The term “food security” gets used a lot these days. It is a term used by the USDA, the United Nations, and other groups to refer to the amount of food people have to eat. In the old days, we called it “hunger” but, in this age of politically correct, gender neutral, ethnically sensitive, government-speak, when people don’t have enough to eat we say they have food security issues. When these people have to drive more than 10 miles to a grocery store, the USDA calls their community a food desert. While there is a portion of our society that is food insecure and lives in food deserts, the majority of us do not have these problems. Yet, there are forces at work that could reduce the entire country to a food desert and make all of us food insecure.
Our nation’s abundant natural resources and free market economy have made it possible for the US to be food self-sufficient. Never in our history have we had to depend on another nation to provide our food. The concept of not being able to produce enough food to feed ourselves is a concept inconceivable to most Americans. When we think of nations that cannot feed themselves, we usually think of poor developing nations in Africa or parts of Asia. Thus, it may come as a surprise that there are modern industrialized nations who cannot feed themselves. They are not starving because they have the wealth to buy what they need from the world market. Yet the fact remains, they are not capable of feeding themselves.
Great Britain is one such country. Once an exporter of food to the world, the British have lost the ability to produce enough food to feed their nation. Irresponsible social policies and eco-phobic environmental regulations have devastated their once proud livestock and grain industries. I found it ironic that, last week, Prince Charles was here in the US promoting his brand of agricultural sustainability while back home his nation was living off the world’s food dole.
Some of those very oil rich nations in the Middle East exist in a food desert as well as a geological one. Last year, when a third of the Russian wheat crop was burned up in a drought and the Soviets cut off exports, food riots broke out in many of these nations who export $100 a barrel oil but cannot feed themselves. Most of the time these nations can buy what they need on the world market, but one natural disaster can change things very quickly.
We are currently seeing this same thing occur in the electronic and automotive industries. The massive earthquake in Japan has caused a major disruption in supplies of cars from Japan. Toyota, Lexus, and Honda have said plants in Japan and the US are working at 50% capacity at best; and GM has said it will close more US plants temporarily, as it deals with short supply of parts. Electronics shoppers, on the other hand, will just have to be patient. Sony pushed the launch of its $1,500 3D camcorder to mid-May from what was supposed to be mid-April. US prices on a variety of electronics have skyrocketed in the past few weeks. At a Best Buy store in Ft. Wayne, IN, the shelf price on the new Canon T3i camera jumped $150 overnight. Even web retailers like Amazon.com are facing inventory shortages of electronics from Japan.
What if the US was as dependent on food imports as we are on cars and electronics? There are people and policies in play today that could lead to that eventuality. Burdensome regulations from the EPA, bans on drugs used in animal care by the FDA, and the wanton development of prime farmland are all things that may drive US production agriculture to other places. Only if we take the preservation of our food production system seriously do we stand a chance of maintaining our food security. Most consumers and, unfortunately, most policy makers take agriculture for granted. That is why our food production system is in danger. Let us keep reminding them that national food security is just as important as homeland security.