Tag Archives: world crops

The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary

ImageDuring many of my lectures, I have been asked to discuss world hunger as it relates to our food choices because it is a very serious and complicated issue. One billion people in the world suffer from hunger and six million children will die from starvation this year, as they did in 2011. The reality of these figures should be as startling to you as they are to me.

We all seem to have difficulty understanding how our choices, particularly regarding items we consume such as food, could possibly have an impact on something or someone elsewhere in the world. It is so very difficult to see, feel, or extend beyond the microcosm or bubble each of us finds ourselves living within. After all, if it is not directly in our sight, it must not real.

Although having many layers of complexity, to most observers the reason we have world hunger is because of poverty. While on its simplest level this is true, animal based food production systems are directly responsible for many factors affecting hunger, starvation—and even poverty, which then, cycles itself back to hunger.

This correlation between animal (livestock and fish) based food production systems and world hunger is, of course, fueled by the demand for these products and can be found in generalized global factors as well as on a very local basis or regionally within countries where hunger rates are high. Together, these two categories of factors (global and local) insidiously manifest themselves in many ways.

There are two primary groups of people suffering from this poverty-hunger cycle—about 33% are those living in more urban settings (this is the case with those found in the U.S. and other developed countries), while the other 2/3 are those in rural and more undeveloped nations. For both groups, the raising and eating animals (livestock and fish) by our global community ultimately affects food prices, food availability, policy making, and even education to improve agricultural systems in those developing countries. Global factors include control of seed manufacturing and pricing primarily for livestock feed crops by large companies such as Monsanto and DuPont (Pioneer), buying and selling of grain including futures by Archer Daniel Midland, Cargill and through the processing/slaughterhouses and packaging by Cargill, Swift, Tyson, and JBS. These few but very large and powerful companies control over 65% of all seed, grain, and over 80% of all final animal products in the world. It is a very monopolized production and economic system manufacturing seeds at one end and spewing out meat at the other. Because of the global demand for meat (all livestock), cultural, social, political, and economic influences remain strongly supportive of the continued dominance of these large companies and the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in general, which then drives how global resources are being used (land, water, rainforests, oceans, atmosphere, biodiversity, etc.), how money is spent, and how policies are determined. The demand for animal products in developed countries drives resource depletion in developing countries as well as exacerbating poverty and hunger.

Realize that 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe.  One fourth of all grain produced by third world countries is now given to livestock, in their own country and out.

Globally, even with climate change issues and weather extremes, we are producing enough grain to feed two times as many people as there are in the world. In 2011, there was a record harvest of grain globally, with over 2.5 billion tons, but half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. Seventy seven percent of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley, etc.) and over 90% of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. So clearly the difficulty is not how can we produce enough food to feed the hungry, but where all the food we produce globally is going, in addition to the other factors of pricing, policy making, and education. This will certainly become more of an issue as our planet’s human population extends beyond 9 billion before the year 2050.

On a local basis, specific animal based agriculture simply perpetuates both poverty and hunger. This is true whether in urban, industrialized countries, which are affected by all those factors mentioned above, or in rural developing countries. As an example, in Ethiopia, over 60% of their population is considered hungry or starving, and yet they have 50 million cattle in that country (one of the largest herds in the world), unnecessarily consuming their food, land, and water. More than 2/3 of Ethiopia’s topsoil has been lost due to raising cattle. Many countries elsewhere in Africa and in the Amazonian region that suffer from hunger raise cattle inefficiently at the expense of their soil, localized climate, and other resources while producing a fraction of the food they could if converting to plant based foods. This is because of their  very powerful cultural factors to raise cattle as well as demand globally and by neighboring countries.

More than 66% of the world’s poorest people (those living on $2 or less per day) live in rural areas and rely on natural resources for their existence. Global demand and production of fish and livestock has reduced traditional fishing stocks and decimated coral reef systems for indigenous people living on coasts and islands, shriveled and segmented million year old forests. This will only exacerbate world poverty and hunger because while remote from those who consume animal products, it is the world of the indigenous and the very natural resources they have relied on for centuries.

