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Corn, Drought, and Hunger

The drought in the Midwest is causing concern about the increasing prices of corn and other crops as their supply drastically decreases. However, prior to the drought bringing crop prices to headline status, waste and misuse have been the standard with our taxes providing outrageously large and misguided subsidies… mostly to animal feed crops that don’t directly feed our families.

The trouble is that animals eat much more food than they produce. It is a very inefficient process that wastes vast amounts of crops. These crops would feed many more people if used as food directly.  In fact, eighty percent of all the crops grown in the United States go into livestock feed.

The USDA reports that “sweet corn, eaten by humans, is distinct from field corn (used for feed) and is not being heavily affected by adverse weather at this point.”  With corn and the other crops, the drought is primarily placing strain livestock feed. Perhaps this drought will encourage dialogue about subsidized crops so that the government places a higher priority on the farming of fresh produce for direct consumption.

The following is taken from the EPA’s website:

Corn: The United States is, by far, the largest producer of corn in the world. Corn is grown on over 400,000 U.S. farms. In 2000, the U.S. produced almost ten billion bushels of the world’s total 23 billion bushel crop. Corn grown for grain accounts for almost one-quarter of the harvested crop acres in this country. Corn grown for silage (animal feed) accounts for about two percent of the total harvested cropland or about 6 million acres. The amount of land dedicated to corn silage production varies based on growing conditions. In years that produce weather unfavorable to high corn grain yields, corn can be “salvaged” by harvesting the entire plant as silage.

According to the National Corn Growers Association, about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production. The crop is fed as ground grain, silage, high-moisture, and high-oil corn. About 12% of the U.S. corn crop ends up in foods that are either consumed directly (e.g. corn chips) or indirectly (e.g. high fructose corn syrup). It also has a wide array of industrial uses including ethanol, a popular oxygenate in cleaner burning auto fuels.

While covering the drought, The San Francisco Chronicle introduced us to Kenny Brummer, an Illinois corn farmer. Mr. Brummer has lost “800 acres of corn that he grows to feed his 400 head of cattle and 30,000 hogs.” Crop insurance will cover up to 150 bushels per acre. But no coverage is available for Brummer’s livestock, so he figures he’ll lose $350,000 to $400,000 on that side of the operation.

The article also mentions: “Already tight supplies and fears that the drought will get worse before it gets better have been pushing up grain prices, which are likely to translate into higher food prices for consumers, particularly for meat and poultry.”

The drought has the potential to increase retail prices for beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products later this year and into 2013.  But in the short-term, there may be increases in meat supply as higher feed costs lead to herd culling (the “removal” of less desirable cows). This extra supply could decrease prices for some meat products in the short-term, but that trend should reverse when product supplies eventually shrink.

When the experts report on increasing food prices, they neglect the inefficiency of meat and the role of livestock on climate change. It’s imperative that we connect the dots between the raising of livestock, high food prices, and environmental devastation (especially climate change).

At A Well-Fed World we advocate the redistribution of subsidies away from corn and other feed crops to fresh fruits and vegetables (especially for those in need).  Also, by promoting plant-based foods we lessen the demand for meat and other animal products helping decrease agribusiness’ push for feed subsidies. Finally, plant-based foods eaten directly instead of funneled through animals, can decrease food prices and increase food security around the world.

PB&J Day–April 2nd

We are one week away from our first official PB&J Day! The PB&J Campaign started as a grant recipient and now is a full-time program. We are very excited for this new campaign as it is an easy and accessible way to reach people about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Why PB&J?

Familiarity- Who doesn’t enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It is a timeless classic that resonates with individuals from all walks of life. The recognizability of this sandwich really draws people in and offers activists a great jumping off point for a conversation about sustainable food.

Inspire- This campaign is an effective way to get individuals to realize how their food choices impact the planet and the animals. Often consumers don’t realize they are already choosing a plant-based, gentle meal. This notion may inspire them to think beyond a PB&J.

Easy Activism- Slice up some PB&J’s and hit the streets for an easy feed-in.  A passerby will surely recognize a PB&J and great conversations about food and the environment are sure to follow.  Contact us for some free literature and other supplies to set up your own PB&J Day on April 2nd or any day!

Pledge- Discover how much water, land and greenhouse gas emissions you can save by eating different numbers of plant-based meals per week and then set a target you think you can achieve.

