5. SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE GLOBAL SUPERMARKET
While modern technology has increased worldwide food production and
raised per capita income, millions of landless peasants in Third World
countries face starvation and malnutrition.
Prime agricultural lands in Third World countries have increasingly
been converted to the production of cash export crops by vast transnational
agribusiness firms. While this succeeded in increasing exports and ameliorated
balance of payments problems for underdeveloped countries, the benefits
have not accrued to everyone. Multinational corporations increased their
profits, taking advantage of cheap labor resources abroad. Foreign governments
and the landed few also benefited from the arrangements. But peasant
farmers were driven from their subsistence lands when the multinationals
arrived. New technology production did not offer enough employment opportunities
to compensate for the massive displacements. Those who managed to find
seasonal work in agribusiness were not paid enough to cover their subsistence
food needs. Vast migrations of hungry peasants fled to the cities where
employment opportunities were not much better. The specter of urban
poverty, filth, and slums proliferated.
As the global food monopolies expanded their empires, an interdependency
of national economies was established. All countries are now so dependent
on the international supermarket that they are dangerously vulnerable
to fluctuations in the world food supply and to the threat of food embargoes.
Food is increasingly being used as a weapon, as in the U.S. denial of
grain shipments to Russia following the latter's invasion of Afghanistan.
The loss of self-sufficiency in food production thus threatens the national
security of food importing nations.
Most Third World countries have been converted from self-sufficient
economies to food-dependent economies. In Brazil, for example, black
beans, the former protein staple of the peasant diet, are now a scarce
commodity. Lands were converted to the production of soybeans for cattle
feed, and now black beans must be imported from other countries at prices
beyond the means of poor Brazilians.
Advertising campaigns abroad by the multinationals also have been responsible
for significant reductions in nutritional levels of native diets. Studies
in West Bengal have shown that poor families were buying advertised
baby food at exorbitant prices although they could buy local cow's milk
at much lower cost. Advertising campaigns in Mexico are credited with
increasing peasant consumption of white bread with a corresponding decline
in consumption of the more nutritious native corn tortilla.
Unless the global food inequities are subjected to serious public debate,
scrutiny, and reform, worldwide social revolt is said to be inevitable.
The dereliction of the news media in reporting the causes and scope
of this global crisis qualifies this story for nomination as one of
the "best censored" stories of 1980.
The Nation, Feb. 9, 1980, "The Profits of Hunger," by Richard