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Global Food Crisis Sparks Calls for G20 Meet

A worsening drought in the U.S., a disappointing monsoon in India, locusts in Africa, the bacon shortage in Europe: world food prices are starting to rise as the bad news rolls in. While there’s not much to be done about the weather, there are calls on the G20 countries to convene an emergency summit to see if there are policy steps that could minimize the pain and the danger if the world harvest is poor.

Regular readers know that Via Meadia thinks that the MSM hyperventilates about international talking shops like that G7, and its bigger and mostly even less effective cousin the G20. So they’d be forgiven for yawning at the news that the G20 is gearing up to tackle the specter of rising food prices largely caused by the droughts in the United States. The FT reports:

Leading G20 countries are “in favour of holding a meeting” as crop conditions continue to deteriorate in the US, one of the officials said.

G20 officials emphasised the planned meeting was not a sign of panic. On the contrary, they said, it would be an attempt to avoid the kind of policies, including export restrictions and hoarding, that in 2007-08 transformed a shortage of agricultural commodities into the first full-blown food crisis in 30 years with riots in two dozen countries.

It’s not like the G20 will bring the price of bread magically lower. But even so, Via Meadia is making an exception to our usual scoffing and mocking policy toward useless summits to say that in this particular case, the call for a special meeting shows a change for the better in the international system.

Any G20 meeting about food prices is likely to consist of the usual grandstanding, posturing and picture taking, but it’s a different kind of grandstanding. High food prices matter much more to the world’s poor than to everyone else. When food prices go up, most Americans, Europeans, and Japanese are inconvenienced, but life goes on. But for poor people in countries like India, when food prices go up, real hunger looms and even for the middle-class, high food prices take a major bite out of the budget.

We don’t expect action, or solutions to come out of any G20 meeting, though it’s possible that politicians will take some useful steps. In addition to actions against food hoarding, we recommend dropping ethanol requirements. The chart above shows that the amount of corn not used for ethanol has remained essentially flat since the late 1980s even though corn production as a whole has increased steadily. Condemning poor people to starvation in order to help green gentry liberals feel better about themselves does not strike us as a good use of scarce food resources. And perhaps this is a good time for Europeans to drop their objections to the use of GMOs in desperately poor, agriculturally challenged developing countries. Some of these organisms are better at handling drought and other difficult weather conditions than normal crops and could help feed the poor at a time of great distress.

On the whole, we don’t expect a lot of good policy to come out of any meetings. But that world leaders feel a greater need to at least look busy when poor people face starvation is a good thing, and it shows that the G20, for all its weakness and its incoherence, has brought world politics a little bit closer to the concerns of the world’s hungry billions. Adding countries like China, India, and Brazil to the G7 may not have made for a more cohesive political unit or increased the chances of action on important global issues, but it has given the world’s poorest and hungriest people a little bit more weight on the international scale.

That’s a good thing, as far as it goes.

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  • Albert

    Oh please! This will only turn into the usual game of blame the rich countries and send more money ASAP. The usual suspects need to top up their Swiss bank accounts before they are overthrown…

  • Thrasymachus

    Given the amount of time both campaigns are spending in Iowa, the likelihood of either candidate saying anything remotely negative about Ethanol before November is approximately zero. The likelihood of Congress actually doing anything about Ethanol between now and then is *exactly* zero.

  • Eurydice

    Also, this week, there’ve been several articles in various sources (WP, for one) about how the world’s aquifers are drying up. The battle for water isn’t a new story, but it seems people are looking at it again.

  • Corlyss

    A G-20 meeting is useful only if they bring their food grains with them to give to the ever-demanding poor.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I agree the use of Food, for the production of alcohol for fuel, and the use of Tax payer’s money to subsidize the activity is despicable. But what can you expect from Environmentalists, they want mankind dead so that Gaia will be unsoiled, and starving people to death helps them achieve their goal.

  • rkka

    I have good news for Mead, and bad news for Mead.

    “Condemning poor people to starvation in order to help green gentry liberals feel better about themselves does not strike us as a good use of scarce food resources.”

    The bad news for Mead is that one of Mead’s interns has misspelled “Corn belt conservative legislators”

    The good news for Mead is that he gets to flog said intern.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    OMG! This could be the end of civilization! The BACON must Flow! The situation is clear, “Bacon is Meat Candy” and “Everything is Better with Bacon” both illustrate the fact that life just isn’t worth living without Bacon. I fully expect suicide rates to skyrocket across Europe as the truth of their horrifying future and miserable existence sinks in. I will be praying that the same fate doesn’t befall us here in America.

  • Indiana Farmer

    I agree that we need to work away from requiring ethanol in gasoline. However, I don’t think we need to turn our back on it if the economics would happen to work in the free market. Another problem would be the supply chain disruption if ethanol was suddenly cut off. Removing something that was providing 10% of our auto fuel would cause price spikes, as evidenced by the price bump recently caused by refinery issues.

  • Tom

    @rkka: Not wrong, merely incomplete.

  • Kris

    I have good news for rkka@6, and bad news for rkka.

    “Corn belt conservative legislators”

    The bad news is that he has misspelled “members of both parties who otherwise hold very different political opinions”.

    The good news is that he has successfully identified this as a bipartisan problem. Which is not good news for any of us.

  • rkka

    9 & 10


    Greenies slag corn ethanol because it is utter [garbage] as an energy source. EROEI of 2. Maybe.

    (Energy Return on Energy Invested)

    Rkka had it right the first time. It’s corn belt conservative congresscritters. Y’all are out to lunch almost as much as Mead is.

  • Mark in Texas


    Greenies slag corn ethanol after years of demanding it because it is actually practical and actually being done. Environmentalists only like to propose things that have no chance of working. If it actually makes people’s lives better they hate it. That goes double if the people who’s lives are improved are Americans.

    Because of corn ethanol we are raising the octane of gasoline making it possible to build more efficient engines and reversing a trend that occurred in the 1970s when the removal of lead from gasoline resulted in lower compression, less efficient engines that had less horsepower and got worse mileage.

    There is the added benefit that we send less money to the Middle East as well as sending them less food.

  • FergalR

    Every time an uniformed person types the acronym EROEI Newton’s ghost punches a kitten.

  • Kris

    rkka@11: Congratulations on completely missing the point, as usual. Of course the ethanol policy is pandering to the Corn Belt. But just where did you pull that “conservative legislators” from? I’ll be glad to provide you with examples of this policy being thoroughly bipartisan. (If you’ll agree not to twist the label “conservative” beyond all recognition.)

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