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The Great Oil+Grain+Food Crisis of the 21st Century





quex
So, have you heard the news about higher food prices? Bought a loaf of bread or a liter of milk at the store lately? Have you, perhaps, started to eat a little less beef and a little more chicken (or maybe a little less meat altogether), when faced with the price at the butcher shop?

There is a very interesting cascade effect occurring in the world right now; one which has quickly shown its effects in every nation. Rarely are the foundations of human civilization shaken to create such a clean and undeniable chain reaction as they are right now, as a simple food staple becomes stretched.

Here's the breakdown:

In the beginning, oil prices rise due to three factors: use of oil at an all-time high, supply of oil passes its peak and begins to decrease, and inadequate refining capabilities (further crippled by natural disasters). In addition, a war in the middle east creates unfavorable conditions for the continued, uninterrupted extraction of oil from customary areas. The US, the world's biggest consumer of oil, begins to put ethanol into full production.

Meanwhile, China's economy continues to expand faster and faster, exponentially increasing its per-capita wealth. Individual situations vary, of course, but in general, people have more money. People with more money start to adapt to improved lifestyles, including more complex diets and more demand for energy. The demand for meat and oil slowly rises in China.

Oil prices around the globe eventually stabilize at a painfully high rate, but not painfully high enough to force a marked change in driving habits in the US. Larger vehicles with traditional engines continue to outsell smaller and hybrid models through the year 2007. The US supplements its appetite for oil with ethanol, a fuel made (predominantly) from corn. The corn for this ethanol is grown in farm fields by the same agricultural sectors responsible for the US food crop. The demand for ethanol makes corn prices rise. Many farmers change the setup of their lands to include more corn, to take advantage of these prices. As a result, less soybeans, rice, and wheat are grown in the US than in years previous.

The demand for meat in the US remains as high as ever. Coupled with the newly-developed demand for meat in the markets in China, the livestock sector around the world requires more fodder grain than ever before. Roughly 8 to 10 pounds of fodder grain are required for every single pound of beef or pork ultimately yielded for human consumption. A strain develops in the fodder grain industry, and prices of grain rise. As these prices rise, the cost of raising pigs and cattle also rises. The price of beef, pork, and milk climbs quickly.

At the same time, as the oil pinch continues, world demand for ethanol increases at a rapid rate. Farmers sell their corn to ethanol producers as well as to the fodder suppliers and for human consumption. Grains such as wheat, rice, soybeans, and other staple crops are less available because the profits that can be made from corn have enticed many farmers to cut back on their other crops. A shortage of these other crops, especially wheat, leads to a worldwide price increase in most of the basic human foods. Foods closest to these grains sources or animals fed on these grain sources jump to higher prices the fastest, notably including bread, pasta, eggs, milk, butter, beef and beef products, pork and pork products, traditional poultry, etc.

Simultaneously, many vegetable and fruit farmers who use petroleum-based fertilizers (the most widely-used category of fertilizer in the US) are finding it difficult to continue business under the oil crisis, when the cost for fertilizers have increases with oil demand. They raise prices along with the grain and livestock farmers to keep up with their business expenses.

And finally, THIS. The US is a major supplier of food aid to undernourished countries. Food aid most commonly takes the form of grain, such as rice and wheat, which are easy to transport and prepare. However, in this age of higher grain prices and a triple demand on the grain stock (ethanol, livestock fodder, and human consumption), the US cuts back on aid by 41%. There is now less grain available than there is a need for it in countries where the people are truly starving... and the population in these countries, and of the entire world, continues to increase.

And the kicker: if humankind stopped using corn to produce ethanol OR cut back on its consumption of farm-raised meat, there would be enough food grain available from land currently being farmed to provide for the entire human population.

So, do you think we will? Will people learn to lessen their demand on the grain supply? Or will we start clearing and farming more land to increase the overall availability of grain? Will praise for ethanol, first heralded as a solution to the oil crisis, be redacted? Or can other plants, like wild grasses, be harvested for ethanol instead of corn? Can we give up our excesses and save the basics for other humans, or do today's first world nations lack the willpower to sacrifice their accustomed lifestyle for the sake of the third world?

Your opinions would be much appreciated.

