When you've got plenty of it, it doesn't really matter. But food is coming to matter - a lot - because there are masses of people who either can't find enough or who simply can't afford to buy what's stacked up right before their eyes. The number of these unfortunates is growing every year and, for them, 2011 is not shaping up to be kind.
One thing we know about food is that money talks. Rich countries not only get better access to global food stocks but they even get to meddle in poor nations' food production policies.
In some cases rich countries can even destroy a global food resource. A reminder of that came this morning in Tokyo where one fish, a single bluefin tuna, fetched just over $390,000 Cdn. That's right, one fish, 342 kg., just shy of four hundred grand. When the Japanese are ready, willing and able to fork over more than a grand for a kilo of bluefin what do you think the chances are for the remaining, already endangered stocks?
The Brits are very sensitive to global food shortages. That's because Britain produces less than a fifth of its food. For the other four-fifths, it depends on foreign food stocks. There are a few problems with that. One is that food production in some of the supplier nations is no longer as reliable as it once was. Climate change is taking its toll, plain and simple, particularly in the tropics and southern hemisphere.
Some countries that have enjoyed historic bounties now experience a lot more bad years when their production may not even meet domestic demand. Now if your country had a bad harvest and wasn't able to deliver enough to feed your family, how would you react to your leaders selling their already inadequate food stocks to richer buyers overseas? You would naturally expect your government to suspend food exports to protect its own people, right? Well the Brits sure think so and it's got them on the warpath.
Britain's oh-so Conservative environment secretary, a lady named Caroline Spelman, is infuriated at nations that would have the gall to block food exports to feed their own instead of feeding gaping Brit maws. And, according to The Guardian, she wants something done about it, now:
"As global demand for food rises and as international food markets open up, the risk increases of wrong-headed protectionism. In some cases this has already happened – we just have to cast our mind back to the late summer and the ban on Russian and Ukrainian grain exports.
" I would like to work with France to seek an end to export bans – one of the most restrictive practices found in the world market," she said at the Oxford farming conference today.
Unfortunately, the United Nations is warning that 2011 is poised to set another record for global food prices. We're already at the awful levels experienced in 2008. Virtually all the world's major grain producers - Russia, the Ukraine, Canada, Argentina, the U.S. and Australia - have all had weather-related problems. Weather being weather, not climate, it is still too early to tell what conditions will be come the planting and growing season. But Ms. Spelman's demands to make food export bans illegal show that the great Western dependencies are jittery.