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Food, glorious food…

19 June 2008

In a new USA Today poll, 54 percent of those surveyed say their standard of living is no better today than five years ago. “Fewer Americans now than at any time in the last half century believe they’re moving forward in life,” concluded a recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

That includes their access to food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 10 percent of U.S. households today are either at risk of, or experiencing, hunger.

One bleak sign: Hormel, the company that produces the canned pork product Spam, reported a 14 percent jump in profits for the last quarter, largely because of a spike in sales of their exceedingly cheap product.

(“Hunger and Humiliation in the Belt-Tightening Economy”, Nichole Colson, Counterpunch, 18 June 2006)

Here in Mexico,  the struggle since the Revolution has been to bring down the number of people “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished“.  However, with the collapse of Mexican agriculture brought on by what I think was a poorly thought out change to the ejido system, coupled with continued subsidies for U.S. and Canadian agriculture that made it impossible for Mexican farmers to compete (especially after January 1 of this year), price jumps in Mexico mean more than just buying more Spam.  It means not buying food at all.

El Sentir de Coahuila, last 20 May, posted a chart showing the price rise in 2007 — before the jump caused by the end of import restrictions in January


(click to enlarge)

There’s probably no way to undo the damage to the Mexican agricultural industry (the tomato scare isn’t helping any), but it’s not that Mexican consumers can switch to Spam.  They don’t eat.  The administation in Los Pinos has announced a price freeze on 150 basic food items through the end of the year.  At best, it’s a temporary measure (and supposedly voluntary, which means it may only hold for a couple of months).  As it says in today’s Milenio, “There are conditions”.

Concamin (Confederación de Cámeras Industriales de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos — basically the National Association of Manufacturers) President, Ismael Plascencia, told journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva the price of tortillas and cooking oil would only remain stable IF (and it’s a very big IF) wholesale corn prices remain below 3, 340 pesos per ton.  In other words, if the dollar falls… or the U.S. wholesalers raise the price, then the deal is off.

I can’t exactly blame Concamin… they’re looking out for their own interests, and can’t fault FeCal for trying to hold off the price rises, but they are going to hurt, and it could get ugly in the next few months.  Besides, the culprits are obvious.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 June 2008 5:50 pm

    Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and more recently, “In Defence of Food”, was recently here in Vermont and gave a speech to a full house at the University of Vermont. While the food situation is extremely different in the US than it is in Mexico, what he suggests would be beneficial to both countries.

    This would be an end to the subsidies for corporate farms pumping out low quality commodity food and factory style raised meet, dependant on huge corn fields and massive imputs of petroleum and fertilizers and pesticides. He promotes a smaller scale, quality focused food source.

    In Mexico, this style of farming and eating would benefit the small scale farms, just the opposite of what is happening now.

    Why should our tax dollars be used to subsidize rich corporate farms, who use massive amounts of resources, and create massive amounts of pollution, at the same time putting the small farmers out of business. This is exactly the opposite of what a normal society would choose for itself.

    If you haven’t yet done so, read his books. Here in Vermont, what he is talking about is coming true, with all our organic farms, and farmers markets. This is part of why we feel so at home in Mexico shopping in the traditional street markets.

    Mexico: don’t lose your small scale farms, or you will all pay in the long run.

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