Listen to a related NPR interview here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14810470
icecool
long post
good question
quick answer
NO.
in spite of all the talking and showing concern in the so-called developed world for the poor brothers and sisters who are starving already nobody in the end will give a damn.
people's expectations in the "west" - or better north - have risen over generations to a level that now everything is taken for granted. commercial and political pressure is enorm to satisfy this demand.

already farmers in the south are being tied into exclusive deals especially by the usa to farm corn - not for human consumption but for ethanol. it's more profitable now to sell to the usa than to the domestic consumer market. there will be a massive food shortage in the south - this combined with other factors such as famine, increase of poverty, decrease in so-called donor funding, deforestation et all... it's time to wake up for nearly 7 billion ppl on this planet.

now you ask your average american or european - or japanese - consumer if he/she cares REALLY how the slab of meat gets onto the dinner table and you will get the same answer all over - NO. there will be some thoughts, reservations etc... but the answer will be NO.

why?
because my stomach is more important than yours. put that on a global scale and the south is buggered again like through all of modern history. sorry.

cheers???
MaxStirner
Add climate-change, nuclear (weapons) proliferation, global water shortage, overpopulation and growing racial, social and religious conflicts to the list of similarly unaddressed matters and you get a preview of things to come.
quex
icecool wrote:
now you ask your average american or european - or japanese - consumer if he/she cares REALLY how the slab of meat gets onto the dinner table


Note: Did you mean Chinese? Because Japan actually has some really high standards for meat quality and production that, although originally created under health initiatives, also help to jack up the meat price and lower the consumption rate inside the country. Also, the Japanese diet includes much more fish than meat, and very little of that fish is farmed. So while there is a large burden on the sea for fish, Japan isn't contributing much to the grain crisis via meat.

Now, in the channel of direct-to-human food grain, Japan puts up a HUGE demand for rice. So there's that.

Lastly, your answer is what I feared... We're apathetic to the troubles of our fellow human beings, and we know it. TT_TT
quex
I take comfort in the fact that these:

MaxStirner wrote:
nuclear (weapons) proliferation and growing racial, social and religious conflicts


...have been around for a while, and we are still making due. However, the fear that these:

MaxStirner wrote:
climate-change, global water shortage, overpopulation


...strike into me as a sort of "combo attack" on our future prospects means I shall not rest easily in my lifetime.

;_;
ThePolemistis
Long post,, but here are some issues you shoudl be thinking:

Oil is running out? Wrong. There is plenty of oil. Only cheap oil is running out.
However, as prices are increasing, the huge oil reserves of canada and australia will soon become viable.

Ethonal as a viable alternative fuel? It will never happen because ethanol requires huge land for wheat and sugercanes. With population growth, this is not viable.
LumberJack
Society is not that adapt to change. If anything happens, it will be a slow process. Right now, the economics are starting to have an effect. There is only so much land, and farmers will produce what they can get the most money for, that simple. Energy costs may rise fast enough that more green alternatives might start become viable. There is a lot of factors to consider when you are looking at this.
quex
ThePolemistis wrote:
Long post, but here are some issues you should be thinking:

Oil is running out? Wrong. There is plenty of oil. Only cheap oil is running out.
However, as prices are increasing, the huge oil reserves of Canada and Australia will soon become viable.

Ethanol as a viable alternative fuel? It will never happen because ethanol requires huge land for wheat and sugarcane. With population growth, this is not viable.


OKAY! Good point, it's the decline of cheap access to oil that's killing us right now. However, you must concede that when some amount is subtracted from a finite source, that source begins to "run out," or, simply, diminish. We will eventually either:

a) tap the resources in Canada and Australia (and the ones in deep water) at a higher cost
OR
b) abandon difficult-to-access oil deposits as new energy sources are made available with technological advances.

My fingers are crossed for option B.

Ethanol's most prominent weakness is not actually that it requires more land. Although the apparent method of pulling the prices of grain back down from orbit would be to expand the total arable land available for the production of ethanol crops, the real trouble with ethanol is that it takes almost as much energy to grow, harvest, and process the source grains into a usable fuel as it extracted from the final fuel itself. This makes it an extremely long-term option only, supplied as a poor answer for an immediate crisis.

As for all of this, I beg your forgiveness -- I am an English teacher.
Bikerman
ThePolemistis wrote:
Long post,, but here are some issues you shoudl be thinking:

Oil is running out? Wrong. There is plenty of oil. Only cheap oil is running out.
However, as prices are increasing, the huge oil reserves of canada and australia will soon become viable.
I didn't know that Australia had huge untapped reserves, I thought the issue was still debatable: http://www.ga.gov.au/ausgeonews/ausgeonews200503/bignewoil.jsp
LumberJack
Don't rely on Canada' oil sands, it is pricey stuff.
Noremac
Feed the old people to the starving people.
deanhills
Noremac wrote:
Feed the old people to the starving people.


Well the world probably has its own way to stay in balance. If we take ourselves as a micro-cosmos of the world, and how all the processes in our body have to be in balance, somehow the world will sort this out in it own way. Who knows, maybe it will be through a new ice age, or other major disasters, viruses. We will probably be surprised how it will happen, if we are still around. Here we are, we think we are so very clever in sorting things out. Maybe that is our weakness, our thinking that we are clever and the corresponding egos, greed and selfishness. Maybe we really know very little and the world still has to teach us a good lesson. It will probably tell us that we flunked all our lessons as custodians of the world. We deserve what is coming to us Sad

PS: I've been reading a little about out ancestors, and our ancestors have not been eating grains until about 10,000 BC. Grains were totally new to them then. They still had to figure out then how to cultivate, harvest and process it. So who is to say there are not other food sources available that still have to be discovered. I'm not so sure cannibalism would work, possibly in extreme situations maybe. But perhaps there are other sources of proteins in algae, or by-products of sugar, that could be better treated and conserved for human consumption. Think with a little imagination one may be able to find good alternatives. People probably will only do that when they are in a terrible crisis first. And while the large food corporations have a monopoly on food products that is not likely to happen soon.
quex
Wow, old thread revisited, and still pertinent as ever. o.o;

Yep, grains are new. Leaves and fruits were our original fare, then nuts and beans, then meat (in most cultures, but not all), then grains.

If we backtrack to beans.... soy is pretty healthy. Proteins and amino acids in a combination of beans can easily replace all the functions that meat serves in the human diet, with benefits: most species of legumes contain more fiber per ounce than anything except wheat bran or processed rice chaff (do you eat either of those, anyway?), are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and seem to even lower cholesterol levels in the human body according to recent research.* Easy to grow, too; easier than corn or wheat. AND, the harvest takes less time and energy (smaller, simpler machines are used than are employed to reap corn or wheat). ALSO, there are less soybean-feeding pests (in the US, at least) than corn pests, which means less pesticides in the food chain, less money spent on those procuring those pesticides for use on the farm, less petroleum used to make the pesticides in the first place. Less overall environmental impact.

Let's all go out for some tofu (or edamame, my favorite).

*sources:
http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2007/071128.htm
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Diet/story?id=3689588&page=1
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=2
deanhills
Possibly the world could take a well-deserved break from grains. Plant more grass for cows. Farm more salmon without mercury in them. Have more free-range chickens. I do well with protein. Not so well with vegetarian food. I've been there, done vegetarian and ended up with painful joints. Wish they could get a protein replacement that is equal to meat/fish/chicken. I tried soy everything, but just does not work the same as real flesh food.
quex
deanhills wrote:
Possibly the world could take a well-deserved break from grains. Plant more grass for cows. Farm more salmon without mercury in them. Have more free-range chickens. I do well with protein. Not so well with vegetarian food. I've been there, done vegetarian and ended up with painful joints. Wish they could get a protein replacement that is equal to meat/fish/chicken. I tried soy everything, but just does not work the same as real flesh food.


Cows = not very good, but I like the chicken and salmon ideas. We could farm fish much more efficiently than we do now. Chicken, too. Give over the cow farms to free-range chicken and see what you end up with. I imagine the need for antibiotic overloads on the chickens would drop significantly when we get the birds out of the close-quarter cage system.

Cows are too much resource for too little output. Consider also the fact that beef is of poor quality for overall nutrition, and you have a good reason to move back to smaller hoofed animals (goats, sheep, deer) if any at all.
deanhills
quex wrote:
Cows = not very good, but I like the chicken and salmon ideas. We could farm fish much more efficiently than we do now. Chicken, too. Give over the cow farms to free-range chicken and see what you end up with. I imagine the need for antibiotic overloads on the chickens would drop significantly when we get the birds out of the close-quarter cage system.

Cows are too much resource for too little output. Consider also the fact that beef is of poor quality for overall nutrition, and you have a good reason to move back to smaller hoofed animals (goats, sheep, deer) if any at all.


Totally agreed. I can't remember when I last ate cow. Organic chicken, eggs and fresh salmon are really good. Taste totally different too.
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