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Real Cost of Cheap Food

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Food/Agriculture - Related Problems

Recently, it has become normal for the scholars to view the social and the natural phenomena as systems. The most distinctive approach towards such phenomena is the series of features in their relationships. In The Real Cost of Cheap Food by Michael Carolan, the author views the food systems as a universal means, through which food is consumed and produced today. The book does not get into defining the parts of the food systems; instead, different topics address a diverse range of factors, such as international development and terrorism, food aid, environmental cost of production of food, economic and social changes in the society today, and the retail food industry organization. Carolan’s key argument in this book is that the present production and consumption of cheap food in the food system is the cause of the failing systems in the society. To make his argument clear, Carolan applies a number of examples that shed light on the link between consumption and production of cheap food and the failure in the societal systems.

This paper explicates the food/agricultural-based problems, as discussed in the book The Real Ciost of Cheap Food, gives one policy solution, and explains why the solution would be effective.  

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Hunger

According to Carolan, the introduction of cheap food in the markets today is giving shape to an industry that is undermining its own existence. In the ideology of cheap foods, the main objective is lowering the cost of production and increasing the affordability of food in the society. In fact, the present intensification of production in agriculture has helped in the reduction of the income proportion spent on food. As explained by Carolan, in Britain the disposable income that was spent on food had reduced from 33 percent in 1957, to 15 percent as of the current year; in the United States the case was not different, as the food expenditure dropped from 13.9 percent in1970, to the current 9.8 percent.  

The ideology of cheap food, as explained by Coralan, is that it is affordable to more people in the society, an argument that is very realistic to all people, who buy food.  However, the reality is very different to the farmers or the persons, who grow the food crop, or to the diary farmers, receiving a price that is not worth his/her efforts, and a price that cannot sustain his or her family. To a farmer, the reduced cost of food means inability to put food on their table for their families, and cloure of their business. This adverse effect of cheap food fits in Carolan’s argument that,

The ideology of cheap food has helped to give shape to an industry that is undermining its (and thus, our) very existence. What we are doing in the name of food security is actually having the opposite effect. We have created a system that is inherent unsustainable. And there is nothing secure about it (2011).

Thus, short-term effect of the cheap food is hunger to the farmers, while in the long-run, there is food insecurity to both the farmers and the entire community.

The policy solution for this situation would be efficient allocation of resources in the agricultural market, and setting of food prices without the interference of the government. The policy would be effective, because it would reduce the role of government in the food price regulation and cut the protective quotas, tariffs, and price supports. This would ensure that food prices give value to the farmers, and create sustainable levels of the food security.

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Conflict

Caloran explains the ways the extravagant use of modern agricultural methods in the production of cheap food may create conflict in the agricultural sector. A comparison showed a difference in the most and least efficient applications in a variety of the agricultural inputs. The US researcher in 1973 showed that  agricultural input of gasoline was 80 gallon for 1 acre of corn. Moreover, as corn production increased 2.4 times from 1945 to 1970, the fuel input rose by 3.1 times. This implied that the corn energy yield, as compared to the fuel input dropped by 26 percent. In addition, the overuse of fertilizers in the agricultural production adds additional damages to water reservoirs due to water pollution.

Carolan further explains that in the livestock production, the inefficiency of the application of resources in the production of milk, eggs, and meat may be creating a serious conflict. He writes, “Animals will soon eat us out of house and home” (2011). In this argument, he is pointing out that with the current agricultural situation, the grain production might not be enough to cater for the demands of people and animals. This might result into a conflict on whether to feed people first and then feed animals, or vice versa.

This situation can be controlled through the implementation of food production policies. These policies would control the inputs into the agricultural production, and minimize cases of water pollution. In addition, the food pproduction policies will ensure that a country is producing enough food for its people.

Globalization Market Failure

As explained by Caloran, the food crisis created by the production of cheap food may be a demonstration of the globalized market failure. The assumption in globalization is that the prices in the markets reflect the exact value of the items being traded. In the agricultural markets, the assumption is that high yield equals to efficiency. This means that the prices reflect the actual value of the products. If this is not the case, then the situation is considered as market failure.

Secondly, the cheap food situation can result to country becoming food-dependent; this can cause a conflict, especially when the supplies get tight and the food prices spike. Caloran explains that such situation can result to becoming global. The situation occurs when a country stops some agricultural production in order to protect itself from the market shocks, and there are no countries to buy food from, because the other countries are busy feeding their people.

This situation requires an effective trade policy. The trade policy will ensure that the food prices reflect the values of the item been sold or its agricultural production cost. This would control market failures, as the food prices would be consistent with the cost of production.

Obesity

The production of cheap food exposes people to the problem of obesity. This is because instead of buying the agricultural products like fresh fruits, people would opt to have the canned or packaged fruit juices that are full of poor quality calories. In addition, people prefer the cheap processed foods that are factory made and poor in nutrition. The intake of such foods exposes them to various diseases, such as obesity.

The food crisis created by the food insecurities resulting from production of the cheap foods also exposes people to various diseases, such as diabetes and obesity. This is because the uncertainty caused by not knowing where to get the next meal makes families not to feed their members in a proper way. The problem can also be caused by not having enough money to feed one’s family.

This situation requires policies that would enhance the production of vegetables and fresh fruits. The enhanced production of food would make the food prices cheaper. As a result, more people will be able to afford food, and they would not opt for the cheaply produced food products.

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