Thankfully, we’re still a long way from the dystopian world depicted in the best-selling “The Hunger Games” trilogy, where food is used as a coercive political tool. Nevertheless, we have reason to be concerned about the geopolitical consequences of world food supplies running low, as analysts predict they will, following yet another summer of extreme weather, including record-breaking drought in the US.
As we’ve seen over the past several years, food shortages and rising food prices can cause destabilizing stress here and worldwide. America is the world’s largest grain exporter, and, as the 2012 drought marches on, escalating damage to its corn and soybean harvest will be felt around the world in higher prices — particularly for meat from corn-fed pigs and cattle. Food shortages are a strong possibility in the world’s poorest nations, according to Oxfam and other NGOs, but working families here will also feel the pinch in their grocery budgets.
Simply put, those of us in the food industry are facing down a perfect storm of challenges that will require an earnest and thoughtful approach from all quarters: all hands on deck from farm to processing, packaging and market. How will we meet a rapidly growing demand for food — especially since there’s even more to the issue?
In the immediate future, a central issue in emerging economies is hunger and poverty. In 2011, world food prices went up by some 37 percent during the Russian wheat crisis, driving 44 million people into poverty, according to the World Bank. This year, the effects of drought may signal more of the same for food prices in coming months.
Changing demographics are also putting new strains on our food supply, as millions of “up and coming” consumers in places like India and China buy more milk and meat to reflect newly middle class tastes, as chronicled in the Journal of Nutrition. In just this decade, there will be a 30 percent increase in global demand for milk, Tetra Pak’s own dairy index forecasts.
Furthermore, food crops and farmland are increasingly being diverted into biofuel production around the globe, making commodity crops scarcer and more expensive. In 2009, US corn prices were more than 20 percent higher because of ethanol driven demand, according to a study by the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development.