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A More Optimistic View Of Potential Food Crises And Overpopulation
I was intrigued to read Nicolai Sennel's post, and the comments on it, about the potential for conflict over food in the near future. Certainly there are threats other than those of the maniacal Islamic Supremacist kind or of the man-made environmental degradation kind, but just as many Muslims call themselves that and do so really for identification purposes only and thereby complicate the issue, and just as much environmental damage caused by man is being either addressed or talked about with a view to solving the problem and that also complicates the issue, then we must keep in mind that global food statistics are incredibly complicated and also serve to obfuscate the issue. They are not quite as straightforward as Nicolai would have one believe.
The following is from Eating Ecologically, specifically this article:
A report by CNN in 2007 produced some startling statistics on food waste1:
Young people wasted more than older people, higher income households wasted more than lower income households and parents with young children threw out the most fresh food2. There appears to be little incentive to correct this as it is relatively good for business.
The developed world chucks out a lot of food. Such is the volume that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), if just 5 percent of Americans' food scraps were recovered it would represent one day's worth of food for 4 million people. The U.N. World Food Programme offers another way of looking at it: It says the total surplus of the U.S. alone could satisfy "every empty stomach" in Africa (France's leftovers could feed the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Italy's could feed Ethiopia's undernourished).
Proportionately, the UK and Japan have traditionally been among the worst offenders worldwide in recent years when it comes to food waste, discarding between 30 and 40 percent of their food produce annually. The figures for how much the U.S. throws out, however, vary considerably depending on whom you ask. According to the USDA, just over a quarter of the country's food -- about 25.9 million tons -- gets thrown in the garbage can every year.
But according to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, that figure could be as high as 50 percent, as the University claims that the country's supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores alone throw out 27 million tons between them every year (representing $30 billion of wasted food). Either way, it still costs the U.S. around $1 billion every year just to dispose of all its food waste, according to the EPA."
Increasing prosperity leads to increasing waste as there is little financial pain. One thing is clear, the world suffers. This is an issue that has to be taken on by governments driven by public demand as businesses by and large have no incentive to rein this in.
Food waste produces methane: a significant source of greenhouse gas. Food waste also adds impressively to environmental degradation in general.
Food waste that goes to land fill undergoes anaerobic digestion (breakdown in the absence of oxygen) to produce methane instead of CO2if we ate it as food. Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2as a greenhouse gas. Because of the amount of food going to land fill, the contribution to global warming is very significant. WRAP (Waste and Resource Action Program) a UK based group estimates that if food were not discarded in this way in the UK, the level of greenhouse gas abatement would be equivalent to removing 1 in 5 cars from the road (WRAP 07). A study done by Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona, if Americans cut their food waste by half, the environmental impact by such things as land degradation, water depletion, habitat loss, greenhouse gas production, would be reduced by 25%1.
1) Rachel Oliver. CNN report. All About: Food Waste. 2 October, 2007. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/09/24/food.leftovers/#cnnSTCText
2)Clive Hamilton, Richard Denniss, David Baker. Wasteful Consumption in Australia. The Australia Institute. Discussion Paper Number 77 2005. Downloadable from www.tai.org.au
Globally, one third of all the food produced never gets anywhere near a human mouth, or indeed any mouth at all, but is simply discarded. In the western world one fifth (20%) of all the food we produce is discarded due to it not looking right for the consumer (you and me) before we even consider what each of us buys and then throws away uneaten.
Nicolai is correct, of course, about the fact that a significant number of people on this planet do not get enough to eat and that that will be a problem in the years to come. However, the problem does not appear to lie with the food production industry (farmers big and small all over the world) but with the food valuation and distribution systems that are currently in use. We have allowed food to become a political weapon both at home and abroad and we ignore the fact that we already produce enough food for everyone, and then some, at our peril.
In a nutshell: as long as we affluent members of the global community insist on enjoying such unnatural practices as eating fresh strawberries in the winter and asparagus out of season and as long as we refuse to ship surplus basic foodstuffs to where they are needed at prices that the recipients can afford and instead build large stockpiles in order to speculate on the commodities and futures markets then we are indeed looking at increasing numbers of people becoming increasingly violent about their lack of proper nutrition – and I, for one, cannot, and will not, blame them.