News Release

Why Are We Vulnerable to Food Shortages?


At a recent news conference, President Biden said: “With regard to food shortages … it’s going to be real.”

AMANDA STARBUCK,, @foodandwater
Research director with Food and Water Watch, Starbuck said today: “Our corporate-controlled, just-in-time food system does little to buffer us from supply shocks created by events like Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, it helped create the problem.

“The U.S. once had a national grain reserve. The idea is simple: purchase excess commodities during bumper years, and sell them in lean ones. Farmers benefited from stable grain prices that weren’t driven down by surpluses. And the public benefited from food stored away for years when bad weather or other events cut yields.

“Grain reserves were part of a broader supply management program created during the New Deal, that eased the volatility of boom-and-bust cycles on rural economies. Grain reserves went hand-in-hand with other tools like quotas and conservation reserves, where farmers are paid to let vulnerable land lie fallow. And supply management is fiscally-responsible; the government recuperates costs through selling grains held in reserve. In fact, the programs cost significantly less than later farm subsidy programs like direct payments or subsidized crop insurance.

“So why did the U.S. abandon these programs? In the post WWII era, agribusinesses amassed economic and political power and lobbied to rebuild a food system that worked in their favor. These efforts culminated in the 1996 ‘Freedom to Fail’ bill that ended the last vestiges of supply management. The rug was pulled out under farmers; crop prices plummeted and the U.S. had to cut checks to farmers just to keep them from going under. Meanwhile, agribusinesses purchased artificially-cheap grains to feed the growing markets for factory farm feed, ethanol and food additives.

“The world already grows enough to feed a planet of nine billion, yet hunger persists, thanks to inequality and unfair allocation of resources. In the short term, we should divert some of the countless acreage growing corn for factory farms and instead grow wheat to feed people directly. Long term goals include reinstating supply management tools like grain reserves to buffer against future supply shocks — this time ensuring that farmers of all backgrounds can participate.

“Agribusinesses stoked fears of food shortages during the pandemic to fatten their bottom lines. We must not allow them to similarly use the Ukrainian invasion to further entrench their ecologically-devastating agricultural model.”

See relevant reports from the group: “The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies: The Grocery Cartels” [PDF] and “Fair Farming: A New Deal Approach to Food Supply Management” [PDF].