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Reports of food shortages, food riots, and dwindling stockpiles have burst into the media in recent weeks, though warnings have been around for some time that diminishing farmland, climate change, and more recently the diversion of cropland to biofuels, would inevitably collide with growing populations, growing wealth, and the growth of grain intensive meat eating.

With consumption outstripping growth for six of the past seven years, grain stockpiles have fallen to their lowest levels since world wide record keeping began in 1960. In the United States, wheat stockpiles are at 60 year lows.

Rice has been particularly hard hit. Two years of severe drought in Australia, formerly a major rice exporter, have virtually eliminated the country's rice crop, while a plant disease has cut production in Vietnam. Since rice is the major source of food for many of the world's poor, these losses have had serious consequences.

Food riots have already toppled the government of Haiti. Shortages and price increases have caused unrest in India, Egypt, Indonesia, Peru, Haiti, Pakistan, Thailand, Burkino Faso, and Mauritania. The World Bank estimates that 33 countries face possible social unrest because of increasing food and energy prices. The U.N. proclaims that we are entering a new era of hunger.

The food and energy crises are unfolding in very similar ways; prices are rising in the world's richer countries while the poorer countries are experiencing shortages. Part of the problem comes from growing control over world food production by a handful of multinational corporations which is magnifying the problems in poorer countries. These corporations have chased indigenous peoples off their lands in South America, Indonesia and parts of the Far East, using tactics that range all the way up to murder. Jungle and rain forest land has been slashed and burned to make way for new plantations.

People in richer nations spend a smaller portion of their income on food so they are not as impacted by price rises. However they will not be immune from the problem indefinitely. The U.S. food supply is vulnerable in the event of disaster. Most of the nation's grain supply is shipped around the country on only two railroads, while little is stored in the event of disaster.

In both the cases of food and energy, the country has been asleep to the serious problems that loom ahead.

Originally posted to karma432 on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 03:04 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Not to worry... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    karmsy, willb48, Amber6541

    The rich have enough to survive on (and can afford to pay $100 for a box of rice).

    The rest of us will suffer but the right's response is "Tough shit libs"

  •  Would've been nice to have had a question about (9+ / 0-)

    this in last week's debate. It feeds into the falling dollar, environmental issues, corporate control of food sources (and the serving up to Americans of corporate processed ersatz food in general), the squeezing out of business of small farmers, Monsanto, GMOs, globalization, all of it. We all need food and fresh water (which also is diminishing). It's another elephant in the room, and this one is so big that no one wants to talk about it.

    "You can bet more stinkin' from thinkin' than drinkin', but when you feel, you know it's real." Joe Miller

    by emacd on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 03:20:23 PM PDT

  •  Heard on NPR (8+ / 0-)

    A few days back that two of the top three rice exporters are not exporting any rice this year.

    This will be very, very bad I'm afraid.

  •  The food shortages scare the bejeezus (6+ / 0-)

    out of me.

    I think of myself as a typical American in many respects. I am now past 40 and have never in my life worried about the availability of food. Never. Not for a day, not for a minute.

    The tidings of food riots in the world, and speculation about the causes, get me worrying about the security of my own doorstep. Food shortages here? In the U.S.? The shelves at the local Safeway possibly going bare? It's almost unfathomable. But before too long food worries may be right up there with healthcare worries in the minds of many Americans.

  •  It's not just rice (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    resa, keenekarl, luckylizard, Amber6541

    Farmers in Argentina are protesting a government attempt to limit exports of soybeans and wheat.  

    The U.S. first flooded Mexico with cheap corn, driving the Mexican producers out of business.  Now, we divert our corn to ethanol, driving up the price of tortillas.  Result: massive demonstrations in Mexico City, demanding relief from the government.  

    I feel like Basil Fawlty, outside in the parking lot, shaking his fist at the sky shouting "Thank you very much, God!  Thank you very much indeed!"  Of course, I think I would probably curse NAFTA.  And the president, and Congress.  

    As wheat and soybeans are abandoned by U.S. farmers in favor of subsidized corn-for ethanol, flour and animal-feed shortages loom.  Massive increases in the cost of meat and milk loom.  Hell, even cheap vodka prices have gone up.  I haven't checked out tofu prices.

    I'm not giving up rice.  I did give up more than a tiny bit of meat.  Mutton still seems affordable.  I think sheep just eat grass.  I used to spend summers on a sheep-farm.  My parents paid the farmer and his wife to get me out of their hair.  I was gratified to get away from the family.  That's another story.

    But I digress....

    •  Sorry to say, sheep are also fed corn. (5+ / 0-)

      Not as much as chickens, pigs or cattle, tho. Hardly anything on four hooves is solely grass-fed. This isn't true just of corporate farming. Small, organic farms do this, too.

      Tofu will go up because soy is in short supply. That's why there were food riots in Indonesia.

      "You can bet more stinkin' from thinkin' than drinkin', but when you feel, you know it's real." Joe Miller

      by emacd on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 04:04:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's folk I know in the NW corner (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        resa, keenekarl, willb48

        of CT who raise all of the hooved critters on grass. Goats, too. Even when organic types there do use corn, it's as a supplement, a small part of the animals's diet. This is especially noticeable when you buy raw milk from a Jersey (or Jersey-heavy) herd--all that beta-carotene from the grass produces such rich yellow cream, it's heavenly.

