Indian outrage brings home Americans’ role in rising food prices

May 21st, 2008 - 12:49 pm ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 21 (IANS) India’s angry reaction to President George Bush’s suggestion that its middle class was pushing food prices by demanding better food is bringing home the realisation that the blame lies at America’s own door. “We Americans are gluttons for energy, as well as for food,” noted Dallas Morning News in an editorial Tuesday drawing attention not only to the Americans’ huge intake, but also to enormous amounts of food that they waste.

“Given that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, we should have the good manners not to complain about high food prices with our mouths full,” it said in an edit piece Monday titled “US a food wasteland”.

“Growing appetites from the rising middle classes of China and India are helping drive demand past what the world food market can supply,” said the daily noting, “This wasn’t such a problem for American consumers when the Chinese and Indians were too poor to eat like us.”

“But that’s changing. Frankly, the Indians are tired of hearing us complain,” it added.

“Irritated economists and officials in India can point to United Nations data showing that the average American consumes or discards 3,770 calories of food energy per day - roughly 50 percent more than the average Indian,” the Dallas Morning News noted.

US Department of Agriculture figures show that the average American eats 57 times more corn annually than does the average Indian and about seven times more corn than the average Chinese.

Americans eat eight times more beef than the Chinese do and six times more chicken. US beef and chicken consumption exceeds India’s by multiples of several hundred.

In fact, Americans throw away a staggering amount of food - 27 percent of what’s edible, according to government data cited by The New York Times.

In a piece titled “One Country’s Table Scraps, Another Country’s Meal”, the Times cited an Indian official as noting that that not only do Americans eat too much but they also throw out too much food.

“If they slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians “many people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plate,” he said.

But Time magazine suggested that “Bush’s wording was perhaps simplistic, a point US diplomats have been at pains to rectify as they try to dampen the food fight between the two countries. But Bush was not completely wrong, either.”

In a piece titled “India to America: Eat Less, Fatties” on the outrage expressed by “India’s most nationalistic politicians, newspapers and television pundits”, the American newsweekly said: “There’s no doubt that China and India’s growing middle classes are consuming more and different types of food.

“As people get richer they tend to eat more meat and dairy products, for instance, and that’s exactly what’s happening in China and India. That growing demand will naturally push up prices over the long term,” it said.

“But it’s debatable whether the huge price run-ups in the past few months for staples such as rice and corn can be pinned on China and India alone,” Time said.

Short-term factors-such as the huge boom in biofuel production and the skyrocketing cost of fuel that has pushed up fertilizer and transport prices - play a big part too, it said. “But to pretend that tens of millions of Chinese and Indians who are joining the middle class every year have no impact on demand for food is silly.”

The key is not demand, but supply, Time said noting: “Agricultural production in places such as India has not kept up with the incredible social changes under way in the country’s cities and towns.”

India is suffering from “a very serious neglect of agriculture in terms of investment,” it said citing Dan Toole, the South Asia regional director for the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Suggesting India “is perhaps the solution but is also part of the problem,” Toole said what’s needed is massive investment in farming, more assistance for the hundreds of millions of Indians who are malnourished, and for the government “to somehow get beyond the policy and into the implementation.”

Meanwhile, America’s food processors too have joined the fight against ethanol, another Bush pet project aimed at weaning Americans away from their “oil addiction”.

The processors complain that rocketing demand for ethanol, a grain-based fuel additive, is forcing up the cost of food. Ethanol makers say such claims are exaggerated.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents companies such as Coca-Cola, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, is “preparing letters to a number of Governors” to show that food price inflation is being fuelled by growing ethanol demand, the Washington Post reported.

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