October 31, 2012

German meat industry talks world hunger

photo: PHW_Lohmann
Big Meat: Helfried Giesen (Westfleisch), Paul-Heinz and Peter Wesjohann (Wiesenhof) and Heinz Schweer (Vion) [from left to right]
As a spoilt post-war member of the world's "golden billion", it is hard to imagine hunger gnawing at your bowels. At the most, one has tried to diet.

Therefore, it is easy to be philosophical about other people's hunger, even when the media regularly provide harrowing images of famine from Biafra to Eritrea in glossy magazines and on TV.

It is also easy to be cynical when well-nourished managers from the German meat industry talk world hunger at the 9th Nutrition Symposium of the Heinz Lohmann Foundation in prosperous Hamburg.

It is even more tempting to be so when trade representatives conclude in the presence of a former protestant bishop that a radical reduction in meat consumption would not significantly reduce world hunger.

But what if the venue was for the good and not just an alibi for a profit-oriented status quo? And did it provide any insight as to how the world is going to feed an estimated 9.3bn people in 2050?

Feed the World

The speakers at the venue „Global or Local? – How Can We Feed the World the Day after Tomorrow?" certainly know the grim facts. The FAO estimates that even today one in eight human beings (870m people) on this planet are chronically undernourished.

The vast majority of such unfortunates (852m) live in the very same developing countries which are set to experience the most population growth (2.2bn more people by 2050). The time bomb is ticking.

As ex-cleric Wolfgang Huber points out, enough food is already produced in the world to theoretically feed 14.5bn people. However, animal feed and biofuel requirements, wastage, and a disequilibrium in global distribution add up to a lot of hunger for some.

Göttingen University's Professor Matin Qaim wasn't prepared to offer a simple solution. He computes that halving meat consumption in Europe would reduce the number of hungry in the world by "only" 4 per cent. Still, if all OECD countries did the same, this would amount to a reduction of 11 per cent (cf. Professor Peter Singer's opinion regarding meat consumption).

By contrast, 10 per cent more biofuel in OECD countries would make for 37 per cent more hungry people.

Qaim also seems to support the use of genetically-modified foods stating that corn, soy, rapeseed and wheat would be 30 to 40 per cent more expensive without them.

Protect the seas

Meanwhile, Britta Gallus, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Metro Group, pleaded for more protection of the seas as important but eco-sensitive providers of food. The German retail giant's sustainable sourcing policy includes an own-label assortment of 110 MSC-accredited fish products.

Finally, Dr. Gerd Müller, Secretary of State for the Federal German Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Consumer Protection, stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation projects in the fight against world hunger. He estimates that these would require an annual investment of around $85bn.

Given this mass of complex and conflicting information, it is hard not to resign, especially when one is not hungry. Yet many in search of an answer still try to see through a glass, darkly.

If there is no one golden way to resolve this daunting problem, then perhaps we must proceed as best we may. This could involve taking a combination of many different measures: less biofuel, less meat, better distribution, more sustainable sourcing, more helping others to provide for themselves...

 
Related article in German: Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 42, 19.10.2012, by Kurt Hoffmann


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