Marine Harvest, among other aquaculture corporations, and along with many other food-producing corporations, claims that it is vital to increase production to feed a growing population. This article, which will be published in three parts, explains why the opposite is true.
The Scottish government and the overwhelmingly Norwegian fish farming industry in Scotland have decided to dramatically increase the production of farmed salmon. The reasons for this, believe it or not, have a lot to do with the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to a Chinese dissident in 2010, to the great displeasure of the Chinese government. The Nobel Peace Prize originating in Norway has led to a Chinese sanction against anything Norwegian, including farmed fish. First Minister Alex Salmond saw an opportunity and promised the Chinese that Scotland would double its production of salmon for them. Ironically, all this goes on with both parties pretending not to know that the vast majority of fish farms in Scotland are owned by huge Norwegian corporationsi!
Even more ignored is that fact that fish farming of this kind is inherently unsustainable: the industry and governments involved are actively sacrificing the waters and wildlife of western Scotland so that they can make big money by selling an unhealthy product to relatively rich people in China. For more information on the inherent unsustainability I suggest watching Twyla Roscovich’s film Salmon Confidential (www.salmonconfidential.ca) and reading this page before you continue reading what follows: http://www.raincoastresearch.org/salmon-farming.htm.
If you’d ask the Scottish authorities why they want to see mostly Norwegian corporations double production in Scottish waters, most likely they’d claim that it’s obviously good for the economy and GDPii. If you’d ask the corporations, they’d say it helps them maximise profit for their shareholders, which, by law, is their first and foremost duty. Fortunately more and more people are becoming aware that doing things just and only for the sake of money, power and growth is not necessarily the best idea. Some even see that the insatiable growing hunger for more money and power has caused an awful lot more bad than good. After all, ultimately an economy can only grow by converting more of what remains of the living wild world into dead products for profit and toxic waste. And what about the fact that a growing economy these days often goes hand in hand with a growing gap between rich and poor, meaning that it only benefits a few to the detriment of the rest?
And so, if we’d question authorities and industry a bit more critically whether or not this is all really only about the money, they are bound to come up with a certain very moral reason why production needs to be increased. It is a reason shared with virtually all other big food-related industries. It is their moral raison d’être; the justification for them making lots of money. That reason is that increasing production is an absolutely vital strategy to feed a growing populationiii. It follows that in fact it would be inhumane not to increase production!
How great it would be if becoming very rich were merely an inevitable side-effect of doing good! But most people with a bit of life experience know deep down that although there is certainly a link between getting rich and doing good, they are usually negatively correlated. In other words, the more damage your work does, the richer you get. Or, in all honesty in many cases, the richer the person you work for gets.
If you hear something often enough without really thinking about it, perhaps even while being somehow discouraged to scrutinise, you are very likely to start believing it. That will happen even if it isn’t too difficult to see why it’s utterly wrong. It literally is a kind of brainwashing. And so it is with the premise that a growing population needs increased food production. Don’t feel too bad if you bought into it: so do most other people. Even the UK chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, keeps getting it fundamentally wrong when he tries to explain the situationiv, and that while he claims to be a population biology expert! Every so often he appears on the BBC News to tell us exactly what we have learned early on: that we have to do everything possible to grow more and more food. No methods are to be shunned and he wholeheartedly advocates ever more intensive and harmful and less sustainable ways of maximising food production, including the use of genetically modified organisms and highly toxic pesticides. No doubt he’ll be happy with the proposed increase in farmed fish production. Why? Because he expects the global human population to grow to 9 billion by 2050, and we must have food production up to a sufficiently high level to feed them all, right?
Wrong! The argument that food production needs to be increased to feed a growing population is one of the most dangerous myths of this culture we are part of, and it is actually vital not to increase food production! The big bad dangerous faulty idea which has to be tackled to make this clear is that a population can grow without having food available first.
It is ironic that this misunderstanding usually only crops up when humans are concerned, not for any other Earthling, often even including non-civilised humans. For example, when scientists introduce a few bacteria into a petri dish with a certain amount of nutrition for the bacteria in it, they will expect the bacteria to increase in numbers as much as the amount of food allows, unless other factors (like the size of the dish) would limit the numbers first. If they put double the food in a second dish, the population there will reach about twice the numbers of the one in the first dish. That is what is expected and, again, unless other factors limit growth, that is what the result always is: an increase in food availability leads to an increase in the size of the population. A population of bacteria does not decide to keep their population at a certain level while food is still plentiful. Even if some of the bacteria would decide to stop multiplying for whatever reason, even one cheater who would make use of the nutrition that all the others weren’t using to make new bodies out of would be enough to spoil the ideals of the rest. The inevitable result would be that the population would still grow to the maximum number allowed by the amount of food in the dish. See it like this: if bacteria would fail to do this in a petri dish without other reasons stopping them, it would end up on the front pages of even the biggest and most serious newspapers. Even Professor Sir John would be puzzled! And this principle is not limited to bacteria. It goes just as well for a population of ants, whales, roses, grass, oaks, the flu virus, and all others: if nothing else limits the population, it will grow as far as the food availability allows it to. This is widely accepted in science. Even Sir John will have no problem accepting it. In fact, he will consider it common knowledge. Bar for one single species. He wouldn’t believe it to be true for humans. Or at least not for civilised humans. Why on earth not?
PART II WILL BE PUBLISHED ON WEDNESDAY 13-4
PART III WILL BE PUBLISHED ON FRIDAY 15-4
iiOn the nonsense of GDP, as I roughly remember the joke from Alasdair MacIntyre’s book Soil and Soul: Two businessmen, an older and a younger one, walk along the street. After a while they see a big dog turd. “Ah,” says the older one, “Here’s an opportunity and a challenge. I dare you to eat this turd, and I’ll give you ₤10.000.” The young businessman thinks it over, and eventually, despite his revulsion, decides it’s too good a chance to miss. He picks up the crap, squeezes his nose shut, and works it down as fast as he can so that he won’t have to taste it too long. “Well done,” applauds the older businessman, “Here’s your 10.000!” While the young man still wipes his mouth with his handkerchief and coughs and discretely spits occasionally, they walk on. Not much later the young man spots another good heap of dog droppings. “Look,” says he to the older man, “that’s your chance to earn ₤10.000!” The challenged businessman reluctantly gets down on his knees and swallows small bits whole to make the experience as unhorrible as possible, and when he finally finishes, he gets up and collects his price. In silence they walk on for some time, the younger man clearly thinking very hard. After some time, having passed several piles of dog exrement without challenging or being challenged, he stops and looks the older man in the eye questioningly. “Hold on,” he says, “Why did we do such a stupid thing? We both did a horrible thing, and neither of us got any better by doing that! We both ate shit, and it achieved nothing!” “That’s where you’re wrong,” Says the older man, “By doing what we did, we managed to up the GDP by ₤20.000!”