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Poor wages, trade policies that dump foreign agricultural products into the market undercutting farm prices, and government policy that pushes small farmers off their land—these are the causes of hunger. (Photo: flickr / cc / luke chan)

The Fallacy of Feeding the World

Jim Goodman

Yesterday I heard someone talking about how the US has a responsibility to “feed the world”. I have a real problem with this, who gave us this mandate?

The thought of the US “feeding the world” is ridiculous in so many ways, but more so, it is condescending to say the least, to the rest of the world. Who made us keepers of the world? Who decided we knew how to feed them and who decided the people of world were incapable of feeding themselves?

In the first place they may not want to eat what we want to feed them, which would be mostly Genetically Modified (GM) corn and soy and fat beef with hormone residues. Sorry, I don’t want to eat that either.

Corporate agribusiness apparently determined it was their right to decide what the world should eat and thanks to their healthy campaign contributions, the US government politically and economically supports their agenda. International trade deals currently being negotiated with the European Union (TTIP) and the Pacific Rim nations (TPP) would, among other things, force acceptance of GM crops and prohibit labeling of GM foods. So, this would be law, the world would grow GM crops and the world would eat GM food, like it or not.

Unfortunately many farmers bought into the “promise” of GM crops and by default, a dependence on chemical fertilizer, toxic pesticides and the questionable utility and safety of GM as animal feed and as a major ingredient in processed foods that people eat. In the US the vast majority of food (organic food being the exception) has GM content, because that is what is grown here—and many would wish that scenario on the rest of the world.

There is always the implication that the world is somehow incapable. They are not hungry because they are stupid, or because they don’t know what to eat, or how to grow crops adapted to their climate. They are hungry because they are poor.

When they (industrial agriculture) speak about feeding the world, will they be giving the hungry of the world all they food they need?

Because most hungry people are poor people, they are not in the position to buy their food, if they were they would be doing it now wouldn't they? So, who will pay for all this? That is a question no one seems to have an answer for. Somehow, I doubt the industrial food system plans to lose money when they begin feeding the world. Benevolence is not one of their virtues.

We in the US have not had much experience dealing with foreign governments and corporations taking away our farmland, or civil wars, or dictators. In the midst of genocide, I would guess growing ones own food is not the priority.

Nation-wide droughts and lack of infrastructure that cause the loss of much of the agricultural production, loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that take a good share of the rest for loan repayments all take their toll and leave little to put on one’s plate.

A lack of corporately owned agricultural technology does not cause hunger any more than a lack of aspirin causes headaches. Poor wages, trade policies that dump foreign agricultural products into the market undercutting farm prices, and government policy that pushes small farmers off their land—these are the causes of hunger.

So, let’s get this straight, we don’t need to feed the world. The indigenous farmers of the world have been around longer than the US farmer has, in many ways they taught us how to feed ourselves. They do not want to eat what corporate agribusiness wants to feed them, they want culturally appropriate diets that are healthy and adapted to their farms—and that is clearly more important than corporate profit.

Politically, “feeding the world” is a reason to control the world—so the world, especially the poor, will fit neatly into the equation for ever-growing corporate profit. Because increasingly it seems, corporate profit is all that matters politically.

To say “we are feeding the world” is nothing more than a justification for the industrial farming practices that squeeze every possible bit of profit from every acre, every animal and every farmer. Confined animal feeding operations, water pollution, soil erosion, toxic pesticides, farm worker abuse—it has to be accepted because it is the only way to “feed the world”.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jim Goodman

Jim Goodman

Jim Goodman is a retired third-generation dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.

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