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Agenda for a New America
The Politics of Vegetarianism
By: Vasu Murti
Chapter 8 - Economics and Control
The food industry takes in over $150 billion every year--more than the auto, steel, or oil industries. This industry is dominated by a few, giant multinational corporations, who possess extensive political control. Multinationals are buying more land. A study of over 83 countries reveals that just over 3% of landholders control about 80 percent of the farmland.
The Worldwatch Institute has released a remarkable report entitled Taking Stock: Animal Farming and the Environment, which lists nation after nation where food deprivation has followed the switch from a grain-based diet to a meat-based one.
Most of the nations that now import grain from the United States were once self-sufficient in grain. The main reason they aren't is the rise in meat production and consumption. In Taiwan, for example, per capita consumption of meat and eggs increased 600 percent from 1950 to 1990. With this change, vastly increased amounts of grain have gone to livestock, raising the annual per capita grain use in the country from 375 pounds to 858 pounds. In 1950, Taiwan was a grain exporter; in 1990 the nation imported, mostly for feed, 74 percent of the grain it used.
In mainland China, the situation is similar. Increased meat consumption has meant less grain available to feed people. Since 1978, meat consumption has more than doubled, to twenty-four kilograms. The share of Chinese grain fed to livestock rose from 7 percent in 1960 to 20 percent in 1990.
Beginning over 300 years ago, the Western Colonialist powers established the plantation system in their subject lands. The plantation's sole purpose was to produce wealth for the colonizers - tobacco, rubber, cotton, tea, coffee, cocoa, etc.--all of which had little or no nutritional value. The name subsequently giver to them, "cash crops," is quite appropriate.
Cash Crops became established in world trade, so that even after their emancipation from formal colonial control, Third World countries were "economically hooked" on these crops as their only means of survival. Coffee, for example, the second most valuable commodity in world trade, is the economic lifeblood of fourteen developing countries. Coffee symbolizes millions of acres of agricultural land in a hungry world.
In Central America, Where over 70% of the children are hungry, 50% of the land is used for "cash Crops" (such as lilies). While multinational corporations use the best land to grow their cash crops (coffee, tea, tobacco, exotic foods), the natives are forced to use slopes and eroded land on which it is difficult to grow food.
Since 1960, the rumble of landless people in Central America has multiplied fourfold. American aid goes to prop up Latin America's livestock industry. According to economist Bruce Rich: "No other single commodity in developing countries has ever received such extraordinary outside support."
Nor does this support benefit the impoverished. Over half Of Latin America's beef production is exported, and the rest is too expensive for any but the wealthy to purchase. From 1960 to 1980 beef exports from El Salvador increases over sixfold.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of small farmers lost their livelihood and were pushed off their land. Today, 72 percent of all Salvadoran infants are underfed.
In Brazil, major portions of the Amazon tropical rain forests have been destroyed so that wealthy multinational corporations can produce beef for the wealthy. Corporations such as Volkswagen, Nestle, Mitsubishi, Liquigas, King Ranch, and Swift-Eckrich have bulldozed and burned literally hundreds of millions of acres, replacing the world's oldest and richest ecosystems, home to two million or more species of plant and animal life with a single crop--pasture grass for cattle. And here, the beef produced has not gone to feed hungry Brazilians; it has been primarily exported to Western Europe, the Middle East, and North America. In 1987, the United States imported three hundred million pounds of meat from countries in Central and South America.
With the help of international lending institutions, Brazil has mounted an enormous effort to increase agricultural production, but this has been primarily meat-oriented production and for export. Twenty-five years ago, soybeans were almost nonexistent or Brazil. Today, this crop is the nation's number one export--but almost all of it goes to feed Japanese and European livestock. Twenty five years ago, one third of the Brazilian population suffered from malnutrition. Today, the figure has risen to two thirds.
Oxfam, the international charity, reports that in Brazil huge cattle ranches take up some of the most fertile soil in the whole country, yet 60 percent of Brazilians are malnourished. Oxfam estimates that in Mexico, 80 percent of the children in rural areas are undernourished, yet the livestock are fed more grain than the human population eats! The livestock are exported of course, to satisfy the developed nations' craving for cheap hamburgers.
Only thirty years ago, sorghum was almost unknown in Mexico. But by 1980, it covered literally twice the acreage of wheat. Sorghum isn't grown for humans. It is fed to livestock. Twenty-five years ago, livestock consumed only 6 percent of Mexico's grain. Today, the figure is over 50 percent. This is a trend throughout the Third World. Copying the United States' meat-oriented diet, these poor countries devote increasing percentages of their resources to meat production.
In Mexico, land that was once used for growing corn for Mexicans is now used for the production of fancy vegetables for U.S. citizens; the profit is 20 times greater. Hundreds of thousands of former farmers have found themselves landless. Unable to compete with the large landowners, they first lease their land to make at least some money from it; the next step is to work for the big firms; finally, they find themselves migrant workers, roaming in search of work so their families can survive. Such conditions have led to repeated waves of rebellion.
Throughout Latin America, land availability is a prominent social issue. Revolutionaries as well as reform-minded moderates have made land reform a major issue. Yet in many Latin American countries, forests are being leveled in order to create pastures for cattle grazing land. In a region where land availability is a central social issue, existing land is being gobbled up by livestock agriculture. The resulting social tensions have resulted in civil wars, repression and violence.
In 1975, Columbia's best soil was used to produce 18 million dollars of flowers. Carnations brought 80 times greater profit than did the former crop, wheat. Our food security is not being threatened by the prolific, hungry masses, but by elites that profit by the concentration and internationalization of control of food resources. In Guatemala, 75 percent of the children under five years of age are undernourished. Yet, every year Guatemala exports 40 million pounds of meat to the United States. It borders on the Criminal!
Go on to Chapter 9 - Why Hunger?
Return to The Politics of Vegetarianism Table of Contents
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