World hunger blamed on U.S.

2011-11-05T09:00:00Z World hunger blamed on U.S.KEVIN BERTRAM Special to the Daily Sun Arizona Daily Sun
November 05, 2011 9:00 am  • 

The United States donates more food to the world than most other nations combined. But there are some who say that while the quantity is fine, the quality is lacking.

In a talk Thursday night delivered at the First Congregational Church of Flagstaff, Carol Thompson, a political economy professor at NAU, laid out an argument to community members about why the inclusion of genetically-modified foods in donations is not only helping to stymie efforts to end world hunger, but also threatening food supplies worldwide.

Thompson said U.S. legislation requires a majority of aid be actually shipped out from the nation, a policy that runs contrary to what most nations do.

"By U.S. law, 75 percent of all food aid must be given in the commodities," Thompson said. "In actual bushels of corn, actual bushels of wheat -- tons and tons and tons of it. Every other country in the world gives money and allows the World Food Programme to source food ... from the closest source."

Thompson said the current system of aid not only ignores the diet of those receiving it, but allows U.S. farmers to make profits off subsidies.

"The fact that we require that American corn grown in Iowa or American wheat grown in the Dakotas is what is appropriate for people in the Horn of Africa is a bit antiquated," Thompson said. "Why do we do that? For one, we have too much corn. It's a major way for the U.S. government to subsidize 'agribusiness.'"

According to Thompson, a large part of the problem is that the U.S. uses genetically modified food -- supplies of which some nations in Africa reject. Citing the large amount of U.S. agricultural exports, Thompson said America is producing food no one wants.

"We're feeding the world with products that they don't want, and products that have to come from the United States of America," Thompson said. "We're the No. 1 grain exporter, as well as in maize ... and wheat. We're number four in rice -- Southeast Asia is ahead of in rice production. And we're number three in oats. We're a major grain exporter, and we feed the world that way."

By modifying the genes of plant species to make them superior strains, Thompson said, major agricultural businesses have reduced the variety of various foods down to only a few species -- a lack of variation that makes them susceptible to disease.

"What we need to think about now is that the U.S. threatens world food production," Thompson said. "The first problem we have is the monoculture. When we talk about waving fields of grain -- we actually sing to it -- we should be looking at them as toxic waste dumps. Because it's a symbol of the decline in genetic diversity that threatens the whole world. We're down to two or three kinds of wheat, we're down to three or four kinds of potato."

As a point of comparison, Thompson said the ancient Incans had as many as 800 types of potato. In contemporary times, she said, industrial societies have a smaller base of plants to work with.

"75 percent of U.S. food comes from 12 plants," Thompson said. "Africans -- and this is a generality -- eat 2,000 [different types of] plants. In other words, industrial agriculture is making the genetic base of plants more vulnerable, because of the lack of genetic biodiversity."

Thompson said she is not only interested in seeing a core change in U.S. exports, but emphasized that citizens in Flagstaff can reduce their support for large agricultural companies -- she termed them "cartels" -- by creating community gardens and participating in farming activities.

"We are taking our food production -- and consumption -- away from the cartels," Thompson said. "And there's a whole food movement in the United States that we can join and intensify. And that means we produce food locally and consume it locally. It will create jobs."

Kevin Bertram is this year's NAU/NASA Space Grant science writing intern at the Daily Sun.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. American Way
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    American Way - November 10, 2011 10:21 am
    It's crazy the way the professor equates agribusiness to gangs of murderers found south of the border by use of the word "cartel". And Africa may have more plants to eat, but they also have more famine. We are doing soemthing right here in the USA, but left wing academia can't give this country a bit of credit.
  2. aardvark
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    aardvark - November 10, 2011 9:25 am
    Pygmy: Less potatoes now than 100 years ago - perhaps. But the good doctor said we're down to "two or three". If either of these numerical overstatements were correct she could name them precisely. Likewise "that Africans eat thousands of plants", admitted as a generalization, is also an apparent overstatement in the other direction. Facts I'll listen to; hyperbole, misstatements and biased opinions, not so much.
  3. pygmylowe
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    pygmylowe - November 10, 2011 8:43 am
    It is a fact that food biodiversity is shrinking. There are less types of potatoes grown now then 100 years ago. The mono-cultures of mass food production are (at the very least) something that should be studied more. And yes large agri business is run by cartels. or maybe we should call them something else, like terrorists. Cross breeding is not the same as a GMO Hunter86004. Ask Monsanto if they think it is the dame thing.
  4. aardvark
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    aardvark - November 10, 2011 7:58 am
    F & O: "Thanks for the food, but we would rather have cash". The good Prof is just wrong about the number to types or strains of wheat or potatoes, both of which have been cultivated and manipulated by humans over nearly 10,000 years as we improved these plants as a food source. That she opposes the government policy of shipping aid in containers rather than up in dollars is not supported by her arguments. Genetically modified foods have their critics, admitted. "Cartels"? THAT's just funny.
  5. FreedomLuvR
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    FreedomLuvR - November 09, 2011 2:19 pm
    Ovid213 said: "The writer raises some valid issues here. Those of you who equate any kind of criticism with the rejection of your charity need to become more discriminating thinkers. "

