Thursday, 9 March 2017

The high cost of cheap food

  • Never-ending quest for cheap food is the root cause of the transformation of agriculture from a system of small, diversified, independently operated, family farms into a system of large-scale, industrialized, corporately controlled agribusinesses.
  • The production technologies that supported specialization, mechanization, and ultimately, large-scale, contract production, were all developed to make agriculture more efficient, to make food cheaper for consumers. Millions of farmers have been forced off the land, those remaining are sacrificing their independence, and thousands of small farming communities have withered and died all for the sake of cheap food.
  • The agricultural establishment has boasted loudly that fewer farmers have been able to feed a growing nation with an decreased share of consumer income spent for food. The increases in economic efficiency have been impressive, but not without human costs. 
  • There were tremendous savings for consumers from lower food costs, but economists have never bothered to place a value on the lives of farm families that have been destroyed by the loss of their farms, their way of life and their heritage. They have never bothered to consider the value of the lives of rural people with roots in rural schools, churches and businesses who were forced to abandon their communities as farm families were forced off the land. 
  • The human costs of cheap food have been undeniably tremendous, but since they couldn't be measured, they have gone uncounted.
  • The ecological costs of cheap food is also not measurable and has gone ignored. Today we have degraded the productivity of the land through erosion and contamination, and that we have polluted the environment with agricultural chemicals in our never-ending pursuit of cheaper food. Farms are still losing topsoil at rates far exceeding rates of soil regeneration. Farmers increasingly reliant on herbicides that pollute streams and groundwater and that disrupt or destroy the biological life in the soil.
  • All life on earth is rooted in the soil. As farmers destroy the natural productivity of the land, they are destroying the ability of the earth to support life. We are destroying the future of humanity to make agriculture more efficient. What is the value of the future of humanity? We are in fact risking the future of human life on earth just so to have cheap food.
  • The globalization of agriculture means that food in future will be grown wherever in the world it can be produced at the lowest cost. High costs of land and labor in the US and favorable urban employment opportunities may keep production costs in the US well above the costs in other food producing regions of the world. The multinational food corporations will produce or buy agricultural commodities wherever they can produce or buy at the lowest cost. Continuing quest for cheap food could mean the end of agriculture in USA.
  • The US in the future will become food importer like oil. But imports are subjected huge volatility of prices. Through its military might US might fight wars for maintaining cheap food imports. But what will be the real costs? 
  • The costs of making food quick and convenient are no less that the cost of making food cheap. In US, nearly 80% goes to pay for marketing services processing, packaging, transportation, storage, advertising, etc. and only 20% goes to farmers who produce it. So by far the greatest part of the total cost of food is the cost of convenience.
  • Most processed foods contain high amounts of sugar, sodium and saturated fat. Consumed in excess they can lead to a myriad of problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure. cancer and other chronic diseases.
  • Addiction to convenience is placing control of our food supply in the hands of a few giant, multinational corporations.The global food supply today is dominated by a handful of giant agribusiness firms, allied and forming three global food clusters. The greatest cost of convenient food has been the loss of control of food supply.
  • The fast food industry has lured low-income consumers, along with the affluent, into paying ridiculously high prices for low-quality meats, potatoes, vegetable oil, and sugar. The true costs of quick food must include the costs of poor health, lost dignity in work, degraded landscapes etc, a tremendously high price for the time saved by choosing quick food.
  • As long as people buy the junk, companies will make the junk. Changing a system is harder than changing own habits. There is a high cost to buying cheap food. Poor health comes at a big price: diminished quality of life, fatigue and stress for self & family, lack of productivity, lost work days & income, and expensive medical bills.
  • Still there are alternatives at least for many of the things we eat. We can buy from local farmers who are committed to producing foods by ecologically sound and socially responsible means i.e. sustainable agriculture. We can shop at farmers markets, seek out restaurants that buy from local farmers, or buy those few items in the supermarkets that are supplied by local sustainable growers.
  • The food we buy from these local people may not be as quick, convenient, or cheap. But, it may well be more than worth the time, effort, and money that we have to spend to get it. It is said that, eating is a moral act. It is the food we choose has an impact upon the lives of other people, upon the earth, and upon the future of humanity. When all of the costs are counted, we simply cannot afford the high costs of cheap food. 

                You never fully know how valuable your health is until you lose it.

                My View:
                In India, agriculture supports 70% of population, less educated & less skilled, living villages with meagre infra and facilities. Even after 25 years of reforms, agriculture is still in the crutches of govt and suppliers and middlemen and farming became risky and non-remunerative. Minimum Support Price, which doesn't even cover input costs, is aimed at looting the farmers to serve vested interest of politicians providing cheap food to lower classes at the expense of farmers. It is imperative to liberate agriculture and enable & empower them recover costs plus 50% as profit margin and lead dignified lives. Otherwise villages and agriculture will perish and that would be disastrous. No country in the world will be able to feed 1.2 billion Indians except Indian farmers.

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