Archive for the World Food Category

The Economist: It’s OUR view for the future of FOOD

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

There was an article in a November issue of the Economist titled “How to Feed the World.” The article begins: “In 1974, Henry Kissinger, then America’s secretary of state, told the first world conference in Rome that no child would go to bed hungry within ten years. Just over 35 years later in the week of another United Nations food summit in Rome, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry.”

The article blames the rise of crop prices on agricultural ‘failings,’ that have not gone away. What those are, it does not specify quite enough–however, we do know that the world’s population will rise by a third in 2050 and demand for agricultural goods will rise by 70%, demand for meat, will double.

Here is another little snippet: “Countries need to do two things, invest in the productive capacity of agriculture and improve the operation of food markets. Governments have done one but not the other. Over the past year investment has risen faster than anyone expected. But distrust of markets and reaction against farm trade are growing. Unless governments restrain those impulses, they will undermine the gains from rising investment.”

This is partly something I can agree with, and partly not. I believe that what this article is trying to get at ignores the complexity of the uneven food market, the fact that rich countries can subsidize crops and boost their products and then sell them to poor countries for cheap, for example. The fact that markets for rural farmers have to grow is true, and acting at a local level (which I think has been undermined by the Bigger levels) is crucial. The article says, GM crops have to have a role in the agriculture and thankfully suggests that the technology should be distributed in a localized level as opposed to controlled by Monsanto.

Finally, the article emphasizes the importance of opening up trade between nations as opposed to shifting towards a self-reliance in agriculture. This, the article argues, is ‘in nobody’s interest.’ I don’t disagree, but I would add the importance of fair trade and a further examination of the inequality in the market.

MY Proposition and Approach to finding a Solution to the Meat Industry’s Perils

Posted in World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

When addressing the problems of the rise in meat consumption and its consequences, it is important to enter the solution from a structural point of view. Too many of the proposed amends by the fast food industry, the meat producers and governmental agencies focus on very specific issues within a larger context that ignore the connections between problems. For example, the reaction of the meat industry during the recent E.Coli outbreaks was to spray chlorine dioxide gas on the meat, instead of addressing the unsanitary conditions under which animals live and die. When hogs in factory farms became violent against each other because of the insanity their confined state caused them, the industry introduced anti-psychotics to quell their attitudes. The list goes on, the continual addressing of problems through technocratic solutions is only a way to quell the symptoms of what is a potentially self-destructive system. Ultimately the problem rests on an unsustainable and environmentally destructive trend that must be curved in threat of dire consequences.

In the context of the rise of meat production and consumption worldwide and in developing countries in Asia, the solutions have to come by examining the causes of the rises that have been occurring. If one considers both the realities that urbanization coupled with higher incomes lead to higher meat consumption, and also that the private sector plays a huge role in pressuring markets to sell and grow meat, then it becomes clearer where the solution should emerge from.

If one is going to really come up with a solution to fix the issue of the meat industry, it is going to be directed particularly at the way meat is being produced industrially because this is the source that allows for cheap production of meat. If the prices of meat reflected the true costs of making it, it would be much more of a luxury for many people and would be consumed less. This could be achieved through taxation and removal of the costs that are evaded in production through things like subsidies on crops for feed. This implies more governmental supervision over its private actors—not an unrelated move in context to the larger picture of the unregulated capitalist system that has been the cause for the recent market crash. However, only addressing the issue from an economic point would be incomplete; depriving people with lower incomes and allowing for wealthier people to continue of the same trends of consumption does not solve the problem entirely, although it is a step in the right direction.

The responsibility that developed countries have against developing countries is great because after all, it is their industry that is being mimicked. Developed countries have the power to serve as a model for the negative consequences of the industry they are exporting to the developing Third-World, and ignoring these is a threat to global food security and the environment. One of the angles for this exemplary behavior can be through a change in diet.

Consider some of the trends that have happened in American consumption of meat. If one takes the post WWII dietary campaigns that advocated for meat consumption and a modern phenomenon of the Atkins diet, it is clear that these have an influence on the increase of meat consumption. At the same time, the growing population of the vegan and vegetarian movement in the United States demonstrates the opposing trend of discontentment from the American public. Both of these examples shed light on the fact that a country’s diet can be influenced by forces greater than individual choices—sometimes it is the media, sometimes government propaganda. A greater awareness from the public about the dangers of industrial meat consumption in terms of health and the environmental consequences is necessary and this can come in the form of activism, dissemination of information and directly through educational programs. It is in the power of governments, particularly in cases like China that has such control of its dissemination of information, to inform people about the risks of consuming and producing industrial meat.

Public awareness and the reflection of true costs would help steer consumption in a better direction. The problem that looms over lies in the fact that the vertically integrated Mega Meat Conglomerates have taken such control of the industry and bent the rules to their advantage aided by the government itself, that having a reflection of true costs is unlikely. Accepting the fact that change is not going to come from the industrial meat producers themselves, it must be supported by the international bodies of regulation, the World Bank and the United Nations. It is a problem that cannot be ignored, and one that is growing at unprecedented rates.

