Agriculture / Organic Farming, STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Is It Peak Food Yet? Yale Seems to Predict Worldwide Starvation
By Staff News & Analysis - January 29, 2015

Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow … Staples such as wheat, chicken and rice are slowing in growth – with dire consequences. The world has entered an era of "peak food" production with an array of staples from corn and rice to wheat and chicken slowing in growth – with potentially disastrous consequences for feeding the planet. New research finds that the supply of 21 staples, such as eggs, meat, vegetables and soybeans is already beginning to run out of momentum, while the global population continues to soar. – The UK Independent

Dominant Social Theme: We're running out of food just the way we ran out of oil.

Free-Market Analysis: So now there is peak food. From the standpoint of farming and food production, peak food is probably good news. Prices will go up; demand will rise.

It will surely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But is it true?

We tend to think at a fundamental level peak food is no more valid than peak oil. We recall the plethora of peak oil websites and Internet traffic in the mid-2000s. Saudi Arabia was running out of oil; the US was parched; the world was verging on catastrophe.

The only catastrophe that occurred involved the peak oilers themselves. Winnowed by years of failing predictions, fracking finally reduced the peak oiling community to a stalwart few.

This is because human beings are not "potted plants" but tend to take action when they are running out of various staples. The bureaucratic – alarmist – mentality that constantly predicts scarcity of various kinds is usually incorrect based on basic misunderstanding about the compensating efficiency of the supply/demand curve.

This article, which may presage a meme of massive proportions promoted throughout the Western world, reads like a parody of elite scarcity promotions. Not content with general scariness, we get an incredibly detailed profile of potential starvation.

You can't make this stuff up. A graphic actually provides dates of when various foodstuffs achieved their "peak" and began to decline. The chart – the numerical information – is amazingly informative given the complexity of what billions of people eat … and when.

Take a look at this description:

Peak chicken was in 2006, while milk and wheat both peaked in 2004 and rice peaked way back in 1988, according to new research from Yale University, Michigan State University and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.

What makes the report particularly alarming is that so many crucial sources of food have peaked in a relatively short period of history, the researchers said.

"People often talk of substitution. If we run out of one substance we just substitute another. But if multiple resources are running out, we've got a problem. Mankind needs to accept that renewable raw materials are reaching their yield limits worldwide," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, of Michigan State University.

"This is a strong reason for integration … rather than searching for a one-for-one substitution to offset shortages," he added.

Peak production refers to the point at which the growth in a crop, animal or other food source begins to slow down, rather than the point at which production actually declines. However, it is regarded as a key signal that the momentum is being lost and it is typically only a matter of time before production plateaus and, in some cases, begins to fall – although it is unclear how long the process could take.

"Just nine or 10 plants species feed the world. But we found there's a peak for all these resources. Even renewable resources won't last forever," said Ralf Seppelt, of the Helmholtz Centre.

The research, published in the journal Ecology and Society, finds that 16 of the 21 foods examined reached peak production between 1988 and 2008.

This synchronisation of peak years is all the more worrying because it suggests the whole food system is becoming overwhelmed, making it extremely difficult to resurrect the fortunes of any one foodstuff, let alone all of them, the report suggested.

This sort of analysis never changes. We were exposed to the same arguments regarding Peak Oil. The people writing these articles and predicting the future are amazingly arrogant. They are entirely sure that people are content with shivering in the dark – and now that they are facing starvation with the same helplessness and incompetence.

The simultaneous peaking of the world's basic foodstuffs is largely down to the competing demands of a mushrooming population, which is putting ever-greater strain on the land for housing, agriculture, business and infrastructure. At the same time, producing more of any one staple requires the use of extra land and water, which increases their scarcity and makes it harder to increase food production in the future.

Everything in the above graf has been offered, one way or another, in support of peak oil as well. But what was not anticipated was human innovation – in this case the rapid spread of fracking technology that upended the oil industry and reduced peak oil projections to shambles.

We can say confidently that peak food will prove no different. It's just another elite scarcity program intended to justify a "global" response – thus further centralizing international regulatory structures.

In the meantime, if our viewpoint is accurate, fortunes will be made exploiting the panic of peak food, just as fortunes were made as a result of the dissemination of flawed peak oil statistics and prognostications.

After Thoughts

Food is no doubt going to be a good business to be in as these programmatic scarcity campaigns are ratcheted up. Expect a great deal of shrill rhetoric before reality sets in.

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Posted in Agriculture / Organic Farming, STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
  • misterkel

    All right – The Daily Bell again pushing its ‘Peak Oil’ is a meme – meme. Oil, of course, is infinite – we can never run out. Never mind that the size of the planet is finite. Never mind that fracking is a short term solution with well-depletion rates of only a few years. Never mind that Peak Oil is not a definite point in time but rather a gradually revealed reality.
    No – Peak Oil can never arrive, says the Bell, because the market and human ingenuity are so powerful they will gladly destroy the planet for a few more drops. We’re so ingenious that we can ignore the constraints of physical reality.
    Yay! good for us.

