News Release

Behind the Food Crisis


Author of the just-released book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, Patel said today: “What’s happening in Haiti is an augury to the rest of the developing world. Haiti is the poster child of an economy that liberalized its agricultural economy and removed the social safety nets for the poor, despite the protests of the majority of its people. Food riots throughout history have happened when two conditions have been fulfilled. First, there has always been a sudden and rapid discrepancy between what people expect to be able to eat, and what they can actually feed their families. The price shocks around the world have introduced this discrepancy, and the politics that might have dampened them — grain reserves, tariffs, support for sustainable farmers — have been eroded by modern development policies.

“But the second feature of food riots in history is that riots happen when there are no other ways of making powerful people listen. Like many other countries in the developing world, Haiti has been forced to liberalize its economy despite popular opposition — in other words, modern development policy has been forced to be anti-democratic. And since there has been no effective way for the people to hold their leaders accountable, we’re seeing riots not just in Haiti, but in places as diverse as Mexico, India, Egypt, Senegal and even Italy. It’s something to expect to see with increasing frequency, until governments realize that food isn’t a mere commodity, it’s a human right.”
More Information

Social and economic policy program coordinator for the Global Policy Forum, Wahlberg in early March wrote a policy brief titled “Are We Approaching a Global Food Crisis?” which stated: “The most important factor behind the sudden spike in food prices … is the rapidly growing demand for biofuels, particularly in the EU and the U.S. … Until recently, few voices critical of biofuels were heard, but now an increasing number of policy makers and analysts strongly oppose converting food into fuel. In addition to directly threatening food security, there are alarming examples of how biofuel production causes environmental harm and speeds up global warming. U.S. ethanol production uses large amounts of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and water and most analysts consider its environmental impact quite negative. And inIndonesia, Malaysia and Brazil, companies have slashed thousands of hectares of rain forests to cultivate palm oil or sugarcane for biofuel production. …

“[I]n past decades, international trade liberalization has transformed most developing countries from net-exporters into net-importers of food. Caving to pressure from the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, poor countries dismantled tariffs and other barriers to trade, enabling large agribusiness and subsidized goods from rich countries to undermine local agricultural production. To some degree, food aid — in the form of dumped subsidized goods produced in rich countries — also played a role in diminishing farming in poor countries.”

Wahlberg added today: “Another major factor is the changing diet in the fast-growing economies of China and India. As their middle classeats more meat and dairy, which take more resources than grains, that pushes food prices up.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167