So, how would conversion to plant-based, local agriculture systems change this? Hunger and poverty, in many cases, exist as a circling phenomenon, whereby one perpetuates the other. Addressing the hunger issue will help solve the poverty issue. It has been shown that growth in the agricultural sector of a developing nation is two times more effective than growth in any other area including economics. This is because in Africa and most other developing countries where there is poverty and hunger, over 75% of the working force is engaged in agriculture. Ethiopia has 95% of its income dependent upon agriculture. However, at the same time that agricultural growth is needed, it must be in organic plant based systems because this would be the most efficient use of their resources—many of which are already critically diminished such as water and land.

Instead of using their food, water, topsoil, and massive amounts of land, and energy to raise livestock, Ethiopia could for instance grow teff, an ancient and quite nutritious grain. Seventy percent of all their cattle are raised pastorally in the highlands of that country where less than 100 pounds of meat and a few gallons of milk are produced per acre of land used. If this land were used for the growing of teff, Ethiopians could produce over 2,000 pounds of food per one acre with no water irrigation. The end product could provide a much greater amount of much needed nutrients and even stimulate improved economics with business opportunities to sell teff (as well as many other types of produce) to other countries. Therefore, conversion to plant based food systems for local regions in developing countries would feed more people more nutritiously with more efficient use of their resources, improve long term soil fertility, create economic opportunities, all of which would provide a path toward breaking the poverty and hunger cycle.

Nearly all researchers on this topic could agree that while there are many complex layers of influences related to hunger and that war and repressive government regimes as well as climate extremes all play a role, the most significant are poverty, lack of natural resources and inefficient use of the resources they do have. And although other influences certainly may also play a role in poverty, the most significant and long-term factor that can be changed is with the development of new plant based organic agricultural systems and the education to do so. It is what we have the most control over, with the most profound impact. It must begin, though, with education and an example of this can be found in the Machakos district of south Kenya. This is a poor area economically as well as from a soil fertility standpoint and they are many times in the midst of an unstable, if not repressive, government. Nevertheless, a program was implemented teaching the women farmers, (more than 50% of the farmers in African countries are women) techniques such as erosion and rainwater control with terracing. They began focusing on organic, plant based foods instead of livestock or animal feed crops, and their yields improved by more than 50%, now using produce to feed more people and even creating business opportunities that are selling items such as green beans to other countries.

In developing countries elsewhere, organic plant based agricultural systems have been shown to improve yields by as much as 400%, with an average of 150%. While most researchers and organizations involved in the plight of nations suffering from hunger inherently feel that improved information technologies, increasing intensified livestock operations, and fostering the continuation of cultural practices are where energy and dollars should be spent, I can see many difficulties with that approach. Instead, I feel that the emphasis should be placed on education, redefining the word “yield” beyond short term consumptive gain, and providing guidance for the implementation of fully organic plant based agricultural systems. This is the best way to improve soil fertility for the future, provide the most nutritious food at the least cost to their environment, while opening the doors to economic opportunities—thus, “feeding themselves” and creating a food, economic, and environs security net despite what repressive forces may surround them or they may encounter.

We must remember that although climate change and extremes of water conditions from floods to droughts do obviously exist, much of the soil fertility issues that are faced by developing countries in Africa and elsewhere who have high rates of hunger and malnutrition are derived from how they have managed (or mismanaged) their own agricultural systems over the past 100 years. It would be difficult to blame any other reason than their use of livestock—their complete cultural dependence on cattle. In many areas of Africa, poorly managed cattle herds have caused severe overgrazing, deforestation, and then subsequent erosion and eventual desertification. On average, 1/2 to 2/3 of all the topsoil has been lost across the entire African continent with some areas experiencing complete topsoil loss.  Allocation of the 2.5 billion tons of grain produced globally to people instead of animals, elimination of livestock based agricultural systems globally and locally, education of all small stakeholders and governments in developing countries for furthering organic plant based systems, and of course increased global awareness of these issues and the development of a collective consciousness will help eradicate world hunger as well as many other concerns along the way.

The World Hunger Service and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations stated in 2011, regarding world hunger: “The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.”

And, therein lies the problem—explaining why there has been no progress. This statement vividly illustrates the quite narrowed, simplified view of the very institution that is leading efforts to solve world hunger.

Let’s do our part in reducing world hunger and poverty by increasing awareness about changing to a fully plant based diet. Let’s raise and mobilize the collective conscience. We can do this.