        Oddly, it is harder with chickens--in the winter months they do like their scratch...

        •  Yes. Thanks for being more precise than I was. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          resa, lao hong han, willb48

          "You can bet more stinkin' from thinkin' than drinkin', but when you feel, you know it's real." Joe Miller

          by emacd on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 05:02:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  We had Jersey cows when I was growing up. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          resa, lao hong han, willb48

          My grandmother used to complain, with a smile, that when she poured the cream off the top (in those days before pasteurization), it was so thick that when she tried to whip it, it would turn to butter.

          "You can bet more stinkin' from thinkin' than drinkin', but when you feel, you know it's real." Joe Miller

          by emacd on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 05:04:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's what's nice about local ag (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            in the NW corner. There are three local dairies in the town of Cornwall alone--two selling raw milk and one pasteurized but not homogenized. I live in the city and and I hate drinking that crap that comes out of a carton...

            •  Wonderful. (0+ / 0-)

              Please keep supporting them  I used to live in coastal CT and really value the autonomous farms in the NW corner. I'm now a member of a 12-month-around CSA here in the Pacific Northwest, and hoping in another year (depending on who wins this election) that I can buy a piece of land and go back to growing my own food.

              Yes, the stuff that comes out of a carton is pure crap. Please go here:

              "You can bet more stinkin' from thinkin' than drinkin', but when you feel, you know it's real." Joe Miller

              by emacd on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 10:10:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  And you are not alone! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      willb48, Amber6541

      These diaries rarely make the rec list but we need to keep writing them anyway.

      I think that I need to start hoarding rice too. Sigh.

      Live from Brooklyn! An Edwards Democrat. Now What?

      by resa on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 04:37:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  the role of Biofuels in food shortage (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    resa, Calamity Jean, Amber6541

    Do not forget the current and escalating role production of biofuels is playing and will play in the shortage of food supply. More and more land will be used to grow biofuel crops and as energy prices increase it will become more profitable to grow them compared to wheat and rice. Biofeul is going to turn out to be one of the dumbest ideas humans have come up with to address fuel shortage.

  •  hrm (0+ / 0-)

    obviously there's demand for food. What's up with farm subsidies then?

  •  Worldwide shortage of rice leads to hardships (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    at home and abroad.

    For those who don't know, although rice isn't the staple of choice in North America and Europe, it is the primary staple food just about everywhere else.

    Adding to the problem is that India has recently instituted a ban on exporting rice, heightening concerns in neighboring Bangladesh and throughout Asia.

    Further exacerbating the problem is the transition of food crops to biofuel crops. The situation has become so dire that scientists are asking the EU to reevaluate its commitment to biofuels.

    We all worry about spiraling food prices. What if we had to worry about food being available? Unfortunately, we may one day soon find out.

    Opting out is not an option. Here's why...

    by 1BQ on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 05:01:47 PM PDT

  •  Can I pimp this great diary? (0+ / 0-)

    Live from Brooklyn! An Edwards Democrat. Now What?

    by resa on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 05:04:38 PM PDT

  •  What's a guy to do? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm disabled and on a fixed income, so our family of 3 is already feeling the pain of the increased costs for  fruit and vegetables.

    We are vegetarian, so meat prices don't affect us. We've also begun to eat a more vegan diet (no dairy products), so the increased cost of milk and cheese won't really affect us. However, we do eat lots of rice and soybean products, so those shortages will likely be hurting us soon.

    The car we drive is flex-fuel, and I've been using E-85 for about a year now. The price right now is $2.69/gal compared to $3.39/gal for regular gas. I save $7-$10 every time I fill up, which is about 3 times a month. That adds up to a savings of $21-$30 a month.

    I'm slightly skeptical of all of the furor over E-85 contributing to shortages of corn. Out here in the Dakotas I follow the grain markets quite closely, and it just isn't true that the farmers are giving up on growing wheat to grow corn.  When more farmers are expected to grow corn, the price farmers get for growing wheat goes up, encouraging more farmers to grow wheat. It seems to balance itself out.

    Personally, I think the big oil people really want to use the food shortage issue to discourage the production of E-85 so that people will continue to buy more of their product.

    But, what's a guy to do? The car we drive is not our own - we only get to use it because the owner can no longer safely drive (he suffers blackouts), so he has allowed us to use his car because we take him to the store and medical appointments.  With our tight budget, the $21-$30/month savings is a big deal.  We need that extra money to pay for our groceries.  

    The friend we help isn't willing to use public transit, and if we didn't drive him around, he'd find someone else to do it (and he'd buy his own E-85) - so we run our errands together as much as possible to lower fuel usage. Besides, the buses here are starting to burn soy-diesel.

    The Congo is one of the most fertile areas in the world, yet much of their farmland lays unused since the government took the farms away from the whites. If our country provided aid and training to the many countries with underdeveloped agricultural areas, it would do lots to lessen the strain on the world's food needs.

    It also might help if this country stopped using more than we need (we toss tons of food each day).  


    by keenekarl on Sat Apr 19, 2008 at 05:26:14 PM PDT

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