Solutions coming from different actors for the Meat problem

Posted in Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

The issues present in the industrial meat industry are especially pressing in this period when developing countries continue to grow and expand their markets and adopt unsustainable production methods. China, within the Asian developing nations is of particular notoriety because of its rapidly expanding middle class, economic and environmental influence in a global scale. In view of the problems described, there have been measures taken by diverse governmental and non-governmental agencies in order to counteract some of the most harmful effects of the industry.

An influential buyer of meat, McDonalds, has taken measures to reduce some of the most criticized aspects of its distributors. Under pressure, they agreed to sign a two-year agreement not to buy soy from Brazil’s deforested land, and also promised to expand cages for hens and abstain from the practice of starving them in order for them to lay more eggs. A number of other fast food chains have promised to take similar steps to make slaughterhouses more bearable for animals.

There are a number of efforts from other non-profit organizations such as Heifer international that are trying to find alternative more sustainable ways of producing meat. Heifer international helps small livestock farmers in developing countries stay in business, by directly acting in communities and finding ways to fund the construction of slaughter houses and educating producers and consumers about the benefits of locally produced meat. Helping small livestock farmers maintain a market for their products is a crucial part of the project as well.

In the efforts to conserve genetic variety for the future, the leaders of traditional pastoral communities, non-governmental groups and governmental representatives in 2003 signed the Karen commitment for the protection of animal genetic  resources from patenting  signed in Kenya.

In 2001, the World Bank reversed its previous commitment to fund large-scale livestock projects in developing nations. In its new livestock strategy, the bank stated “there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security threatened.” It has promised to use a “people centered” approach to livestock development projects that will reduce poverty, protect environmental sustainability, ensure food security, and promote animal welfare.

This turnout did not happen out of a sudden visit from the consciousness fairy, but rather from the fact that large-scale intensive animal production methods the World Bank once advocated fro are proving to be too costly. Past policies drove out smallholders because economies of large scale do not internalize the environmental costs of producing meat. The Bank’s new strategy includes integrating livestock-environment interactions into environmental impact assessments, correcting regulatory distortions that favor large producers, and promoting development of markets for organic products.

Meat–A special of the Worldpresses

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Since the 1950’s global meat production has been on an increase. Production has risen from 44 million tons in 1950 to 253 million tons worldwide today. In 2003, the average person consumed 41 kilograms of meat, double the number of half a century ago.[1] The industrialization of meat production has permitted for a product that was once a considered a luxury for a majority of the population to become a daily commodity for many. In this essay the trends of the rise in meat consumption in developing Asian countries will be examined in light of recent concerns focused in that area. The rapid furthering of industrialization taking place in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan has led to the urbanization that analysts argue leads to a rise in income and meat consumption.  The fear of growing meat consumption in industrializing countries is directed not just at growing consumption, but also and arguably more importantly, at the reproduction of Western and specifically American meat production methods.

The following posts will be an investigation of this phenomenon and my attempt to formulate solutions from a structuralist perspective.

[1] Lester R. Brown. Outgrowing the Earth: Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures. UK 2005 Bath Press Ltd, Bath


Posted in Environmental Concerns, World Food on December 11, 2009 by alejandracuellar

In the following posts I will be writing about the debate about GMO’s that currently holds a crucial place in international politics. Although the technology is well underway, has been in place for over thirty years and continues to grow there is strong opposition coming from many sides. Europe for example, has been a strong opponent of American genetically engineered foods. Their fear comes from the difference in regulation imposed by the USDA within the food production itself and Europe. In essence, Europe fears the technology more than the United States. It is important to note that it is not the people who fear, but rather the institutions who import, although the people do fear as well; it is the political leverage of that fear that matters more in Europe than it does in the United States. The question I will be asking is, what is there to fear in the prospect of having genetically modified organisms enter into agriculture world wide?

Here is one view on the matter.

GMO’s are and have been the reason that the planet can support the 6.2 billion people it does today. Had it not been for the Green Revolution, the Malthusian Curve would have come at last and starvation would have been (even more) rampant. The fact that we can produce more food per acre using the same, if not less land is the miracle of the 20th century. Now that we face the prospect of even more overpopulation (with population estimated to grow to 9.1 billion in 2025) and the urgency to feed the planet, GMO’s are the solution to the problem of food productivity. If we can make plants that are resistant to harsh weather, perhaps even salt so that plants could be watered with sea salt, chemicals and pests, why should we even question the imperative of the technology for genetically modifying foods?

Here is another view on the matter:

The problems that have taken place in the most GMO intensive areas (i.e the U.S mostly) will be reproduced in all other areas of the world and particularly in developing countries where many farmers are already living under situations of dependency. One of the specific and most contested traits in GMO seeds is the dependency they create. When you buy a seed from a company that owns the technology with a patent, Monsanto for example, you are forced to return to them to buy more because you cannot save the seed. Because genetically manipulated seeds have been modified to resist X or Y, the second harvest will not necessarily yield the same kind of plants. The second argument against GMOs has to do with the possibility of losing unique strands of plans that act as possible deterrents to disease. If all plants have the same genetic combination and a pathogen attacks them, the chance of it wiping out an entire population is more likely.