Inspire Awareness Now!

Be Aware the Myth #1

ImageOccasionally, I will encounter individuals who have difficulty comprehending the concepts and facts about food choice that I relate in my lectures and book, or perhaps even question my intent. This is normal, in that I am presenting perspectives that are in direct conflict with what 98% of the world has mistakenly learned to accept as truth regarding this topic.  Unfortunately, these are the very same individuals who are wrapped in a complex and substantial layering of influences—cultural, social, psychological, economic, and political. These individuals are collectively consuming massive amounts of our planet’s resources while raising and slaughtering billions of livestock and fish, and thus are the primary contributors to Global Depletion.  We need to change that.

If you grew up being told by your family, and later on by society, that blood letting would cure an infection (which was the case for nearly two thousand years until the late nineteenth century), the chances are quite high that you would not understand or believe a person who came along trying to explain to the masses that a simple antibiotic pill would cure you—while blood letting may, on the other hand, kill you. How could that be?

It’s time I address all those believers in blood letting that I have encountered or will encounter, by responding directly to one of the more recent communications we have received below. The subtopic is about grass fed livestock, however his remarks and tone strike a bit deeper, displaying perpetuated belief systems that tend to foster barriers to finding reality, combined with a pronounced reluctance to change—all too commonly found in our global society.

The following is from “Tom”, as posted on You Tube and our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page and copied for you to see below:

“This isn’t a lecture, it’s a sermon. No facts just a totally disorganized clinging to his uninformed biased self-evident beliefs. Livestock’s Long Shadow didn’t address pasture raised beef at all but focused on modern conventional industrialized chemically fertilized feed crop production that raised animals in CAFOs, the total opposite of pasture raised operations that sequester tons of carbon on pasture every year. His example of raising a cow on 2-20 acres assumes that the cow is on a lot.”

And, my response:

Tom, I am truly sorry you feel that way, having essentially missed the entire central theme of my lecture, book, and message. It is NOT about the 2006 United Nations L.E.A.D. Committee’s report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (which actually did account for grazing livestock, but underestimated their methane and respiratory carbon dioxide production and therefore minimized their contribution to global anthropometric greenhouse gas emissions). My message is about the foods we choose to eat and the effect is has on Global Depletion. It’s about aspects I have uncovered over the past 40 years researching this subject, beginning with the fact that our planet is unhealthy and so are we. My intent is to simply relate these facts to audiences in order to increase awareness, which will ultimately lead to better health. For better context, please see a full lecture at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drS5hHdelR8&feature=related

And, then, perhaps listen more carefully to the one section “The Myth About Grass Fed Beef: Is it Sustainable” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoqHmd32XxI&feature=channel_video_title or read my book, “Comfortably Unaware.”

Global Depletion is a term I use to describe the loss of our primary resources on Earth as well as our own health due to food choice. It’s still about sustainability, just from a different direction. The single largest contributor to Global Depletion is the raising, slaughtering, and eating of animals—over 70 billion livestock animals and 1-2 trillion fish (some researchers have estimated as many as 1.7 trillion chickens are raised and slaughtered in one year). I speak and write about how eating animals is negatively, and in many cases irreversibly, impacting world hunger, water scarcity, agricultural land use inefficiencies, loss of biodiversity, loss of our own health, and the ravaging of our oceans and fish. This stark reality is well documented by numerous organizations and researchers. Scientific literature is now replete with articles in each area I discuss, and easily accessible for those who wish to open their minds or take the time to hear it.

Regarding the grass fed argument of yours and other individuals, I have researched and visited over 150 various grass fed/pastured animal operations in the U.S. and many other countries. The numbers are always quite consistent, in that you cannot raise one grass fed cow on less than 2 to 20 acres. Even Polyface Farms and agriculture educational institutions with their “mob grazing” and “juvenile growth rotation” techniques cannot extract more than one cow per acre of land, which then produces not more than 480 pounds of an end product (“edible carcass weight”), that some consider food. During the 2 to 2 ½ or even 3 years required to raise that cow, you will need minimally 20,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water (20,000 gallons for drinking and up to 1 to 2 million gallons for irrigating portions of your pasture which is necessary in many areas of the world), and you will have produced 3 to 4 tons of methane and carbon dioxide by way of enteric fermentation and respiration. After consuming this end animal product, you have created for yourself a 20-30% increased risk of contracting coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, any of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and many more), diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, kidney and gall stones, diverticulosis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and many more diseases. This risk is from eating animal products and animal protein, which does not change if it is grass fed.

