Could the worldwide food crisis portend the collapse of global civilization?

One of the toughest things for us to do is to anticipate discontinuity. Whether on a personal level or on a global economic level, we typically project the future by extrapolating from the past. Most of the time this works well, but occasionally we experience a discontinuity that we failed to anticipate. The collapse of civilization is such a case. It is no surprise that many past civilizations failed to grasp the forces and recognize signs that heralded their undoing. More than once it was shrinking food supplies that brought about their downfall.
(11 February 2009)

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