Get the Merchandise- AWFW has some great new PB&J Campaign shirts as well as hot off the presses literature to help spread the word!

Save the Date- April 2nd is National PB&J day.  Get online and spread the word to your friends and family about the benefits of PB&J and all plant-based meals.

Great feedback from PB&J Supporter, Dael:

“My favorite discovery is PB&J oatmeal. Just add 2 T of peanut butter to a bowl of oatmeal, plus some of your favorite jam or agave. It’s easy to make raw, too, with soaked oats or chia seeds and almond butter with agave or fruit puree. This hearty breakfast will keep you satisfied for so long you might forget to eat lunch.”

Questioning the Link Between Subsidies and Obesity

This post, which could be filed under “food for thought,” addresses an October Food and Water Watch (FWW) report which turns a critical eye to the supposed correlation between food subsidies and obesity. The arguments for the connection claim that subsidized crops such as corn and soy are turned into high fructose corn syrup and other common ingredients found in processed (junk) food.  In turn, the costs of these products are cheapened and consumption increases.

It is important to note that soy, corn, wheat (all heavily subsidized) drastically and disproportionately benefit animal agribusiness by providing them exceptionally cheap feed, thereby externalizing the true cost of animal-sourced foods (meat, dairy, eggs).

FWW claim that the argument, although compelling, bears little resemblance to any academic research.  Instead, economists and agricultural policy analysts site deregulation, not subsidization, of corn and soybeans as the culprits behind our present public health crisis.

The “obesity crisis” has been receiving a lot of attention in mainstream media and although there seems to be a momentum toward healthier living our numbers are still staggering: according to the CDC one third (33%) of adults in the U.S are obese.  Additionally, 17% or 12.5 million children and adolescents are also considered obese.

A little history: In the 1980’s and ’90’s the federal government withdrew previous policies that had limited the production of “commodity” crops and helped to stabilize prices paid to farmers.  This deregulation significantly impacted the price of commodities which benefited food processors, marketers and retailers as well as had a substantial impact on the availability of high calorie, processed foods.

FWW is not making a claim that subsidies are not in need of desperate reform, they just want to clarify that they were instituted after the deregulation, and were the cause of plummeting prices and bankrupting small farms.  The saturated fats found in animal-sourced foods combined with  the bankrupting of small farms, benefits the large agribusiness corporations, increasing their vertical and horizontal integration and, thus, their control of the market.

If the goal is to provide access to healthy foods, FWW calls for developing responsible “federal supply management programs” aimed at reducing overproduction while stabilizing supply.

We are interested in your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to comment.

Celebrity Promotes Heifer Without The Facts

Using a celebrity to promote a cause is nothing new. However, it’s dangerous when celebrities promote organizations that do more harm than good (in this case for global hunger and animals).  Recently, we came across a commercial in which Alton Brown of the Food Network is enthusiastically promoting Heifer International.

This particular commercial entitled, “Where’s My Goat?”  makes several egregious claims that I will break down here: he first exaggerates the benefits by claiming that this goat gift will be the equivalent of helping a family start a small business. He does so in his Alton Brown-esque tone, claiming the wool, clothes, milk and eggs from the goat and will build income for the family. Goat eggs? Not only income, but this gift of a goat will help the family have a “sustainable livelihood.” He then goes on to say that the baby goat will soon make other baby goats and the offspring can be passed on to other families.

Unfortunately, many parts of the world where dairy goats and cows are sent have a large incidence of lactose intolerance, and animal products are often not part of the country’s diet. Promoting the increased consumption of animal products is harmful for global hunger, public health and the environment. See more about the complexities of hunger on our website.

A quick look into Heifer’s website and we see that part of their mission is to “end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.” We at A Well-Fed World have a very similar mission although our strategies for achieving these goals are far different. To cultivate a society where no one is hungry and malnourished, we need to move away from a diet based on animal products.  See more on our website about The Dark Side of Heifer.

It is increasingly common knowledge that raising animals to be slaughtered for food is inherently inefficient. The consumption of these products has created one of the most unhealthy generations in history and is devastating our planet. With this information tied into the beliefs that animals are not commodities to be bought and sold, we can save both people and animals by sending plant-based food to children and families and supporting plant-based agriculture for ongoing, sustainable food security.

To put these solutions into practice for the Holidays, we have launched a new campaign, Feed More International, as a direct alternative for those who want to feed people in need without exploiting animals. Find out more and help us help others.