Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Deadly Greed" Makes the Food Crisis Worse

The German magazine Der Spiegel is available in English at Spiegel Online International. A wonderful magazine, it offers a very different world view of from that we commonly see in US papers. The Thursday, April 24, 2008 issue appeared Wednesday evening, my time, and while not what I was looking for as after dinner reading (I feel guilty and overfed), I am glad I found its five thoughtful, in-depth, and provocative articles on food, hunger, and greed. In addition, there are three articles from last week, several more from that past six months on food shortage topics and the environment. All the articles lead to more through a seemingly endless cascade of links to other related articles. For example, there is an interesting article on BMW's opposition to ecological laws being proposed in Germany. When you click on the links that in the titles below, you will move to Spiegel and all of these articles.

Beat Balzli and Frank Hornig expose the seamy side of hunger, the food futures speculators who bid the price of food in warehouses up to the point that the hungry cannot afford it. They have two articles discussing this activity.

DEADLY GREED: The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis

DEADLY GREED: The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis: Part 2: 'Passive and –Profit Oriented'

Philip Bethge explores the claims of those who see genetically modified food as the saviour of the poor, and the difficult reality of the situation in the following two articles. In the second article, the weakness of genetic modification driven, and perhaps profit driven farming is revealed.
“Using the tools of genetic engineering to increase crop yields is so complicated that most genetic researchers have not even tried it yet."

Does this mean that designer plants are incapable of satisfying expectations altogether? Some companies are now touting conventional cultivation methods again.”

Too complicated or too dangerous to grow, is that what they mean? Yes, actually. In cases such as this, complicated and dangerous means that the test plant has a likelihood of adversely affecting other plants or crops in the wind affected area around the test site. Those effects could be mutation of all plants, mutation of a "weed" so that it encroaches on other plants and crops, something else. These mutations could cause otherwise healthy plants to cease to grow or produce food. South Africa stopped tests of the Super Sorghum.
“The South African authorities have already prohibited a first greenhouse trial with Wambugu's super sorghum, arguing that it would be too dangerous for the environment.”

SUPER SORGHUM FOR THE POOR: Can Genetic Crops Stop the Food Crisis?

SUPER SORGHUM FOR THE POOR: Can Genetic Crops Stop the Food Crisis? Part 2: Can Designer Plants even Work?

Kenya, a country that until a few weeks ago had been politically stable and peaceful, has been going though a horrible time of civil unrest, almost civil war, over a contested election. Food prices, health care, and most other aspects of a stable life have become scarce. Horand Knaup profiles one family in Nairobi in the article:

OATMEAL AND WATER: Nairobi Living, in a Season of Expensive Food

The food crisis is not only one of shortages, it is one of price,. How it is affecting Egypt is reported by Ulrike Putz in Cairo and Mahalla, Egypt. In this food crisis it is not always a shortage:
“If you want to learn how global food shortages are affecting the poor, a good place to go is the street market in Cairo's impoverished Boulek al-Dakur district in the early afternoon.

Market stands might be piled high with cucumbers and tomatoes, flat bread stacked high on trays which bakers have pushed out of bakeries to cool -- but that is precisely the problem. While traders used to sell their perishable goods by midday, now they cannot get rid of them.”

CRISIS IN EGYPT: The Daily Struggle for Food

Could the experience in Egypt happen here? Of course it could. My parents talked about the food lines of hungry people in Seattle and Chicago during the 1930's. In any American urban, suburban, and perhaps rural areas there is less than three days of food stored. How food gets from the farm to the store to your kitchen or restaurant is quite complex. Any rift in the process could cause a food crisis.
The problem could be political, as it is in Keyna, economic as in Egypt, or it could be a natural disaster like an earth quake. One lesson of New Orleans is that we are vulnerable.

The conflict between food and fuel was discussed in January, 2008, in this article.

OUR HUNGRY PLANET: The Choice between Food and Fuel

Two articles on biofuels and how they are hurting the world’s food supply are also linked.

'A TOTAL DISASTER': Critique Mounts against Biofuels

The second of these articles focuses on German politics, rather a relief to read about someone else’s problems except that their problems are our problems, too.

GERMANY VERSUS THE EU: Merkel Caught between Industry and the Climate

Each of these articles has many more links to interesting and worthwhile articles.

If I may add my opinion, reading Spiegel is such a change from reading most American newspapers and articles. The quality of the thought is far greater than what I read in the US papers. If you like shallow, poorly thought out articles do not bother to read any of these, because all of these articles, while fairly short, have great quality.


Anonymous said...

I know you're not implying that media outside the US is more "fair and balanced" than FOX are you?

Meantime, thanks for posting this information. If you don't mind, I'm going to link to your post over at Rodale's forums. I've got a conversation going regarding a Times article implying we can no longr feed the entire population without the use of commercial, petroleum-product, fertilizer. So far two mixed farmers (doing both organic and non-organic farming) have weighed in. I believe anything that contributes to the "how can we do organic farming on a large scale" conversation to be vital. Obviously the information you've got here qualifies.

mjholt said...

I know you're not implying that media outside the US is more "fair and balanced" than FOX are you?

Perish the thought! However, the more sources you read, the more coordinates you have to triangulate the truth.

I found these articles quite interesting, however, and I linked only to a few of the articles available. If you don't get them all in one place, it is very easy to simply loose them because every web site, like Spiegel, moves on to the next story each day.

Part of the problem with the argument put forth about the need for aggressive non-organic farming (as I think of it) is the one-size fits all attitude coupled with the aggressive marketing of the big unnatural Ag companies. Read my comments on the inert ingredients. Everything would be better if the marriage of pesticides and herbicides were not so prevalent. If I buy a pesticide for white fly, I only want that one thing -- no herbicides and other pesticides.

However, here is the big thing: all of the ag problems come from the "large scale" model. The easiest problem to point to is the e-coli in the spinach in 2006. That massive problem was caused by centralized processing. If the produce (product) were handled and packaged locally, those people would be alive, and the survivors would be healthier today.

Were people truly concerned about food security from terrorists, they would be embracing a decentralized food production and processing model.

With over 6 billion people on this planet, we can no longer use corn for cattle food and fuel. There are ways to make bio-fuels out of cellulose, palm leaves, and other materials that are not food. Cattle would be healthier, and their manure would not be toxic were they fed alfalfa and hay.

Why the massive amounts of manure generated by feedlots and dairies is not used instead of some the the petroleum-product fertilizer has to do with how the fertilizer is made and packaged. Some thought on how to change the problem of all this manure into usable fertilizer should be done.

It is time to return to locally grown food whenever possible. The idea that homes need to be built on agricultural land is passe, as well as ill thought out. Put the people on the rocky hills, make multifamily housing more prevalent. Bottom line: grow food on the agricultural land.

Part of the world shortage of rice is because the rice paddies were filled in for houses. This has happened all over SE Asia. That is well documented.

Please leave the links to the Rodale forums here, if you can so that I can read the one you are participating in.