Food and Its Global Effects

When spring arrived in the United Sates, in 2012, farmers in that country prepared to plant a record ninety six million acres of corn. Weather conditions appeared to be perfect, and many predicted the largest corn crop in history, however, the usually productive and reliable corn crop soon lost its vitality as temperature rose and drought gripped the entire corn belt of the country. The US Department of Agriculture’s prediction in May of 2012, reported a rating of 26% - the lowest on record. Corn prices became elevated to an all time high. Food prices followed, already high after the record grain price increases of 2008.

Food importing countries, already at the mercy of such price spikes, began to see the possibility of a global food shortfall and a proliferation of farmland acquisition in other countries, in order to ensure their food supplies, began. Countries, experiencing both limited natural resources and water supply, have little choice if they are going to feed their starving populations. Joachim von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick indicated in their report, “Land Grabbing by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities” that “These land acquisitions have the potential to inject much needed investment into agriculture and rural areas in poor developing countries, but they also raise concerns about the impacts on poor local people, who risk losing access to and control over land on which they depend. It is crucial to ensure that these land deals, and the environment within which they take place, are designed in ways that will reduce the threats and facilitate the opportunities for all parties involved.” (1)

China is one of the countries with food security concerns that have invested in land acquisitions abroad and have been ahead of the game in leasing or acquiring foreign land from the turn of the century. The spike in food prices have driven the value of farmland and in many parts of the world, such property has risen by as much as thirty percentage points. Although its interests in Australia are mainly concerned with mining, China has, never the less, invested $45Billion, according to KPMG and the University of Sydney (2) and as reported by Malcolm Turnbull in September 2012.

Many people demand an end to what they see as foreign take-over of their country. These people argue that the traditional farm=lands of their childhood are being taken from them and with that, they fear the loss of tradition and the coming of a foreign influence on theirs and their children’s lives, however, as always, there is more than one side to this argument. Most of Chinese investment in Australia, for example, is concentrated in Western Australia and most of that investment is Chinese-state owned. If the Australian Government were to legislate to limit or stop Chinese investment in land or enterprise, Billions of investment dollars would be lost to the economy. This is the predicament that many countries find themselves in and in many cases, local farmers are experiencing or will experience a loss of life-style and even income as their lands are lost to another country’s interests and necessities.

China is not alone in it’s vision of investment to protect the interests of it’s citizens. Bahrain, for example, has invested $1Billion in agriculture throughout the world, Saudi Arabia has leased ten thousand hectares for wheat, barley and livestock feed in Egypt, Tanzania, forty five thousand hectares in Africa for bio-fuel production. Sweden is a heavy investor in bio-fuel production in Africa (1) Many leaders see the effects of climate change and realise that sooner, rather than later, the world’s traditional suppliers will fail in their ability to provide, just as the United States corn crop of 2012 has failed.

As ethnic groups perceive the domination or the loss of their traditional farming lands, anxieties will inevitably arise among those seeking to invest as they perceive discriminatory actions against their investment plans. As Turnbull told the Sydney China Business Forum, “we should take into account the ownership of Chinese investor companies – it is obviously a relevant consideration – and impose such conditions as are considered appropriate. Perhaps including for example a requirement to bring in local partners or list.”

Welcome to the world of the geopolitics of food and water scarcity. The perfect storm of fresh water scarcity, the inexorable growth in world population and climate change, will inevitably result in unrest throughout those populations affected by such shortages and a perceived lack of control over their circumstances. Indeed, the New England Complex Systems Institute predict global food riots and social unrest, before the end of 2013, brought about, at least initially, by rising food prices. (3)
Global food shortages and obesity-based disease, appear at first glance to be totally innocuous and yet that is the global situation. The one common denominator is not the over abundance of food available to the developed world (although that is unquestionably a factor) nor is it simply the type of foods consumed. Without doubt it is content of the foods consumed. A combination of high sugar content, fats and the variety of foods consumed on a daily basis, have contributed to an array of health concerns, including obesity, in the developed world. The world’s diet has changed to look like the American diet and it is the diet of convenience foods and fast foods. Foods with high and refined sugar content and foods high in fat. The Chinese Minister for health has said that over nutrition is of greater concern than under nutrition.