    • Read the prognostications of those promoting Peak Oil. Where did they claim that oil would move under US$50 per barrel in 2015? Saudi Arabia, according to some reports, was supposed to have collapsed by now. Oil may or may not be abiotic, may or may not be as easily available as before, but the earth is a very big place relatively speaking and coal, gas, oil and other energy sources remain abundant. The earth does not have to be destroyed to extact them and if for some reason they are less available in the future, human ingenuity will provide for something else, provided fear-mongering doesn’t get in the way.

      • Centurian

        I believe that the first US government prediction of total oil depletion was that the world would run out of petroleum by 1897. The date is a little fuzzy in my memory, but can be checked at The Skeptical Environmentalist. This was based on estimates of the volume of known reserves in Pennsylvania in the 1800’s. Funny, nobody had thought of Texas, the Gulf Coast, Southern California, Alaska, the Bakken Field, Saudi Arabia, Russia or any other places that were later discovered. Now, consider the vast areas that look promising, but are off limits for exploration or drilling to support corporatist goals. Peak, Schmeek.

        • Diocletian

          Everything that exists has its metaphysical limit. Oil, for example, does indeed have a finite quantity; however, scientific research and technology has likely not yet reached the metaphysical limit to which useable energy can be extracted from every single atom that constitutes it.

  • Bruce C

    “Peak oil” is not about supply limitations, it is about price. Fracking is a good example to support that, not proof that the “peak oil” meme is wrong. Fracking technologies existed for decades but were never used because it was too expensive. Only when the price of oil rose to a certain level (roughly above $75/barrel) was it employed. Now that demand is down there is a supply glut and the oil price has fallen, and every oil producer that uses fracking is losing money. If oil demand/price remains low fracking will stop because it is uneconomic at current prices. Then supply will fall and prices will stabilize higher than they are today because of that. It’s as simple as that. Only if a less expensive way to extract oil is found will increased supply cost the same or less. That may or not may occur.

    The same thing can apply to a “peak food” meme. There may be expensive technologies that can be used to increase food production but that would mean a greater supply of food would cost more. There may also be inexpensive but potentially problematic ways to increase supply, like genetic modifications, but now we’re talking apples and oranges.

    Basically, the DB is rejecting “peak” memes because they assume that there will always be innovation to increase efficiencies. I don’t know if that’s always true. It also depends upon what people are willing to do or put up with – the “indirect” costs besides financial ones. We shall see.

    • Peak Oilers claim that oil will eventually run out or become too expensive to extract. This doomsday scenario has never yet been achieved even though it has been predicted many times – and the predictions have proven wrong.

      There are good reasons to invest in oil and gas – but they are not supply oriented so much as regulatory and military in nature.

      Oil is a most manipulated commodity and it is perfectly possible that in Europe and Russia there are considerable profits to be made going forward. But it will be the result of the Great Game, not of any specific inevitable, impending scarcity

    • Undead Malthus

      Despite the apparent need for fracking, Saudi Arabia still has enough supply to flood the market and crash prices. This suggests that our previously high prices were not related to a lack of supply.

      Fossil fuel theory is just another scientific explanation which will be modified as more information becomes available. Even without agenda driven manipulation of scientific research, fallibility plays a key role.

      Science is always making sweeping statements to justify some cultural need. The demarcation point between humans and animals used to be the use of tools. When naturalists observed apes using prepared sticks to fish for termites, science looked elsewhere to justify our superiority. As an aside, if we need to prove we are better than an ape, it says something.

      Likewise, the ‘black smoker’ chimneys deep in the ocean blew an inconvenient hole in the assertion that all life depends on the sun via photosynthesis. Who are these people who need to have such clear cut categories to define their world?

      It is better to keep an open mind instead of limiting ourselves to the horizon made visible by state & media approved science. What is the role of the multitudes of microbes who live under our soil? I certainly do not understand it fully. I suspect humanity will never arrive at the point where we understand all of the physical processes of the earth.

      For all of the things we do not know, we can say with surety that humanity is still here. Despite all of the famines, plagues, prehistoric predators, and other challenges, we have remained. We can also observe that Thomas Malthus predicted food shortages and starvation in 18th century Britain. His proposed solution was population control. Does this sound familiar?

      As it turns out, we found ways to increase production and reduce waste instead of starving.

      Coincidentally, most of history’s worst famines were brought about by government interference in the market place. This would suggest that the proposed solutions to shortages are more likely to manifest shortages than the natural course of the market.

      There are plenty of intriguing problems to solve in bringing new resources to market. But all of the “can’t do” reasons why the sky will fall on us are just distractions. While dwelling on what can not be done is not a recipe for success, in the background someone is cashing in on these imaginary chicken little scenarios.

      • Good. Thanks.

      • Bruce C

        I was explaining what the “peak oil” concept means. It has nothing to do with limited – as in physical, existential – supply. It has to do with supply at a given price level. I realize that some people don’t “understand it” that way, but that’s not the point, assuming the point of all of this is a more practical understanding. Obviously, if a new technology is invented that can extract oil more cheaply then all of this becomes moot. Similarly, if there are in fact areas of the earth that have easily/cheaply extractable oil using conventional technology then that would also push the “peak oil” meme into the future.

