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The 'Food Bubble' is Bursting, Says Lester Brown, and Biotech Won't Save Us

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's  Resource Center on Farm Issues, and our Genetic Engineering Resource page.

For years -- even decades -- Earth Policy Institute president and Grist contributor Lester Brown has issued Cassandra-like warnings about the global food system. His argument goes something like this: Global grain demand keeps rising, pushed up by population growth and the switch to more meat-heavy diets; but grain production can only rise so much, constrained by limited water and other resources. So, a food crisis is inevitable.

In recent years, two factors have added urgency to Brown's warnings: 1) climate change has given rise to increasingly volatile weather, making crop failures more likely; and 2) the perverse desire to turn grain into car fuel has put yet more pressure on global grain supplies.

Brown's central metaphor -- which he's been using at least since the mid-‘90s -- will be familiar to readers who've lived through the previous decade's dot-com and real-estate meltdowns: the bubble. The world has entered a "food bubble," he argues; we've puffed up grain production by burning through unsustainable amounts of three finite resources: water, fossil fuels, and topsoil. At some point, he insists, the bubble has to burst.

Well, for the second time in three years, the globe is lurching toward a full-on, proper food crisis, especially in places like Haiti that have de-emphasized domestic farming and turned instead to the global commodity market for food. In 2008, global food prices spiked to all-time highs, and hunger riots erupted from Haiti to Morocco. Now prices are spiking again, and have already surpassed the 2008 peak, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

As if on cue, Lester Brown has come out with another of his reports, this one titled (with that Brownianlight touch), World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. You can download the whole thing free here, grab the brief presentation on food [PDF] lifted from the book, or just read Brown's own post today for Grist on the topic.


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