Don't cash in on food crisis
Food Ethics Council, 3 May 2008
As the UK and other governments meet in Rome for crisis talks on food prices , experts warn against opportunism.
A collection of analysis and comment published today by the Food Ethics Council (FEC) urges governments to tackle the injustice at the heart of the crisis and not to use food concerns as a vehicle to push through other ambitions . The collection has contributions from global figures including Jacques Diouf (FAO), Josette Sheeran (WFP) and Lester K Brown.
“The crisis is an opportunity to push through all sorts of vested interests, but we mustn’t mistake opportunities for solutions,” says the FEC’s Dr Tom MacMillan, who edited the collection.
“Solving this crisis is fundamentally about fair shares, not simply about producing more food, cutting costs or freeing up global trade. Even when food prices were lower, and supply and demand seemed in balance, 860 million people went hungry and almost 3 billion malnourished. The Rome talks mustn’t get side-tracked from that fact.”
Experts sound the alarm on false solutions including:
- Free trade free-for-all The World Trade Organisation (WTO) sees higher crop prices as a window to push through global trade reforms and the UK’s Gordon Brown argues this will bring the food crisis under control . But according to Sophia Murphy (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy), “In the following list of problems causing rapid food inflation climate change, natural resource depletion, quadrupling oil prices, speculation, rapid expansion of biofuels, hoarding supplies the WTO has nothing to say or actually worsens the problem .”
- A ‘green revolution’ for Africa The World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, is among those pushing for new technology to boost farming in Africa . However, Patrick Mulvany (Practical Action) reports on a groundbreaking World Bank-sponsored report which argues the priority should be fairer and more stable prices, crop care and farmer-to-farmer learning rather than a technology jump to double yields .
- Policies to boost productivity Global grain stocks are low and the UK Food and Drink Federation has argued that GM crops, heavily restricted in Europe, could address this scarcity . As Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaffer (University of Tennessee) argue in the FEC collection, however, a major factor in low grain stocks is that governments have simply downgraded their strategic reserves .
- Lowering standards As households worry about rising food bills, the pressure is on to lower environmental and animal welfare standards, seen as an extra cost. Jim Sumberg (New Economics Foundation) suggests this is a false economy, since lower standards come at the cost of cleaning up environmental damage . Roland Bonney (Food Animal Initiative) argues that higher production costs may boost animal welfare standards as they force producers and consumers to place a higher value on their food .
Priorities to improve food security and tackle hunger include improving social welfare through well-targeted social protection programmes, focusing agricultural development efforts on marginal producers and rebuilding public stocks.
As higher prices put governments under pressure to lower standards, they also need to ensure that their policies are strong enough to prevent the harmful exploitation of workers, farm animals and the environment.
Notes for editors:
1. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has convened a summit on food security from 3rd 5th June 2008 in Rome (http://www.fao.org/)
2. ‘The food crisis: scarcity or injustice?’ is the summer edition of Food Ethics magazine. Press copies are available on request. Highlights of the subscription only magazine will be available at www.foodethicscouncil.org from 3rd June 2008. The Food Ethics Council, which publishes Food Ethics magazine, is an independent UK advisory body on the ethics of food and farming.
3. See for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/27/food.internationalaidanddevelo pment.
4. Sophia Murphy (2008) ‘Will free trade solve the food crisis?’, Food Ethics 3 (2): 21-22.
5. See, for example: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:21725341~pagePK:6425 7043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html.
6. Patrick Mulvany (2008) ‘Food at any price is not sustainable’, Food Ethics 3 (2): 26. His article reports on the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (http://www.agassessment.org/), a process involving 400 scientists and directed by the UK Defra’s Chief Scientist, Bob Watson.
7. See, for example: http://www.fdf.org.uk/events/08_pres_dinner_if_speech.pdf.
8. Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaffer (2008) ‘Are there any scouts out there?’, Food Ethics 3 (2): 23.
9. Jim Sumberg (2008) ‘Is food still too cheap?’, Food Ethics 3 (2): 21-22.
10. Roland Bonney (2008) ‘Price rises could boost animal welfare’, Food Ethics 3 (2): 21-22.
The Food Ethics Council, 39 41 Surrey Street, Brighton BN1 9UQ United Kingdom
t: 01273 766 654 f: 01273 766 653