The ‘food bubble’ is bursting, says Lester Brown, and biotech won’t save us

Thursday, January 13, 2011
By Paul Martin

by Tom Philpott
Grist.org
12 Jan 2011

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.

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