These reflections are not my “beliefs”, as you charged. Sadly, they are quite factual. Nearly one thousand researchers have found similar conclusions— independent of each other.

If you are defining a person who relates facts, as one who provides a “sermon”, then fine, my lecture must be a sermon.

And, finally, the only “self evident beliefs” I am guilty of conveying are the following:

  1. that all the damage we are doing to our planet by way of eating animals will end
  2. that people such as yourself, as improbable as it may seem, will ultimately become aware

I certainly appreciate your comments and providing me the opportunity to respond, as we collectively move forward, evolving toward a healthier and more peaceful planet. Dr. O

Russia, Wheat Shortages, and Your Food

Time to share one of the many important questions I have been receiving, as it is nice to occasionally examine our food choices on a global basis and in specifically in other countries. They write:

“I’m uncomfortably aware that we might have a grain failure this year, perhaps in Russia, and perhaps more the following season.  Most grain goes to feed livestock – I wonder what the impact will be.  Care to comment, Dr Oppenlander?”

And, my response:                                                                                                                               I appreciate the opportunity to answer your question and will do so in more of an overview fashion. Conditions of drought in any country, is never good news for agriculture in general. You are right that grain production, and wheat specifically, in Russia has suffered significantly.  This is also the case in China although they have built large reserves to help compensate for losses. Russia, though, has lost over 25% of their wheat crop last year and subsequently imposed an export ban that is now extended through 2011, and it appears the effect will spill over into other sectors. You are also quite right that most of the grain produced in Russia and on our planet is fed to livestock we raise to then kill and eat—over 60% of all grain produced. With drought in Russia, livestock feed is affected first and will always be the hardest hit followed much later by a trickle down into retail products such as bread. However, there is already a concern that food prices will continue to rise on a global basis, so this drought will certainly not help as Russia historically provides at least 10% of the world’s supply of wheat. Russia still focuses most of its agricultural efforts on livestock with a strong poultry, pig, and dairy dependence. The largest concern Russia has with the effect of a drought (and in this case, with less grain/wheat production) is for feeding its livestock, not people. They have more than 25 million cattle that will need to now rely on a reduced amount of hay and also loss of pasture growth, thus, they will need to turn to grain such as wheat—and so begins the ban on exporting hay. They need it to feed livestock. Additionally, I noticed that they have increased their beef imports from the U.S. by more than 600% over the past 6 months and from Canada by 450% as compared to one year ago. All of this simply is more evidence of how dependent a country, and our world, can become on archaic and inefficient agricultural systems that use the preponderance of their resources to raise animals for slaughter rather than a fraction of which for plant-based foods that can be used directly for human consumption. Russia is delivering the message that if a country cannot provide enough meat to satisfy the demand of their citizens, well, then they will just import it from another country. No need to consider just eating less of it or none at all. Last year, there was enough grain produced, world-wide, to feed 12 billion people—almost twice the amount of people we have on our planet. As you know, the wheat crisis that Russia or any other country experiences is simply a matter of inappropriate direction of use. I am also very saddened with the global hunger issue; however, in order to solve it we must first examine the very essence of our own choice of foods. If we, and the affected countries themselves, continue to use land, water, and other resources to grow crops to feed livestock we will never see progress, especially when there are climate changes involved, such as drought in this case with Russia.  Thank you for the question and your concern for a healthier Earth.

