Attention Whole Foods Shoppers Summary

Sustainability versus World Hunger

  • Current preoccupation with food in the West
    • Help local farmers
    • Fight climate change
    • Prevent childhood obesity
  • But can eating sustainably really help others?
    • Focus has been drawn away from helping feed the world’s poor to this trend of sustainability
    • “Food may be today’s cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food “sustainable” — in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most.”


Too Much Focus on Food Prices

  • April 2008
    • Cost of rice for export had tripled in just 6 months
    • Wheat reached its highest price in 28 years
    • “World Food Crisis”
    • Robert Zoellick
      • Warned that high food prices would be, “particularly damaging in poor countries, where there is no margin for survival”
    • April 2010
      • Rice prices down by 40%
      • Wheat prices down by more than half
    • Yet the number of people chronically undernourished has grown!

Facts about Undernourished People

  • 62% live in either Africa or South Asia
  • Most are small farmers or rural landless laborers
  • Are shielded from global price fluctuations by their own governments
    • Also by poor roads and infrastructure
    • Cut off from many urban markets
  • Poverty is the primary source of hunger in Africa
    • Caused by low income productivity
  • Food insecure people in Africa
    • Those who consume less than 2,100 calories a day
    • Will increase 30% over the next decade

Real Solution vs. Our Misguided One

Real Solution

  • Improved roads
  • Modern seeds
  • Less expensive fertilizer
  • Electrical power
  • Better schools
  • Better clinics

Our Current Solution

  • Sustainable eating!
    • Advocacy against agricultural modernization
    • Against foreign aid
    • Idea of organic, local, and slow



Green Revolution A Failure?

  • In the present, many claim that the Green Revolution has done more harm than good
  • People claim that the Green Revolution:
    • Has brought nothing to India except “indebted and discontented farmers”
    • Has been a factor in the rise in world hunger


Setting The Record Straight: Asia

  • New seeds
    • Lifted small farmers out of desperate poverty
    • Ended the threat of periodic famine
  • India
    • Doubled wheat production
    • Was able to terminate all dependence on international food aid by 1975
    • Rural poverty fell from 60% to 27%
  • Small farmers took up new technology just as quickly as big farmers
    • Dramatic income gains and no increase in inequality or social friction
  • Good for both agriculture and social justice


Setting The Record Straight: Latin America

  • When powerful new farming technologies are introduced into deeply unjust rural social systems, the poor tend to lose out
  • Seeds
    • Increased income gaps
  • Peasants were pushed off land by absentee landlords to be replaced by commercial growers
    • Many rural poor became slum dwellers
  • YET
    • Prevalence of hunger has still declined more than 50% between 1980 and 2005


Setting the Record Straight: Africa

  • More like Asia than Latin America
    • Due to relatively equitable and secure distribution of land
  • “If Africa were to put greater resources into farm technology, irrigation, and rural roads, small farmers would benefit.”




Hang-ups with Industrial Food Systems

  • Focus on critiques of American and European food systems
    • But such concerns cannot be transferred or applied to the developing world

Health and Safety Issues

  • CDC has found that over the past several decades the U.S. food supply has become steadily safer
    • Industrial-scale technical improvements
  • Since 2000, E.coli contamination in beef has fallen 45%
  • Most hospitalizations and fatalities come from mishandling or improper preparation of food
    • Not from contamination
  • Example: Spinach Scare in 2006
  • Contamination still remains a major risk in the developing world
  • Africa
    • Open-air markets
    • Estimated 700,000 people die every year from food and water borne diseases
      • Compared to 5,000 in the U.S.
  • Food grown organically is NOT an answer
    • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
      • No nutritional advantage of organic foods over conventionally grown foods
  • Mayo Clinic
    • “No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food”.


Why Isn’t Eating Organic an Answer?

  • Doesn’t organic food have lower pesticide residues?
    • FDA states that the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues on foods in the US are so trivial that the safety gained from eating organic is insignificant
    • Exposure is less than one one-thousandth of a level that would cause toxicity
  • Doesn’t organic food protect the environment?
    • Nitrogen fertilizers created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico
    • BUT, having all farmers go organic would cause even worse environmental problems


Problems with Total Organic Production

  • Less than 1 percent of American cropland is under certified organic production
    • Would need a lot more composted animal manure
    • Would need a fivefold increase of the U.S. cattle population
    • Those animals would have to be raised organically
      • Most of the land in the lower 48 states would need to be converted to pasture
  • Organic crops have lower yields per hectare
    • Europe
      • Would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland
      • Equal to all of the remaining forest cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark


Smarter Ways to Protect the Environment

  • Reduce synthetic fertilizer applications
    • Taxes
    • Regulations

Modern Farming is Sustainable!

  • Many of the damaging insecticides were banned and replaced by chemicals that could be applied in lower volume and were less persistent in the environment
    • Carson’s Silent Spring
  • Drop in soil erosion
    • “No-till” seed planting
  • Conservation of water through drip irrigation
    • Also leveling of fields with lasers
  • GPS equipment
    • Starting in the 1990s
    • Precise adjustments in chemical use
  • Infrared sensors
    • Can tell farmers how much more or less nitrogen might be needed
  • Development of technology to reduce wasteful nitrogen use
    • Insertion of fertilizers into the ground
  • Also known as PRECISION FARMING



  • In 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a review of the “environmental performance of agriculture” in the world’s 30 most advanced industrial countries
  • Results
    • Between 1990 and 2004, food production continued to increase by 5% in volume
    • Adverse environmental impacts were reduced in every category
    • Land area taken up by farming decreased 4%
    • Soil erosion fell
    • Greenhouse emissions from farming declined 3%
    • Excessive fertilizer use fell 17%
    • Increased biodiversity




Africa’s Food Crisis

  • Population versus food production?
    • Not the cause
  • Current food production versus the potential of the land
    • African farmers still use almost no fertilizer
    • Only 4% of cropland has been improved with irrigation
    • Yields are low because lack of use of scientifically enhanced seeds


Why Does Africa’s Food Crisis Persist?

  • Diminished assistance from international donors
  • Food -aid over development assistance
    • Can cause long term-dependency


Easy Alternative

  • Foreign assistance for agricultural improvement!
    • Previous success
  • 1960s
    • Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, and donor governments led by the US
    • Made Asia’s original Green Revolution possible!
  • Assistance to India
    • U.S. Agency for International Development + World Bank
    • Helped finance fertilizer plants and better infrastructure
  • Africa
    • World Bank has documented average rates of return on investments in agricultural research in Africa of 35% a year



One thought on “Attention Whole Foods Shoppers Summary”

  1. As mentioned in class, the information provided by this article should be taken with a grain of salt! It is an interesting article in the way that it provides an alternative perspective, but the information provided seems to contradict what we have learned and discussed in class.


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