Adding insult to injury: Bush says starving India eats too much
By Kavita Krishnan
May 7, 2008 -- Karl Marx, born on 5 May, 1818, nearly two centuries ago, had in 1867 laid bare the ``intimate connection between the pangs of hunger of the most industrious layers of the working class, and the extravagant consumption, coarse or refined, of the rich, for which capitalist accumulation is the basis'' (Capital Vol. 1, Ch. 25). In May 2008, nearly a century and a half later, as we hear Emperor Bush hold forth on global hunger, we are reminded that capitalism and global wealth remains just as intimately wedded to hunger.
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The global policeman Bush, in the time-honoured traditions of the backyard bully, has long harboured the habit of dictating to nations who their friends and enemies should be. Now, he has taken to telling nations how much they should eat, and of wagging a disapproving finger at poor nations whose middle class has made some improvements in its diet.
Bush's sentiments (and those of his lieutenant Condoleezza Rice) reek of callous contempt for the world's poor. They lay bare the fact that the only perspective Bush and US imperialism is capable of is that of the US corporations. In Bush's words, the growing purchasing power of the middle class in the developing world is ``good'' because ``y'know, it's hard to sell products into countries that aren't prosperous'' (see http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/3006775.cms), he said on May 3. But, lamented Bush, ``you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food''. In other words, India's growing appetite was pushing food prices up and causing the rest of the world to go hungry. Unfortunately, the world's people haven't mastered the art of being markets, not mouths: of tightening the belt over their bellies while loosening their purse strings ...
Bush is the head of the nation whose successive governments used its military to ruthlessly batter a long list of Latin American and African countries into being pliant suppliers of cash crops for the US corporations; and in the process devastating the food security of these nations. Major General Smedley Butler has described how, as a US marine, he had been ``a high class muscle-man for Big Business...a gangster for capitalism'' who had helped to make Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, various Central American republics, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic ``safe'' for plunder by US fruit, oil, and sugar corporations and banks in the early twentieth century. Washington's latest exploit has been to ``make Iraq safe'' for US oil corporations, in the process devastating its economy, its infrastructure, and its thriving health and education structures. Now, Bush has the gall to offer in charity what his nation has plundered by military muscle and economic arm-twisting. Like a rapacious wolf dressed up as a kindly and nurturing mother, he describes the US as an ``unbelievably compassionate and generous nation'' and offers to help the poor countries out by ``buying food directly from farmers as opposed to giving people food''. So, the deepest desire of the US corporations –- to have the farmers of developing countries as captive and direct producers for them alone -– is projected by Bush as generosity!
The US today along with a small and exclusive club of ``developed'' countries guzzles a disproportionate share of the world's scarce resources including fuel, paper and food. It is also responsible for a disproportionately high share of global pollution. Although constituting only 5 per cent of the global population, the US emits more carbon dioxide, consumes more paper and other forest products, and produces more municipal waste than any other country. Yet Bush refused to curb carbon emissions in the US, saying ``the American way of life is not negotiable'', and peddling the absurd theory that cows were more responsible for such emissions than cars, and so countries like China and India ought therefore to bear a greater burden of curbing emissions!
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Annual per capita foodgrains consumption in the US is over five times that of India, and three times that of China, according to figures released by the US Department of Agriculture for 2007. On average, a US citizen consumes 1046 kg of grain, and around 20 times more meat and fish and 60 times more paper, gasoline and diesel than the average Indian. But in India, since the entry of globalisation, the average per capita consumption of food grain has actually gone down from 177 kg per person to 155 kg per person: which is the same as the hunger levels seen during famine in times of the British Raj. And in India, foodgrains absorption is rising fast for the (mainly urban) middle class, which boosts the national average. A large section of the rural poor are actually reduced to as low as 136 kg per capita per year –- which is the same as that of starvation-hit sub-Saharan Africa. Bush grudges the 350 million-strong Indian middle class its improved diet: he is blithely silent about more than 350 million rural Indians who are below the average food energy intake of sub-Saharan African countries! Studies have shown a long-term tendency towards declining per capita calorie consumption, especially in rural India -– that is, Indians are growing hungrier year after year. Deaths by hunger are an all-too common phenomenon which Indian rulers are united in denying.
And these millions owe their hunger directly to the rural job losses, income decline, land grab, slashed government expenditure on rural development, slashed PDS and increased grain exports -– all of which are policies aggressively promoted by the US-backed IMF-World Bank, and faithfully forced on Indian people by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his predecessors.
Of course, the actual food consumption of the poor Americans is less than the national average. Hunger and homelessness are a growing phenomenon in the US, the world's richest country. According to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2006 more 35 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 13 million children. Adults living in over 12 million households could not eat balanced meals and in more than 7 million families someone had smaller portions or skipped meals. In close to 5 million families, children did not get enough to eat at some point during the year. This hunger at home is all the more horrific when one knows that more than sufficient food grains are grown in the US –- but is fed to cars as ``bio-fuel'' rather than to hungry people!
Bush's bratty and bullying arrogance is really nothing new: we expect nothing better. The real question is why Manmohan Singh, our prime minister, describes a man with such contempt for India and for the poor of the world, as ``India's best friend''? Why insist on continuing with US-dictated policies which favour imperialism and force millions of Indians to live in misery and hunger?
[Kavita Krishnan is an editorial board member of Liberation, central organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) -- CPI (ML) Liberation.]
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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #958, May 8, 2008
THE GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS
By Peter Montague
Global food prices have risen 83% in the last 3 years. This spring,
as prices rose steeply, food riots broke out in Haiti, Egypt,
Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, the
Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Italy, among other places.
Because U.S. energy policy subsidizes farmers to grow corn to make
ethanol (alcohol that can supplement gasoline), the U.S. is being
accused of feeding its sport utility vehicles (SUVs) instead of
feeding people. There is some truth to this charge, but it's more
complicated than that.