What do you think?

The Big Rise in Meat Consumption in East Asia and Why it Concerns Everyone

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

This is a map that scales meat consumption globally. It shows that China consumes 25% of the world's meat while having 20% of the population

Amongst the growing list of environmental concerns, the rise of meat consumption in Asia is one that warrants attention. It is a phenomenon that could be easily explained by saying that as the Asian powers grow economically, so does their middle class, and so does the desire of the middle class to eat more meat. It is the inevitable trend of societies, a tragic but predictable outcome of wealth accumulation: people just want to eat more meat. This explanation is partly true, but partly and more importantly, it is overly simplistic and in being so, it ignores the golden glove of the global market.

Lester Brown, one of the founders of the Worldwatch institute put the complex relationship between growing wealth and growing desires well:

If industrialization is rapid, the loss of cropland quickly overrides the rise in land productivity, leading to a decline in grain production. The same industrialization that shrinks the cropland area also raises income, and with it the consumption of livestock products and the demand for grain. Ironically, the faster the industrialization proceeds, the more rapidly the gap widens between rising demand and falling production.

There is no better example than China to illustrate the reality of Brown’s words. Today China’s arable land is about 7% of its total land, and its population is 1.3 billion. Livestock, back when they still ate their natural diets would have required long stretches of land to feed off of. Since the industrial meat system cuts that part out of the equation and instead subjects animals to cage like spaces and uses grains and others to feed the animals, this is no longer a requirement. However, if China is to feed its growing population of animals, it will need to find this land elsewhere (i.e. look at the post on China’s land grabbing in Africa).

The point I want to stress about this issue is found between the tension of the consumer preference and the producer’s role. It is all too easy to remain oblivious to the role of the mega meat corporations in the global meat market and say that consumers are to blame for all of the market’s surges and plunges. People just want more meat again, is overly simplistic and it ignores the part that giant meat packaging companies have had on consumption. The aggressive tactics that have been utilized to open up Asian markets to American meat imports is appalling, in the past fifteen years, imports of not just meat, but the model for producing meat in the United States have been copious and unabashed.

In following posts, I will like to bring up several key points: the first will be the environmental impact of global meat consumption present and future, second I will trace the history of the big meat packing corporations (Tyson, Cargill, IBP, Smithfield), and third I will speak to the resistance in countries like South Korea against foreign meat imports.

Stone Barns: Center for Food and Agriculture

Posted in Glad to be Food on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Stepping on the farm of Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills upstate New York is first and foremost, quite beautiful. The Center for Food and Agriculture is home to the most avant-garde methods of growing food and raising animals. It is avant-garde ironically, because the methods actually take from ancient conceptions of sustaining a whole ecosystem. Throughout the 60-acres of working land there are a variety of agricultural principles applied but as Evan Thaller-Null, an intern in the farm explained, it is the idea of biodynamics that is most present in the farm’s consciousness. Biodynamics (a term coined from Rudolf Steiner’s ideas) tries to treat the farm as a self containing organism so that in a closed loop, everything is supported by each other and the health of each organism affects and is dependent on the health of everything else. Much attention is payed to seasonal and environmental factors in growing the food. This closed system allows for food to be grown organically, pesticide and hormone free.

The farm has made it its mission to be a center for education catering for young, novice and older more experienced people who wish to learn about the farm’s methods. Stone barns is a leader in new techniques and methods and people come by constantly to learn about it.

The pigs on the barn will come charge at you and try and eat your hand

The farm is only five years old, it emerged from Peggy Rockefeller’s desire to invigorate an area that had become an agricultural desert. The land used to be a dairy farm in the early 1900’s, but the high taxes on property and land had been driving out food production. Thanks to the endowment from the Rockefeller’s big bank account, the non-profit, Stone Barns is emerging as a center for agriculture and education situated only 30 miles from Manhattan. It also survives on volunteer help from students who wish to learn invaluable lessons. “I’ve gotten the chance to work with the most knowledgeable mentor in the field, and that is not easy to come by in agriculture,” said Evan about his internship in the farm.

There is a restaurant, Blue Hill located on the property that serves food from the farm at relatively expensive prices. I left the farm with a feeling of hope, but also with a number of  questions about this being a model or an ideal for our agriculturally troubled society.

Although the barn has taken the mission of spreading awareness about food and sustainable agriculture, it caters its food to a very specific population, mainly the higher class who can pay the price of the expensive food. If we are employing the principle of biodynamics say, to the entire country, (maybe even the world) wouldn’t it be necessary to spread access to healthy foods to everyone? Is it a ludicrous idea? I think not, and although it can seem like an impossible task, too costly, too difficult, if someone doesn’t begin with an idea of inclusiveness, then all attempts to ameliorate the problems in society will remain in the hands of a few–a secret to the rest of the population.

The greenhouse sustains fresh greens and roots all year round. These are some of the sweetest carrots I have ever encountered in my life