Sunday, 13 April 2008

More on the Global Food Crisis

Helena Cobban at 'Just World News' (which is an excellent source for analysis on current affairs), has an interesting post about the global food crisis, with some excellent links in it. Particularly noteworthy is the World Bank report that public order is at risk in 33 countries because of rising food prices.

Ms. Cobban also expresses the opinion that the global food crisis is going to bring about the end of 'America's unipolar moment'. She doesn't elaborate on why she feels this is so. To me, the idea seems counter-intuitive, since the United States is (a) a net exporter of grains and (b) sharply rising demand in the U.S. is driven by the switch to bio-fuel. So, to me at least, it seems as if the food crisis wouldn't cause serious harm to America's global standing and in fact, will probably strengthen it.

One of Ms. Cobban's ideas for a remedy is switching to a less meat-oriented diet. The background to this is that one of the reasons for the rise in food prices is the demand for meat by the growing middle classes in developing countries, particularly China and India. A rise in demand for beef burgers means a much larger rise in demand for grain since grains are used in feed for cows. Cows also take up much more agricultural land.

Now as this old article in the Guardian points out:
The basic rule of thumb is that it takes 2kg of feed to produce every kilogram of chicken, 4kg for pork, and at least 7kg for beef. The more meat we eat, the more grain, soya and other feedstuffs we need. So when we hear that the total global meat demand is expected to grow from 209m tonnes in 1997 to around 327m tonnes in 2020, what we have to hold in our mind is all the extra hectares of land required, all the extra water consumed, the extra energy burned, and the extra chemicals applied to grow the requisite amount of feed to produce 327m tonnes of meat.

So even if vegetarianism is not your thing, eating less beef and more chicken would still make a positive difference (and white meat is much healthier anyway). Still not convinced? Why not browse through this report on 'The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat', especially the graph comparing land use efficiency at the bottom of page 23. Beef has the lowest efficiency with 20 pounds of usable protein per acre, rice has 261 pounds of usable protein per acre and soybeans has the highest efficiency with 356 pounds per acre.

So roughly speaking, in the same amount of agricultural land it takes to feed 1 person with beef, you can grow enough rice to feed 13 people.

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