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.

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"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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