International

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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Experts Look at Past Food Crises To Understand Present

June 03, 2008 05:42 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
As world leaders gather for the UN food security summit this week, they might want to study their history books to learn from past food crises.

30-Second Summary

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This is not the first time that a growing world population, a rise in energy costs, increased demand for meat, and failed harvests have resulted in a food crisis, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Those same conditions also applied in the 1970s, when failed grain harvests in the Soviet Union set off price reactions around the globe. And the Great Depression in the 1930s was the longest-lasting food crisis of the past century.

Experts say that two new factors are contributing to the current problem: the use of crops to produce biofuels and the new prosperity of China and India, the world’s most populated countries.

“We have probably close to 4 billion people wanting to move up the food chain, consuming more meat, milk, and maize—and that takes a lot of grain,” says Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, who also blames the diversion of corn to ethanol distilleries.

The crises in the 1930s and the 1970s generated new thinking on how to avert global hunger.

Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of intergovernmental group on grains for the UN’s FAO, says that today’s crisis should spur more research into genetically modified food. “One of the lessons is to look at research in food technology and whether this has room to improve. People have to look at agriculture from scratch. Research has been neglected for so long.”

In Rome at the UN food conference, the coordinator of a task force on the crisis said that the current situation is serious but should not be exaggerated. “We have tried to avoid sounding too alarmist about it,” John Holmes said during the three-day summit.

Headline Link: Briefing: Lessons from past food crises

Related Topic: ‘U.N. official warns over exaggerating food crisis’

Background: Food waste, biofuels, genetically modified crops, potatoes, rice prices

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