World in Serious Trouble on Food Front
By Lester R. Brown
In the early spring of 2012, U.S. farmers were on their way to planting some 96 million acres in corn, the most in 75 years. A warm early spring got the crop off to a great start. Analysts were predicting the largest corn harvest on record.
The United States is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the world's feedgrain. At home, corn accounts for four-fifths of the U.S. grain harvest. Internationally, the U.S. corn crop exceeds China's rice and wheat harvests combined. Among the big three grains – corn, wheat, and rice – corn is now the leader, with production well above that of wheat and nearly double that of rice.
The corn plant is as sensitive as it is productive. Thirsty and fast-growing, it is vulnerable to both extreme heat and drought. At elevated temperatures, the corn plant, which is normally so productive, goes into thermal shock.
As spring turned into summer, the thermometer began to rise across the Corn Belt. In St. Louis, Missouri, in the southern Corn Belt, the temperature in late June and early July climbed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher 10 days in a row. For the past several weeks, the Corn Belt has been blanketed with dehydrating heat.
Weekly drought maps published by the University of Nebraska show the drought-stricken area spreading across more and more of the country until, by mid-July, it engulfed virtually the entire Corn Belt. Soil moisture readings in the Corn Belt are now among the lowest ever recorded.
While temperature, rainfall, and drought serve as indirect indicators of crop growing conditions, each week the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases a report on the actual state of the corn crop. This year the early reports were promising. On May 21st, 77 percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated as good to excellent. The following week the share of the crop in this category dropped to 72 percent. Over the next eight weeks, it dropped to 26 percent, one of the lowest ratings on record. The other 74 percent is rated very poor to fair. And the crop is still deteriorating.
Over a span of weeks, we have seen how the more extreme weather events that come with climate change can affect food security. Since the beginning of June, corn prices have increased by nearly one half, reaching an all-time high on July 19th.
Although the world was hoping for a good U.S. harvest to replenish dangerously low grain stocks, this is no longer in the cards. World carryover stocks of grain will fall further at the end of this crop year, making the food situation even more precarious. Food prices, already elevated, will follow the price of corn upward, quite possibly to record highs.
Not only is the current food situation deteriorating, but so is the global food system itself. We saw early signs of the unraveling in 2008 following an abrupt doubling of world grain prices. As world food prices climbed, exporting countries began restricting grain exports to keep their domestic food prices down. In response, governments of importing countries panicked. Some of them turned to buying or leasing land in other countries on which to produce food for themselves.
Welcome to the new geopolitics of food scarcity. As food supplies tighten, we are moving into a new food era, one in which it is every country for itself.
The world is in serious trouble on the food front. But there is little evidence that political leaders have yet grasped the magnitude of what is happening. The progress in reducing hunger in recent decades has been reversed. Unless we move quickly to adopt new population, energy, and water policies, the goal of eradicating hunger will remain just that.
Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability– than most people realize.
Lester R. Brown is President of Earth Policy Institute and author of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, due to be published in October 2012.
Source: Earth Policy Institute
*NOTE: This piece originally appeared in The Guardian on July 24, 2012.
Climate change is degrading marine habitats and threatening fish supplies worldwide
UN Development Program
June 19, 2012
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a new publication today on the risks from climate change on Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). The volume entitled, “Frontline Observations on Climate Change and the Sustainability of Large Marine Ecosystems” finds that climate change is threatening the livelihoods of billions of people, who are dependent on the $12 trillion generated annually from the LMEs.
“The growing risks and impacts of climate change on oceans require the world to urgently invest in a green economy whereby countries achieve development targets in an environmentally sustainable way while at the same time meeting the needs of their citizens,” said Yannick Glemarec, Executive Coordinator of UNDP-Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The report finds that warming ocean waters are causing major shifts in fish distribution and severe degradation of coastal habitats.
- In West Africa, large populations of sardines are moving away from traditional fishing grounds. This represents a major loss in protein supplies for the region.
- In northwest Africa, stocks of sardines and mackerel in the Canary Current LME are moving from traditional fishing areas in Senegal northward towards cooler waters off the coast of Mauritania.
- In southwest Africa, sardines and mackerel populations are moving southward from Namibia, towards the cooler waters of the Benguela Current LME and onto the Agulhas banks area of South Africa.
- In Asia, the increased intensity of monsoon rains in the Bay of Bengal LME is lowering the salinity of surface waters. Lower salinity is inhibiting nutrient replenishment of surface waters, thereby lowering natural productivity, and fish populations. As a result, food security for millions of people in coastal communities is at risk.
Other risks from climate change, outlined in the volume, include effects of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and the negative effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the acidification of LME waters around the world.
To combat the deleterious effects of climate change, the GEF, its agencies and the World Bank have mobilized over US$4 billion to recover and sustain the goods and services of LMEs in over 100 countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
- In the Yellow Sea LME, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea have committed to reduce fishing effort by 33 percent, buy back retired vessels, retrain fisherman for alternative livelihoods, and reduce nutrient discharges to the Yellow Sea by 10 percent every five years.
- In the Humboldt Current LME, Chile and Peru are protecting 18-20 percent of the world's annual marine fish catch through ecosystem based management and specific catch levels for fish species such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel.
The publication was released as input to Oceans Day, June 16, and the Oceans Development Dialogue, June 19, at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The report can be downloaded at www.undp.org/water . Other contributors to the report include the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Monsanto is a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri. With the exception of weapons manufacturers and other private military firms, there is perhaps no corporation that provides such a dramatic example of corporate influence over government. Not only does Monsanto spend a staggering $8 million a year lobbying government officials (imagine 80 full-time lobbyists each paid $100,000 a year), but many former Monsanto executives hold key positions in the FDA, EPA and USDA, where they have made favorable regulatory decisions regarding Monsanto products.
One of those products, recombinant bovine somatotropin, commonly known as “bovine growth hormone” (rBGH), is a synthetic hormone injected into cows to increase milk production. It also increases the levels a substance called IGF-1 in their milk, which is then passed on to humans. Elevated blood serum levels of IGF-1 have been linked in numerous studies to breast, colon and prostate cancer. For this reason, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 European Union countries have banned the use of rBGH. The FDA’s highly controversial 1993 decision approving rBGH was overseen by former Monsanto attorney, Michael R. Taylor, who was serving as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Policy at the time. After the decision Taylor left the FDA and again joined Monsanto, becoming the company’s chief lobbyist and Vice President for Public Policy. He has since gone back and forth between Monsanto and various government positions in the FDA and the USDA, highlighting the “revolving door syndrome” that has become a hallmark of corporate-government collusion.
Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops consist primarily of those modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup (another Monsanto product) and those modified to contain within their cells the biological pesticide called Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt). Widespread health and environmental concerns over both these types of GM plants are based on numerous scientific studies and have resulted in many countries banning GM crops entirely. In the European Union a moratorium on new GM crops has been in effect since 1998 and strict labeling is required on all genetically modified food products approved before the moratorium. Monsanto has spent millions of dollars pressuring EU officials to allow the introduction of GM foods into Europe, and—more significantly—recent Wikileaks documents reveal U.S. State Department officials also pressuring EU officials on Monsanto’s behalf.
Monsanto’s actions run the gamut of illegality and dirty tricks, and include the attempted bribery of Canadian officials; the intentional dumping of toxic waste into the environment; and the filing of hundreds of lawsuits alleging “patent infringement” against small farmers whose crops became contaminated with their patented genes, etc. Mass protests against Monsanto have spread to dozens of countries around the world and have included civil disobedience actions like the burning of experimental crop fields and the nonviolent occupation of Monsanto facilities.
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