    Well said.

  6. Ovid213
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    Ovid213 - November 09, 2011 2:00 am
    Sending in-kind payments is a way to subsidize the farmers. It has nothing to do with the recipients.

    It's one thing to get mad when other countries reject our genetically modified crops, but quite another when they accept them and then US companies sue them because their patented genes have gotten into the local strains.

    The writer raises some valid issues here. Those of you who equate any kind of criticism with the rejection of your charity need to become more discriminating thinkers.
  7. aardvark
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    aardvark - November 08, 2011 1:06 pm
    According to the good Prof: "Thank you for the blanket because I'm cold, but the color is wrong and its not soft enough." "Thank you for the chicken because I'm hungry, but I only eat range-free chickens. Where was this one raised?" "Thank you for the TV set, because I like watching Oprah, but it isn't Plasma and kinda small at 48" across." "Thank you for the ride into town, because it is so far, but these seats are not leather." And you wonder why we want to cut foreign aid.
  8. Blaine
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    Blaine - November 07, 2011 8:03 pm
    rlewis581 said: "Genetically modified foods have been causing cancer for decades . . ."Do you have any evidence from reliable peer-reviewed scientific sources to support this statement? It's my understanding that there have been hundreds of studies over the last 25 years and none have shown any adverse effects (except a handful that showed correlations with adverse effects, but all of those were within the statistical margins of error).
  9. Skrapps
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    Skrapps - November 07, 2011 3:36 pm
    Africans may have more plants to choose from, but we're the guys that get so fat that we die. Maybe Africa should focus on quantity, rather than variety.
  10. American Way
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    American Way - November 07, 2011 9:49 am
    Unreal. The taxpayers of this nation spend their money to help others and the recipients complain about the food. I say no more food aid to anyone. Most of these 3rd world nations got themselves into their own mess by having too many kids. Let them handle their own problems.
  11. ghostrider
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    ghostrider - November 07, 2011 6:19 am
    The gall of this "professor" and, if true, nations to reject food to feed their hungry citizens. Perhaps we should just stop giving this food aid to those who reject, or fail to appreciate it.
  12. Matthew Quigley
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    Matthew Quigley - November 06, 2011 11:26 am
    Part of the reason that we have an abundance of food is due to genetic modification. I will be certain to steer clear of the writer when taking classes at NAU. Obviously short sighted and misinformed.
  13. rlewis581
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    rlewis581 - November 06, 2011 7:39 am
    Genetically modified foods have been causing cancer for decades. Go ahead and eat it for 30 years or so and then take all that money we make and use it to pay doctors to further poison us with Chemo and radiation and even further empty our offspring's pocketbooks to pay the doctors to kill us.Or hey maybe we could just go back to raising our own organic food, not polluting our environment and minding our own business. OOPS I forgot WE'RE JUST TOO GREEDY!!!
  14. Ringokid
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    Ringokid - November 05, 2011 5:02 pm
    The amazing thing about this story is why did NAU hire this person to teach.
  15. hunter86004
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    hunter86004 - November 05, 2011 11:30 am
    The professor doesn't seem to realize that genetically modified foods have been around for hundreds of years due to cross breeding alone. As far as varieties of corn, wheat and other grains, there are over 500 varities of potatoes, 200 of wheat, and 300+ of field corn, contrary to her statements of there are few varieties. Google is your friend!
    Sending cash just seems to make some country's elite rich while the poor starve.
  16. aardvark
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    aardvark - November 05, 2011 10:46 am
    Some people are never satisfied....
  17. GeorgeW724
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    GeorgeW724 - November 05, 2011 10:15 am
    I would love to know what we can grow right now.
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