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The world is running out of food



The rumblings of a food crisis 

As China and India turn to meat, food prices are soaring, writes Philip Delves Broughton
With Indians now gobbling down pizzas, the Chinese pounding the table for Big Macs, and corn being turned into bio-fuel, the world's food supplies are in their worst shape for 35 years.

Prices of everything from milk and corn to beef and coffee are at record highs. Wheat stores are the lowest they have been since 1980. Add to that the effects of climate change, shifting production around the world, and you have what the United Nations' World Food Programme is calling "the perfect storm for the world's hungry".

Even the not-so-hungry are feeling it. In Britain, the prices of a pint of milk and a loaf of bread have risen by more than 10 per cent in the past year, far more than inflation. It is estimated that the price of the average Christmas lunch in 2007 was 14 per cent higher than in 2006, and only a fraction of that was down to Jamie Oliver sending people out to buy more expensive organic food.

Italians have been abandoning pasta over the past 18 months in response to the sharp rise in its cost. In Mexico City late last year, thousands marched in protest at the shocking price of the corn they use to make tortillas.

Leading up to Russia's legislative elections in December, Vladimir Putin imposed price freezes on basic foodstuffs to keep a sudden rise in prices from sullying his party's easy victory. In the past few months, food riots have occurred around the world, from Morocco to Senegal and Yemen.

In Europe, the EU has suspended the usual 10 per cent set-aside for 2008. Normally farmers would be paid not to farm 10 per cent of their land as a way of controlling supply and maintaining prices. This year, they must cultivate all of their land.

The rise in basic food prices has also strengthened the case for abolishing the subsidies paid to European, mostly French, farmers. For many years, low agricultural commodity prices were offered as justification for the subsidies. With prices now hitting record highs, the argument for artificial price supports is gone.

It has been so long since the world faced food shortages - since the early 1970s - that some wonder if we are mentally prepared for such a crisis. Jacques Diouf, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is doing all he can to raise the alarm. He says there is now "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food".

Wealthy countries are better able to adapt, through technology and more efficient production and delivery. Poor countries, however, inevitably come last to the rice bowl and will soon likely find it either empty, or crammed with goods they cannot afford.

In India and China, eating habits have been transformed by rising prosperity. Consumers who once shopped at small local stores and markets now graze down the aisles of supermarkets, loading their trolleys with frozen ice cream, yoghurts and milk, which were once far harder to come by. For the first time in its history, India is no longer self-sufficient in milk, and the consumption of dairy products is expected to treble in the next four years. Even Hinduism, with its insistence on a vegetarian diet, has suffered as Indian meat consumption has risen by 40 per cent in the past 15 years.

The high price of energy has also taken its toll, driving up the price of feed and fertilisers which are made using oil and natural gas-related products.

In the United States, the environmentalists must also shoulder some blame. Millions of acres of American farmland are now subsidised by the federal government to produce corn for ethanol, a clean bio-fuel, rather than for food, even though Brazil makes ethanol far more cheaply from sugar cane. Just to complete the insanity, the US places a heavy tariff on Brazilian ethanol to protect its farmers.

From now on, though, the protectionists will have to act with the sound of the world's stomach growling in their ears. 

note: This is not the fault of fat people in Mississippi Jester


Entry #59


Comment by pacattack05 - February 4, 2008, 12:48 pm
Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt
By JONATHAN M. KATZ – 5 days ago

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti's health ministry.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."

time*treatComment by time*treat - February 4, 2008, 1:22 pm
Well, I think that takes the record for longest comment, pac. :-)
Send me the source, if you can find it. '08 is getting off to quite a start.
four4meComment by four4me - February 4, 2008, 1:43 pm
And if they cant figure out why the bees are dying we'll be in real big trouble.
Comment by pacattack05 - February 4, 2008, 1:48 pm
lol...TIME*TREAT... Below is the source.


I heard that one reason the bees were dying off was because of some chemical imbalance in a temporary natural cycle.
konaneComment by konane - February 4, 2008, 7:04 pm
I understand in this area some wild bees are starving because of spikes of warmth in the winter which breaks their dormancy and there is nothing for them to feed on. They've recommended planting native plants which bloom in cold temps.
Rick GComment by Rick G - February 4, 2008, 8:53 pm
I think these bio-fuels are a big mistake. All tillable land should be farmed at the owner's discretion and all subsidies for unused land should be eliminated.   Farmers in the U.S. with thousands of acres of farmland are getting the most in subsidies and usually are wealthy. The average farm owner does not benefit. The farmers have a strong lobby in Washington to keep it the way it is.

The use of bio-fuels is a knee jerk reaction to the planet warming.   90% of the warming is due to the sun's current volatility and cycle. The surface temperature on Mars has risen also and nobody lives there that we know of. It happens on a regular cycle on this planet. Planet cooling will follow. That's the cycle, ice ages and warm periods. We'll have to cope with it. Eliminating green house gases is a fine goal for our ozone layer and the air we breathe. I'm all for it. But let science find a better energy source, not a politician or a world body or an ex-President.

Obviously the use of bio-fuels is affecting the world's food supply. Eating today is more important than what MIGHT happen in 20 years.
konaneComment by konane - February 4, 2008, 9:17 pm
Have forgotten who but someone posted a couple of years back that our oceans are the greatest source of greenhouse gasses (working from memory so anyone remembering reading that post please clarify). If indeed it's oceans emitting greenhouse gasses affecting ozone layers then there is little we can do about it because it's part of a natural cycle.
Comment by pacattack05 - February 4, 2008, 9:58 pm
I don't know about oceans and greenhouse. But for all those people out there who want to save the trees in the rain forest because of the oxygen they give off....well...90 percent of all the oxygen in this world comes from the algae close to the surface of the oceans, not trees. However, we only have about 20 percent of all the species of animals that we had 200 years ago. That should be the concern, not loss of oxygen.

Comment by pumpi76 - February 4, 2008, 11:41 pm
What happened to fish...There is more ocean than land...You can only grow so much chicken...Yet fish abound in the ocean?
Comment by pumpi76 - February 4, 2008, 11:45 pm
they hit us where it hurt the most...I kind of figure this was going to happened but didn't think it will happened yet...This is something i was completely not thinking about...I totally forgot about it....

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