Type two diabetes used to be called “adult onset” diabetes. It has been renamed as type two diabetes because children as young as nine and ten years old are developing this disease. It is predicted that this disease alone will become a phenomenon in much of the developed world. It is expected that within that time, the population, where all these types of food originated, will have about 37% of its number suffering from type two diabetes. As Professor Kelly Brownell of Yale University author of “Handbook of eating Disorders, (4) stated, “If you collapse data, as we did in this one paper, across all developed and developing countries,… what we're expecting in the next twenty-five years … is going to affect the world; it's going to affect world economies; it's going to affect world politics, the balance of power and things like that…”

The evidence of poor diet, complex social lives and a lack of exercise, is recognised throughout the world as drivers of this coming epidemic, so what is the psychology, what are the drivers that cause us to rush head-long like lemmings at the cliff, to our destiny with ill health? What is it that causes otherwise rational people to fore-shorten their lives?

Its interesting that in China, one of the most recognised logos is that of KFC. Indeed, the owner of KFC, Yum Brands, admits that about 44% of their total income is derived from China. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2013, that in recent weeks, KFC’s image was tainted when the company was found guilty by Chinese authorities, for having more than the prescribed amount of steroids in their sourced chicken products. This was due to “poor communications” according to Yum’s China operations Chairman and Chief Executive, Sam Su. Its obvious that to achieve such recognition, Yum has embarked on some pretty serious marketing in order for them to gain the market share that they now enjoy.

Deliberate marketing through media, product placement and sports star sponsorship, enables companies to influence the buying habits of consumers. Clever psychology is employed in order for food companies to influence our decisions to support their brands, even when we know their consumption may not be to our personal benefit. Perhaps world governments will be able to extricate them selves from the influence of these money monoliths. History offers a depressing picture. The catastrophic consequences of smoking were perfectly clear and yet the influence of the tobacco companies remained until eventual legislation forced them to find new (and even more prosperous) markets in the developing world. Smoking rates have sky-rocketed in China, Africa and throughout Asia. It is expected that smokers, world wide, will increase by 45% by the year 2025. Around that time, (2030) deaths from the effects of smoking, will have increased to around ten million people annually.

Why do people smoke? The influence of marketers must play a part in getting the habit started, before the addiction kicks in. Why do we eat ourselves to death? Marketing and influence causes us to consume products that affect our health, without being consciously aware of the later effects. In 2006, Tony Blair, when addressing the issue of obesity, gave some chilling facts about the British community. Mr Blair said that millions of decisions, by millions of people at millions of points in time converge to create a lifestyle that many believe will never happen to them. Despite the (ineffectual) warnings of the authorities, 20% of all children in the United Kingdom, consume no fruit, nor any vegetables in a week. 65% of adults and almost half the children, do not take the required amount of exercise to remain healthy.
The question of responsibility is no doubt a high consideration, whether such responsibility be on the part of the government or the individual. “Who is responsible for this?” Blair asked. “Is it government's responsibility to correct this or do people just need to buck up and change their lives in a way that turns these numbers around? What happens when you start thinking about children? Then who are the responsible players?” Further he said "These individual actions lead to collective costs, it's worth pausing for a moment to consider the consequences that inaction will bring."

"Government can't be the only one with responsibility; if it's not the only one with the power. The responsibility must be shared." Blair said. This raises the interesting view of shared responsibility of government and the people and who takes the moral high ground in the debate. Is it equal power we share, or does the government become big brother? Indeed, who decides that there is a moral ground to be assumed and where do we start to examine such questions? The new social diet of high sugar content foods, and high fat content foods certainly needs to be addressed at some point if the coming decades are to allow the population of the developed countries to be healthier than the current outlook provides. That would leave the question of how to feed the 862million people who are currently starving across the globe

(1) Joachim von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick “Land Grabbing by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities” International Food Policy Research Institute. 2009
(2) “The Boom In Chinese Investment In Australia” Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to Sydney China Business Forum 25th. September, 2012
(3) Timon Singh, “Scientists Predict That Food Riots Will Grip The Planet Within A Year,” Pakalert Press 2012
(4) Brownell, K.D., & Foreyt, J.P. Handbook of Eating Disorders: Physiology, Psychology, and Treatment of Obesity, Anorexia, Bulimia. New York: Basic Books.(1986).

Author's Bio: 

John Allan is a Counsellor, Certified Life Coach and published author of several books. He has assisted people with cancer and their carers for many years. You can view his blog on that subject at He has an occasional blog, dealing with his views on counselling and self help at - John has a private practice in South Australia