I’ve spotted some very interesting articles recently, which – if you’ve got the time – are worth reading. Raj Patel, whose book, Stuffed and Starved, was a highlight for me last year, has written an article in New Statesman about global hunger and poverty – an important issue as food prices climb worldwide:
The Oxford economist Paul Collier recently berated the “romantics” who were nostalgic for peasant agriculture. He called for big agriculture, genetically modified crops and for the EU and US to stop domestic subsidies. He is right on the last point: biofuel subsidies drive up food prices, siphoning grain from the poorest into the petrol tanks of the richest. On other points, Collier’s facts seem shakier. In its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank found that, on the contrary, investment in smallholder agriculture was among the most efficient and effective ways of bringing people out of poverty and hunger. The question is what sort of investment to bring to small farmers.
Related to this, the Guardian explores domestic issues with food, notably how British farmers are still suffering under the price abuse of supermarkets:
You can pick up a punnet of British raspberries – at their best this weekend – on a two-for-one offer in most supermarkets. But as shoppers reach for that quintessential summer treat, they should perhaps ponder the fact that it is the farmer, not the supermarket, who is paying for the generous discount.
The farmer may well be making no profit at all, with no choice in the pricing and little or no idea, when he picked and shipped the raspberries, how much he would get for them. Or that the packaging would be paid for by the farm, but done by a company chosen by the supermarket – at up to twice the cost of it being packaged independently.
I tend to think there’s a unwritten rule with regards to environmental problems or pollution – generally, if people can’t see it, they don’t care (though this doesn’t hold true for hysteria over things like radiation). That said, there’s an interesting article also in the Guardian concerning ‘invisible’ air pollution (the stuff that isn’t a pea-souper or photo/phytochemical smog):
Air pollution in the UK is killing or shortening the lives of at least as many people today as the dense “pea souper” smogs of the 1950s, MPs and health organisations will be told on Tuesday.
But, says Frank Kelly, environmental health professor at King’s College London, today’s pollution crisis is invisible, caused largely by minute particles of soot from car exhausts that descend deep into the lungs, exacerbating asthma, heart and respiratory diseases.
Kelly will join MPs and health and environmental groups at the launch of a national campaign to raise awareness of air pollution and to put pressure on government to meet minimum EU air quality laws.
Urban air pollution, mainly from coal emissions, was long recognised as a contributor to deaths and ill-health, but it took the 1952 “great smog” of London – when between 4,000-12,000 mainly very old people died in a few days – for government to introduce the first Clean Air Act.
Updated UK government figures suggest that air pollution today causes 29,000 people to die prematurely each year in Britain.
Finally, I really need to watch this film: