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Old 25.04.2008, 21:03
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Food Shortage

With skyrocketing prices and hoarding, we seem to be on a downward spiral towards a catastrophe. Riots in many places. Rice is being rationed by some retailers in California, and there is this article in the Wall Street Journal advising people to hoard food.

We hear about how bio-fuel and growth in China/India causing demand. But I believe there is enough food to feed everybody, except this appears to be caused by over-reaction.

What are the effects profit speculators are having on this? Who is steering the market downward? Are there safeguards? Shouldn't there be laws and treaties? Where the hell is the UN?
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Old 25.04.2008, 21:24
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Re: Food Shortage

Maybe some people are getting ahead of themselves. The price of wheat is 30% off recent highs.

It is however a fact that with oil double the price compared to last year, energy-intensive cultures are going to be more expensive.

What should the UN do?
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Old 25.04.2008, 21:25
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Re: Food Shortage

I believe that many of the problems are media driven. Problems become portrayed beyond the reality and this drives fear and panic.

Some small examples of what I mean:

There is a 48 hour strike at the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland this weekend. This is already causing increased petrol buying across the UK even though there are reserves until at least mid May.

The media portrays the credit probems as if it is almost impossible to get a mortgage and the housing market will collapse overnight. My building society is cutting its rates and says that I could almost double my mortgage if I wanted.

A friend of mine advertised his house at £15,000 above the Estate Agents valuation and sold for full asking price in less than a week.

I am not saying that there are not some big problems about but sometimes the media hype should not be taken too seriously.
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Old 25.04.2008, 21:47
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Re: Food Shortage

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I believe that many of the problems are media driven. Problems become portrayed beyond the reality and this drives fear and panic.
The perception the media creates causes panic and hoarding. Speculators' actions can contribute to the increase in price. So the perception becomes the reality.

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What should the UN do?
Are there no safeguards against spiraling food prices based on panic? Shouldn't there be one in the interest of hungry people? Shouldn't the UN be concerned with this?
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:05
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Re: Food Shortage

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Are there no safeguards against spiraling food prices based on panic? Shouldn't there be one in the interest of hungry people? Shouldn't the UN be concerned with this?
Say you want to make pasta, you go to the shop, and there is no wheat flour. However you can buy corn flour without restriction and make polenta. Would you do that - or rather go hungry and ask the UN to be concerned because you absolutely have to have pasta?
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:12
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Re: Food Shortage

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Say you want to make pasta, you go to the shop, and there is no wheat flour. However you can buy corn flour without restriction and make polenta. Would you do that - or rather go hungry and ask the UN to be concerned because you absolutely have to have pasta?
"Let them eat cake."
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:17
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Re: Food Shortage

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Say you want to make pasta, you go to the shop, and there is no wheat flour. However you can buy corn flour without restriction and make polenta. Would you do that - or rather go hungry and ask the UN to be concerned because you absolutely have to have pasta?
Well I don't mind losing a little body fat. There's more food here that I care to eat. I'm not worried about me, per se, but this looks like a downward spiral that has the potential to accelerate and get out of control.
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:23
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Re: Food Shortage

Last week's Economist (or was it the telegraph?)... Maize for one year for one person fills one 4x4 tank with bio fuel.

So, we in the West feel good while controlling the 3rd world population.
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:28
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Re: Food Shortage

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Well I don't mind losing a little body fat. There's more food here that I care to eat. I'm not worried about me, per se, but this looks like a downward spiral that has the potential to accelerate and get out of control.
Both you and I know that I wasn't talking about you. So there is a choice for these markets: either they insist on buying something that is in short supply, is expensive and cannot be pumped out overnight - or they switch to an alternative that is cheaper, widely available, and equally edible.
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:33
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Re: Food Shortage

I have some pasta bags stored somewhere - shall I auction them, benefits go to EF ?
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:36
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Re: Food Shortage

Good point.

In other words:
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"Let them eat cake."
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Old 25.04.2008, 22:49
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Re: Food Shortage

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Good point.

In other words:
Well, they can also wait until the next rice crop is ready, and hope the weather is clement.
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Old 25.04.2008, 23:18
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Re: Food Shortage

The Daily Show's take on food shortages...

(not on YouTube yet)
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Old 25.04.2008, 23:28
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Re: Food Shortage

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Both you and I know that I wasn't talking about you. So there is a choice for these markets: either they insist on buying something that is in short supply, is expensive and cannot be pumped out overnight - or they switch to an alternative that is cheaper, widely available, and equally edible.

How about Egypt, where bread is in short supply. I don't think people there are going into shops stuffed with cornbread or manioc or whatever and walking out empty handed because they can't get their regular Hovis.... The diversity of staple foods in most of the rioting countries is close to zero, IMHO. The choice is either what you usually get or nothing.

Am I missing something here?
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Old 25.04.2008, 23:30
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Re: Food Shortage

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"Let them eat cake."
I'm afraid some people in Haiti are eating dirt and not cake. And bio fuel has always been an idiotic idea. There's no spare land in Switzerland or pretty much anywhere in this world. In Brasil they're clearing the rain forest for it.

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Old 25.04.2008, 23:37
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Re: Food Shortage

It's the over-reaction that is the bigger danger.

Here's yet another article, this one from the the Washington Times. This one resonates with my original post.

There's a large sub-culture of Survivalists in the US and UK. I've heard chatter of rural Americans hunkering down... As if they weren't armed enough already. Many predict a pretty bad scenario. Obama alluded to this a few weeks ago, but he was quickly labeled an elitist and lost Pennsylvania.

FOX News will be broadcasting "news articles" about survivalists this evening. I would bet the message will be about instilling fear. I think this may have repercussions in the coming days.
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Old 26.04.2008, 00:04
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Re: Food Shortage

Interesting how Genetically Modified Crops, once resisted by Europe and many other places, now appear to be a more desirable option. I wonder who profits from it.

Surreal, but interesting times we live in.
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Old 27.04.2008, 08:59
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Re: Food Shortage - UN Meeting Monday in Bern

For information as the Swiss Newspapers have not really caught on to the importance of the event, Ban Ki-Moon (UNSG) and twenty heads of the major UN Agencies and World Bank will be in Bern for a meeting on the 'Food Crisis'. Why Bern? Because it is the home of the United Postal Union which has been ill ignored but which will now have the opportunity to illustrate the importance of global distribution infrastructure.
Good luck UPU (I wonder if Bern is ready?).
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Old 27.04.2008, 09:35
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Re: Food Shortage

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Interesting how Genetically Modified Crops, once resisted by Europe and many other places, now appear to be a more desirable option. I wonder who profits from it.

Surreal, but interesting times we live in.
I think GMOs have yet to show increased yields versus "natural" varieties. So far, only Monsanto et. al. may be the real beneficiaries.
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Old 27.04.2008, 10:03
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Re: Food Shortage

Hey, this might become a re-run of JamesK's Global Warming - what's behind it? thread.

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I'm afraid some people in Haiti are eating dirt and not cake. And bio fuel has always been an idiotic idea. There's no spare land in Switzerland or pretty much anywhere in this world. In Brasil they're clearing the rain forest for it.
Here's an article I found on Energy Bulletin that mentions the same thing, as well as other, similar recent events. Like the editor's comment at the bottom, I hope the author's conclusion is wrong. But it would be interesting to know if the last year or so has had more, less or about the average number of "food events".

It seems to be becoming clear that raising crops for ethanol is not worthwhile (barely positive or even negative EROI). It is also true that these "fuel crops" must either displace existing food crops, cause new land to be cleared, else the world learns to make do with less food. Hopefully without mass starvation.

"Key findings of food crisis report
Main points from the UN study of global agriculture"

From the horse's mouth, so to speak(HTML):

International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge,
Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)
Global Summary for DecisioInternational Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge,
Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)
Global Summary for Decision Makers


More stuff here for insomniacs:

IAASTD Reports

Of course, the ethanol crops (mainly corn) are grown in the same manner as corn for food. And if memory serves, it takes about 10 Calories of energy to produce one Calorie of food. Most of the input energy comes from fossil fuels used to produce and transport fertiliser, and to push the farming equipment round. So if fossil fuel prices increase, cost to produce corn-for-ethanol increases. As must all other foodstuffs that rely on industrial agricultural methods.

So if the EROI is close to unity, ethanol production like this can, when blended with petroleum, actually make petrol more expensive.

I know other methods to "grow ethanol" are being investigated, z.B. growing switchgrass and cellulose digestion. But I would guess these are a few years away from commercial application.

In any case, water shortages are just as profound a problem, if not more so. We can grow food without industrial fertiliser, but it's more difficult to grow food without water.
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