The Null Device

Hunger can be profitable

This year, consumers will be paying more for their Christmas turkeys, largely due to wheat prices having been pushed up by commodity traders speculating on them. Similar actions have brought hardship to the developing world, causing an additional 250 million people to go hungry in 2008, though for tremendous profit to those in the know.

Meanwhile, a recent WikiLeaks memo suggests that US and Spanish trade officials discussed artificially raising food prices to encourage adoption of genetically modified crops, breaking down those silly Europeans' opposition by hitting them in the hip pocket, and hopefully opening the door to a patent royalty windfall for US agribusiness.

There are 5 comments on "Hunger can be profitable":

Posted by: Greg Fri Dec 17 21:35:34 2010

There are few issues that are "black and white", but GM food is surely one of them. Patented GM seed is pure stupid, and any politician that conspires to foist it on their country is a traitor. One of the best expositions I've seen of the wrong that GM food vendors do is the documentary "Food Inc".

Having said that, there's something in both these stories that I don't understand. In both cases, futures investors are driving prices higher while the underlying "real value" of the commodity is steady or dropping. Both articles say this will deliver profits to the speculators. But surely they are creating a bubble that will burst, thereby delivering losses to the holders of over-prices futures contracts?

Posted by: acb Sat Dec 18 14:32:48 2010

The patent issue is a separate issue of intellectual-property rights and corporate feudalism. Other than that, and possible biodiversity/monoculture issues, I don't see GM as entirely bad, if it increases yields and allows more beneficial crops than by conventional hybridisation. I disagree with the superstitious view that GM is bad because it's tampering with Mother Gaia's blessing and that can only have bad results.

Posted by: datakid Mon Dec 20 01:56:47 2010 is an interesting addition

Posted by: Greg Mon Dec 20 20:31:03 2010

Sure, and I'm not complaining about GM "in theory", but GM "as it is practiced", which is Monsanto seeking to dominate the world's food supply. They've done nasty things in the US. Wikileaks has shown that the US government is trying to get other countries to accept them as well. Once through the door they use that weird combination of pollen drift and patent law to pwn the target country's food production.

Posted by: acb Tue Dec 21 00:19:10 2010

That's a good point; I think that sooner or later, we'll need to use genetic engineering, if only to make crops which cope with climate change and can feed growing populations. It's a matter of sorting out technical issues to do with pollen drift and coming up with a more reasonable intellectual-property regime (i.e., if it got out of containment, it's not intellectual property; if it got out and sterilised your existing crops, you're owed hefty damages). The latter should strongly incentivise the former.