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Global Hunger

"Global hunger could be directly attributed to meat-eating."
-Chrissie Hynde

Half the world's population does not receive an adequate amount of food to eat. Ten to twenty million die annually of hunger and its effects. The Institute for Food and Development Policy reports that, "Forty thousand children starve to death on this planet every day," or one child every two seconds.

The livestock population of the United States today consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population of the country. We feed these animals over 80% of the corn we grow, and over 95% of the oats. Less than half the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for people. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed.

Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain-fed livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.

The world's cattle alone, not to mention pigs and chickens, consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. According to Department of Agriculture statistics, one acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes. That same acre of land, if used to grow cattlefeed, can produce less than 165 pounds of beef.

In his book, The Hungry Planet, Georg Bergstrom points out that protein-starved underdeveloped nations export more protein to wealthy nations than they receive. He calls this "the protein swindle." Ninety percent of the world's fish meal catch, for example, is exported to rich countries. One-third of Africa's peanut crop winds up in the stomachs of European livestock. Half the world's cereal crop is fed to livestock and the United States annually imports one million tons of vegetable protein from Third World nations--just to feed its farm anim als.

Bergstrom writes: "Sometimes one wonders how many Americans and Western Europeans have grasped the fact that quite a few of their beef steaks, quarts of milk, dozens of eggs, and hundreds of broilers are the result, not of their agriculture, but of the approximately two million metric tons of protein, mostly of high quality, which astute Western businessmen channel away from the needy and hungry."

Jeremy Rifkin, author of a dozen influential books and President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, writes in his 1992 bestseller Beyond Beef:

"Cattle and other livestock are devouring much of the grain produced on the planet. It need be emphasized that this is a new phenomenon, unlike anything ever experienced before.

"Contrary to popular belief, the poor are getting poorer each year...Increased poverty has meant increased malnutrition. On the African continent, nearly one in every four human beings is malnourished. In Latin America, nearly one out of every seven people goes to bed hungry each night. In Asia and the Pacific, 28 percent of the people border on starvation, experiencing the gnawing pain of a perpetual hunger."

"In the Near East, one in ten people is underfed. Chronic hunger now affects upwards of 1.3 billion people, according to the world Health Organization--a statistic all the more striking in a world where one third of all the grain produced is being fed to cattle and other livestock. Never before in human history has such a large percentage of our species--nearly 25 percent--been malnourished.

"The transition of world agriculture from food grain to feed grains represents an...evil whose consequences may be far greater and longer lasting than any past examples of violence inflicted by men against their fellow human beings."

In the 1970s, the United Nations Secretary General said that the food consumption of the rich countries is the key cause of hunger around the world. The United Nations has recommended that the wealthy nations cut down on their meat consumption.

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.

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. In the late '60s, 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.

In the early '60s, 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. In the late '60s, 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 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!

In Costa Rica, beef production quadrupled between 1960 and 1980, but almost all this beef is exported to the United States, and what does stay in the country is eaten by a tiny minority. Though more and more Costa Rican land is being turned over to meat production, the population is not eating more meat for the change. The average family in Costa Rica eats less meat than the average American housecat.

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.

Hunger is really a social disease caused by the unjust, inefficient and wasteful control of food. 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 country after country the pattern is repeated. Livestock industries are consuming feed to such an extent that now almost all Third World nations must import grain. Seventy-five percent of Third World imports of corn, barley, sorghum, and oats are fed to animals, not to people. In country after country, the demand for meat among the rich is squeezing out staple production for the poor.

The same trend can be found in the Middle East and North Africa--increases in grain-fed livestock require more imported feed. In the early '70s, Egypt was self-sufficient in grain. Then, livestock ate only 10 percent of the nation's grain. Today, livestock consume 36 percent of Egypt's grain. As a result, Egypt must now import eight million tons of grain every year.

In the late '60s , Syria was a barley exporter. But in the intervening years, livestock has consumed increasing amounts of the country's grain. Now, despite a phenomenal 1,000 percent increase in the land area devoted to producing barley, Syria must import the cereal.

According to Buckminster Fuller, there are enough resources at present to feed, clothe, house and educate every human being on the planet at American middle class standards. The Institute for Food and Development Policy has shown that there is no country in the world in which the people cannot feed themselves from their own resources.

Moreover, there is no correlation between land density and hunger. China has twice as many people per cultivated acre as India, yet less of a hunger problem. Bangladesh has just one-half the people per cultivated acre that Taiwan has, yet Taiwan has no starvation, while Bangladesh has one of the highest rates in the world. The most densely populated countries in the world today are not India and Bangladesh, but Holland and Japan.

Many of us believe that hunger exists because there's not enough food to go around. But as Frances Moore Lappe and her anti-hunger organization Food First! have shown, the real cause of hunger is a scarcity of justice, not a scarcity of food.

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