        I understand the DB’s point is that since all of those unknowns are not known then one should assume that the “positive” unknowns are true until they are proved otherwise, rather than assuming the arguments for limitations are true.

        That said, I actually take it a step further and say that all of this “mumbo-jumbo” is irrelevant. Those who want to manipulate things and try to create markets and supply limitations by disallowing oil production in certain parts of the world or by innuring people to paying higher prices for energy by getting them to believe it is rare and expensive, etc. will do that despite you or me. I buy gas at $4/gal. or $2/gal. There isn’t a damn thing you or I can do about it. You can be practically omniscient and know exactly what everything is going on in the world and it won’t make any difference, practically. You will still pay whatever energy costs no matter the reason. There is also a difference between speculation and established facts. Maybe oil is not abiotic, and maybe the areas of the earth not yet explored do not have easily extractable oil.

        Personally, I’ve never really understood or cared about these “peak” memes – why they “matter”. I continue to wonder why the PTB feels the need to justify any of their convoluted schemes. They literally do not need the permission from the masses to do or not do what they want. Control of the currency and those in government is all they need, and that they already have.

        Furthermore, I actually believe that the practical, economical availability of energy has more to do with mass beliefs about what energy is and its true source. So far in the development of “ego consciousness” energy is considered to be outside of “the Self”, and coming from “God” in particular. Oil – or “fossil fuels” has facilitated a temporary bridge to a greater understanding of that fact, but it won’t last “forever.” At some point the specious has got to make that leap or transition in understanding or it’s back to square one, regardless of the PTB, etc.

  • Bolt Upright

    Soylent Brown.

  • Cheduba

    “Producing more of any one staple requires the use of extra land and water, which increases their scarcity and makes it harder to increase food production in the future.”

    Not according to the basic principles of permaculture, where by mimicking nature, multiple types of food can be grown together in a dense food forest while conserving much more water and at the same time replenishing depleted nutrients in the soil.

    • swemson

      Aquaponics is an excellent example of this type of farming. It combines the growth of a wide variety of different vegetables using hydroponics with fish farming, and it’s well suited to small scale operations. For example, a small single greenhouse of less than 2,000 sq ft or less, which can easily fit along with a home on a relatively small (1/2 acre or less) homesite, can grow more than enough food for 10 people or more by using a tank roughly 8 ft in diameter and about 3 to 4 ft deep to raise catfish, tilapia, or even shrimp. The water from the fish tanks is cleaned and aerated by circulation through the roots of long troughs of hydroponically grown vegetables, which get all the nutrients they need from fish poop they filter out of the water which is used over and over again. After setup, the only real cost is the seed for the veggies, and the fish food, which you can also grow yourself in the same greenhouse.

      There are dozens of instructional videos on YouTube that show how it’s done. Here’s a good one to start with:

      One of the best things about this is that you can start small, with an investment of just a few hundred dollars, and you can do it anywhere, indoors or out. You can produce a good yield throughout the year, even in norther areas by setting it up indoors under inexpensive fluorescent grow lights. On a somewhat larger scale, it can be done as a business, producing a very high quality organic crop that you can sell directly to good restaurants in your own area.

      Check it out online. I’ve several of these home sized set ups that work great and require very low maintenance. I plan to do it myself in my next home.


  • Danny B
  • Praetor

    Yeah, we’re all going to starve to death. Yeah, we’re running out of oil. Yeah, we will have electric car. Yeah, it will only cost you 300 a month to charge them up. Yeah we will run out of electricity. 2 billion cows, 19 billion chickens, 24 billion sheep, 38% of the planet that can be used to grow crops, fruits, rice and to graze livestock, right now. The beautiful part, its Renewable. What we need is more Global Warming, so there is more dry land and more water, get that fresh water locked up at the poles into the system to be used by the humans. We have a problem and its call (Those in Charge are Stupid Dangerous Fools), “I need to make that into a bumper sticker”, those that run OUR world, lie about, waste, and mismanage every resources known to man, that because they hire the most incompetent people they can find to manage these government agencies. The bureaucrat is the kind of person, if you told them the moon will hit the earth in 2020, they would do what ever it takes to stop it from happening. The bureaucrat is the most naïve individual on earth, if told to build a gas chamber and a incinerator, because there are to many people on earth, they would do it, and they have. Supply and Demand, supply up/demand low. 2 billion cows, is that all. A billion plus people in India don’t even eat cows. Go figure!!

  • Gil G

    Americans would be better off eating less anyway.

  • the one

    The fear mongers never cease. They beat the drums of doom incessantly. We are told that we must listen to them since they are “scientists” and they know better than we do. We are told we must believe whatever they say as gospel, because it is science and science is absolute. If you even question the narrative you will be attacked and called stupid for your disbelief in the new religion. Anyone who has to make people afraid to get them to do something should be carefully watched… These statists need to be brought to task.