The global food crisis has been created by a combination of things,
** Climate changes, perhaps related to global warming, such as the
recent large tornado in Myanmar, the epic drought going on now in
Australia, floods last year in North Korea, and years of low rainfall
in the western U.S., among other costly weather changes. Australia
used to export enough rice to feed 20 million people, but six years of
drought have cut their rice yield by 98%. Australia used to be the
world's second-largest exporter of wheat, but the drought has changed
that, too. "A big reason for higher wheat prices... is the multi-year
drought in Australia, something scientists say may become persistent
because of global warming," according to the Washington Post.
** U.S. farmers have been growing less wheat since the mid-1990s in
favor of more-reliable soybeans and better-subsidized corn. "Wheat's
biggest problem is its susceptibility to disease, which has turned
many farmers against it," explains Dan Morgan in the Washington
** Rising oil prices, caused partly by rising demand for oil in
China and India (and in U.S. SUVs), and partly by diminished supply
caused by the Iraq war. Because of rising oil prices, the cost of
transporting food has doubled in the last year alone. Furthermore,
the price of fertilizer is tightly linked to the price of oil and
has been rising for about five years. Use of fertilizer in the third
world increased 56% between 1996 and 2008.
Increasingly it is looking as though the "peak oil" moment has arrived
-- the moment when half the Earth's available oil has been extracted.
After that "peak oil" moment, oil prices are expected to zig-zag
upward more or less steadily.
** The demand for meat is growing in the third world as our own
meat-heavy diet is increasingly adopted world-wide. It takes about 700
calories of animal feed to produce a 100-calorie piece of red meat, so
a shift to a meat-rich diet requires large increases in grains, which
in turn requires greater use of expensive fertilizers, which in turn
raises the demand for oil.
** As the soaring price of oil has increased the cost of tansporting
food, economies as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, Vietnam
and the Ukraine (among others) have been feeling inflationary
pressures, and have restricted food exports in an attempt to hold
down domestic food prices. This has reduced food available on the
** So-called "free trade" policies have caused some previously
self-sufficient nations to become food importers. This occurs in
several ways. First, the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund require loan recipients to make "structural adjustments" in the
way they do business. For example, they must open their grain markets
to competition from U.S. farmers, who are subsidized by Uncle Sam to
the tune of $300 billion per year). Competition from cheap,
subsidized U.S. crops tends to drive small local farmers out of
business and off their land. Second, "structural adjustment" often
demands a reduction of social safety nets, so when a food crisis hits
the remaining infrastructure can't manage. Third, stockpiling food is
officially discouraged (a mountain of available food interferes with
the "free market"). Thus an important cushion against hunger has been
eliminated. A classic case is Haiti, which used to be
self-sufficient for its main staple crop -- rice -- but now is a rice
importer, increasingly subject to the whims of commodity speculators
and agribusiness corporations.
** Commodity speculators. Food has become "the new gold." "Investors
fleeing Wall Street's mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of
millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up even more,"
the Washington Post reported April 27. Rising food prices have
attracted hedge fund speculators, who have helped create a "bubble" in
food prices. "As financial markets have tumbled, food prices have
soared," acknowledges Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank.
** The U.S. Department of Agriculture's land conservation program pays
farmers to not grow crops on some of their land. About 8% of U.S.
cropland -- some 37 million acres, larger than the state of New York
-- lies fallow as a result of this program. This is good for ducks and
pheasant and it reduces soil srosion, but it also reduces available
crops, holding crop prices higher than they might otherwise be (which
is one purpose of the program).
** And lastly, in the U.S. at least, we spend huge amounts of money
feeding our pets. I know I am touching the third rail here, but
someone has got to mention this 900-pound gorilla in the room.
The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association expects Americans
to spend about $43.4 billion on their pets in 2008, up from $41.2
billion in 2007. About $16.9 billion of that will be spent on pet
Meanwhile President Bush has proposed that Congress should dedicate
$770 million for food aid to a hungry world. "The American people
are generous people, and they're compassionate people," Mr. Bush said,
announcing his new food aid plan. "We believe in a timeless truth: to
whom much is given, much is expected."
The President's gift of $770 million to the world's 100 million
hungriest people represents 4.6% of what we spend each year feeding
Fido and Kitty. (And, by the way, we are spending $770 million every
42 hours in Iraq.)
But maybe our pet food priorities are not as skewed as they may first
appear. Take a look at this ad, which I noticed recently in a local
If it weren't for the little dog in the picture, and if it weren't a
Purina ad, you might think this was an ad for human food. Just look at
that lucious heaping plate -- a white dinner plate -- of red
meat and vegetables. Who would turn that down?
Personally, I feel certain that this Purina ad is aiming to sell dog
food not only to Fido's master, but also to those impoverished U.S.
citizens who must seek food aid each year to alleviate their hunger --
25 million people in 2006 and rising. So maybe we're not spending
$16.9 billion merely to feed our pets. Maybe we're actually spending
part of $16.9 billion providing dog food to some of the tens of
millions of U.S. citizens who otherwise could not afford a meal.
Perhaps this is a thinly-veiled free-market answer to hunger in
 The U.S. is currently putting 20 to 25% of its corn acreage into
ethanol production, producing roughly 8 billion gallons of ethanol
in 2007, but the entire U.S. ethanol industry is still small, valued
at only $40 billion total -- equivalent to one years's net profits
of a large oil company like Exxon, which reported netting $40.6
billion in 2007. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
estimates that ethanol from corn (in the U.S. and Europe) is
responsible for 10 to 15% of the rise in global commodity prices. The
International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C.
says 25% to 33% of the rise in global food prices can be explained
by ethanol production from corn.