World food plentiful, but politics and policies interfere

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Global food policies and politics are major impediments to producing enough food to feed the world’s growing population, according to Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Cornell University.

“We’ve got lots of food in the world,” Pinstrup-Andersen says. “The problem is inappropriate policies, not food supply."

Pinstrup-Andersen made those observations during a Heuermann Lecture this week at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Professor Pinstrup-Andersen is the 2001 World Food Prize Laureate and the recipient of several awards for teaching, research and education.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food demand will increase by about 70 percent during the next 40 years. “Such growth is achievable and, although international food prices are likely to continue to be volatile, I do not believe the world will experience an increasing trend in real food prices in the foreseeable future,” Pinstrup-Andersen says.

Specifically, he notes that food prices have fluctuated dramatically since 2007, and that many experts predicted, incorrectly, the end of inexpensive food. A major problem, he says, is that an estimated 2.9 quadrillion (15 zeros) pounds of food are lost every year throughout the distribution system. That amount would feed the 2 billion people expected to be added to the population. Although it is unrealistic to expect to capture that entire loss, some of it could be saved through better policies and management.

Volatility in food prices will continue, he says, a climate change is one reason. Others include governmental policy, speculation, reduced grain stocks and use of grain in biofuels.

Regions of concern for food distribution include Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. By 2030, estimates are that two-thirds of the world’s middle class will live in Asia, compared to just 28 percent in 2009. As their wealth increases, their diets will change – fewer grains, fruits and vegetables; more vegetable oil, meat eggs and fish.

"We need to pay a lot of attention to the new middle class in Asia," Pinstrup-Andersen says.

He believes more money must be invested in research and technology, including genetic modification. He also called for more investment in rural infrastructures in developing countries; orderly trade policies; rules governing land acquisition; and antitrust legislation.

Pinstrup-Andersen is the H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy, the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship and a professor of applied economics at Cornell University, and an adjunct professor of food economics at the University of Copenhagen.

Heuermann Lectures focus on providing and sustaining enough food, natural resources and renewable energy for the world's people, and on securing the sustainability of rural communities where the vital work of producing food and renewable energy occurs. They're made possible by a gift from B. Keith and Norma Heuermann of Phillips, Neb.,  long-time university supporters with a strong commitment to Nebraska's production agriculture, natural resources, rural areas and people.

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Virginia  |  April, 12, 2013 at 03:38 PM

One quadrillion has 15 zeros. One trillion has twelve zeros. Given the rest of the numbers, I think you meant trillion.

usa  |  April, 12, 2013 at 06:20 PM

It's odd how we should be building infrastructure in developing countries and enacting regulations here that work toward dismantling ours.

Constance Currie    
Florida  |  April, 16, 2013 at 07:26 AM

We keep framing the discussion about feeding the 'growing population' instead of responsible population growth. Perhaps our first step should be to act like a 1st World Country and promote birth control, versus a gag rule on contraceptives.

Charlene Ryder    
Dunkirk, NY  |  April, 16, 2013 at 09:46 AM

"Genetic modification" concerns me. I've read some scary stuff on its impact on animals and some have linked it to bee colony collapse. I think more testing should be done before we produce more GMO food.

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