Wed, Feb 23, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Dealing with the global food crisis

By Du Yu 杜宇

Following poor wheat harvests in Russia, Eastern Europe and other places in recent years, unusual flooding in major grain exporters Australia and Brazil, as well as price manipulation by global speculators, international food prices have kept on rising. This is a very worrying trend. Figures show that since last year’s harvest seasons, global prices for maize, soybeans and wheat have risen by 94, 51 and 80 percent respectively. The prices for these three key grains have already risen close to or above their highest point in the previous 30 months. Although the impact so far has varied from region to region, a repeat of the global food price crisis may well be on the cards.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization officials have warned that prices for rice, wheat, sugar, meat and other food will remain high throughout this year, possibly leading to a repeat of the 2007-2008 food price crisis. In spite of this, some Taiwanese economists and government officials still think that “one doesn’t have to own a cow to drink milk”; that is, as long as one has money one can buy food from abroad when the need arises. They believe there is no need to set aside a sizable tract of land for farming and would prefer seeing the land put to more effective uses such as industry and commerce.

It should be remembered, however, that when the most recent food crisis hit, not only did global prices soar, but many major food-exporting countries restricted their exports. When that happens, it doesn’t matter how high your GDP is, because you can’t eat money. Besides, local food production is good for the environment and the economy. Japanese research shows that each family can cut its energy expenditure by 20 percent by consuming locally produced food.

There is plenty of evidence to show that worldwide food shortages and unstable supply are becoming more and more serious, with food prices rising by double digits in many countries. Advanced countries are taking active precautions to deal with possible food crises. The principal measures they are taking include: strengthening systems for ensuring food security; maintaining reasonable stocks; diversifying food reserves; increasing development of overseas plantations; setting up a food equivalent of OPEC to stabilize food sources and prices through collective action, with plans to set up regional mutual assistance networks; setting up global food industry chains to prevent monopolization of food markets; increasing grain output by planting genetically modified crops; and enhancing monitoring and control of international food futures markets to reduce artificial manipulation.

The aim is to maximize food supplies to meet demand and maintain national stability. China, ASEAN and Japan are also building a mechanism for emergency rice reserves in East Asia.

Current food production methods, especially animal husbandry, are among the main causes of global warming, loss of species diversity, water shortages and other problems.

In light of this, nutritionists suggest that while increasing crop production, consumers should be encouraged to eat more vegetarian food and less meat. On the one hand, this would have healthy benefits, such as reducing obesity, and improve the quality of life, while on the other it would help ease the climate change crisis. Another possible alternative is fish, a healthy source of food that is low in fat and calories and contains plenty of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

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