World Hunger And Our Choice Of Foods

How does eating a sirloin steak, pork chop, or hamburger affect starving children in Ethiopia? You probably wouldn’t think there could be a connection whatsoever, would you? But there is. Many times, a distinct connection. It begins with a better understanding of just how and where that type of food is produced. There are either direct implications or indirect. Let’s begin with direct. All meat, including the types mentioned above that you may be eating today, begins as part of a live animal—cow, pig, turkey, chicken, lamb, etc. And that animal had to live somewhere for 12 to 24 months, consuming land, air, water, and in most cases grain and other plant foods. Many of the animals raised in the world are pastured or fed plant foods that were grown in developing countries where a large number of their own people are starving. To me, it is a tragic reality that over 1.1 billion people in the world are suffering from lack of food and 82% of these people live in countries where food is exported to feed animals in other countries. Currently over 25% of all the agricultural land in undeveloped countries is being used to grow crops such as linseed, cottonseed, and rapeseed that are being fed directly to livestock. This number has tripled since the 1950’s. So while people are hungry and suffering in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Angola, or elsewhere in the world, a good portion of their own crops are being exported to the U.K. and European countries to feed livestock that is then slaughtered and eaten by more well off individuals–many times ending up on plates in the U.S. All fueled by your and the rest of the world’s demand to eat meat. If you did not ask for it, meat and the systems to produce it would not exist.

Additionally, the land that is utilized to raise animals in any country, but especially in these underdeveloped locations, is in most cases used quite inefficiently. Instead of pasturing cattle and growing crops to feed these animals, this land could be put to better use by growing a variety of plants to directly feed humans, producing minimally 10 to 20 times the amount of food. That would certainly go a long way to feed starving children—and plant based foods would be undeniably healthier for them to eat.

Indirectly, the meat that you choose to eat, more than likely, had come from an animal that consumed grains and vegetables–plants that could have otherwise been used to directly feed those starving people in other countries (knowing that the crops fed to livestock could have been, instead, quite easily grown as plants that are edible for humans). In 2007, there was considered a “record harvest” of grain in the world with over 2.1 billion tons being produced. Great news, but the difficulty was that over half of this, or 1.2 billion tons, was fed to livestock! The inefficient chain of using land, food, and other resources on earth to raise animals to then slaughter and eat needs to be stopped. If the agricultural land in the world were used more efficiently to grow crops for us to directly eat, clearly more people could be fed, less land and other resources would be needed and therefore world hunger would be significantly lessened. Following conversion to full plant-based agriculture and more sustainable farming techniques; those impoverished countries would more likely be able to solve their hunger situation. If they still had difficulty meeting the needs of their people then it would be no great difficulty for the U.S. or other countries who have also made the conversion away from animal agriculture, to export some of our plant food surpluses to them, instead of for example sending it to Mexico to provide for the growing number of cattle or pig operations across our border. It needs to be remembered that 6 million children will die this year from lack of food. Either way, directly or indirectly, the meat you choose to eat will likely have a large impact on global food supply—which ultimately affects world hunger.

Certainly lack of knowledge of sustainable farming techniques, prolonged periods of drought, and not enough women found in the agricultural work force all have affected the plight of various countries where high percentages of hunger can be found. This is especially true in Africa. But most of these issues can be overcome with teaching and implementing proper organic techniques and placing all land used for agriculture into growing plant-based foods.

There are basically two types of farming in the world: commercial and subsistence. While less than 2% of the U.S. population make their living from agriculture, nearly 45% of the rest of the world do. Of this 45%, approximately 250 million subsistence farmers use a slash and burn method of agriculture called swidden. This technique is prevalent in the majority of developing countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In the areas of Africa most stricken with hunger, swidden methods are employed where land is cleared and burned, crops are grown for only one to three years, livestock are raised, and then this land is rendered useless so the process repeats itself on a new patch of land. This results in not only poor crop yields and less than optimal food from animals products, but also the more insidious loss of land fertility due to overgrazing, compaction, erosion, depletion of soil nutrients, and eventual desertification. With an emphasis on education for these subsistence farmers, more sustainable farming techniques could be employed—replacing swidden methods and livestock with plants to be used directly for human consumption which would improve long-term soil health and eventual yields. In Kenya and other areas of East Africa where water availability is limited, farmers using drought resistant leguminous cover crops (those crops planted to increase soil fertility) without raising livestock, have already seen yields tripled.

And then we have the U.S., where animals raised for slaughter consume over 70% of all grain produced in our country (over 90% of all the corn produced). In fact, it is estimated that more than twice as much grain is grown and fed to livestock than would feed all of the people in our country. This is, of course, without regard for how many people elsewhere in the world that are starving. Because, after all, how could eating a steak, hot dog, or meat loaf, in America have anything to do with what is happening in Ethiopia?

More about the global effect of our food choices can be found in “Comfortably Unaware.”