Corporate food producers don’t generally produce food with the primary intention to feed hungry people. To them, food production is business and the first duty (by law!) of any corporation is to maximise profits for its shareholders, with only one way open to them: maximise production! Unfortunately, non-corporate food producers generally produce to the max as well, just like so many of us work as much as we can, because we have to earn as much as we can, either to make ends meet or to be able to consume, consume and consume. Producing food to the max will feed a few things: it will feed the problem of overpopulation; it will feed the problems that come from overpopulation (such as diseases, degradation of land and the waters, destruction of wild species, global climate disruption, totalitarian wars, etc.); and it will feed the pockets of the corporations, their shareholders and other food producers. Will it feed the hungry? Up to a certain point it will, but the truly relevant side of the story is that the real result will be billions more hungry mouths caused by continued population explosion in already severely overpopulated areas. We keep hearing that it is inevitable that there will be 9 billion humans on the planet by 2050, and that if we don’t produce enough food, all those extra people will go hungry. In reality it is more or less the other way around: the 9 billion will only come to be if food production will first be increased to the level where it can be converted into and then maintain 9 billion human bodies. A minority of those bodies will be well maintained, but the vast majority will be undernourished or malnourished. The minority will become smaller and smaller, and the majority will grow and grow, and the gap between them will become wider and wider.
9 billion people can never live sustainably on this planet. Neither can the current 7 billion. Feeding a population of 7 billion literally requires converting wild nature into ever more food for humans and, eventually, into human flesh. At the moment an estimated 200 species go extinct every single dayi, and the gigantic food requirements of the human population in overshoot is one of the greatest culprits in that crime. It might even be the single largest.
Some believe that 1 billion people can live truly sustainably on Earth if their way of life is truly sustainable, while others think more in the region of a few hundred million or even fewer. Whatever the number turns out to be, any number higher than that is only temporarily possible by eating into and thereby exhausting and destroying the rest of the community of life, on which we ultimately depend for our survival. And raising the numbers of humans above what is sustainable is exactly what Big Agriculture has been doing ever since it emerged. We are eating up and converting into human flesh ever more of what little remains of the rest of the community of life at an ever faster pace. Increasing food production literally is unsustainability incarnate!
If there is a solution to these problems, it is quite the opposite of what the food industry promotes. If increasing food production only serves the industry itself and leads to so many problems, then could reducing food production remedy those problems? Ideally this would happen by local communities taking food matters back into their own hands, producing what they need to feed the population rather than producing as much as possible to make as much profit as possible. The standard reaction to that is that this would lead to famines, riots, wars and so would come down to murdering millions if not billions of people. Not so! Before totalitarian agricultureii was invented, there were hardly any famines. The utter dependence on just a very small number of crop species and species of livestock made agriculturalists extremely vulnerable to failure of those few species if circumstances were unfavourable. People who depend on wild food may have lean and fat years, but they depend on many hundreds if not thousands of species, and even in years when a few of them fail due to droughts, excessive rain or cold or diseases, there will always be some which still provide food. Totalitarian agriculture was started about 10,000 years ago and global food production has been on the increase since then. Coinciding with that was a spectacular increase in famines, often caused by crop failures, but also by wars and an ever growing gap between those who control food production and those who have to work hard to be able to afford that food. After 10,000 yearly experiments it should by now be clear that each increase in food production has seen only more faminesiii. Naturally a very quick reduction in food production would lead to world-wide famines, but a gradual reduction in food reduction would not have to. And rather than leading to increased deaths, it would lead to a decrease in births through social choices or biological mechanisms reducing fertilityiv. In theory no one would have to die horribly while the population drops. Unfortunately there are two factors which make that very unlikely to happen. Firstly, the food industry and all industries connected to it have nothing at all to gain from reducing food production. If corporations don’t grow, they go bust, and so they will defend themselves at all costs. If reduction of food production will lead to violent deaths, most of them will be caused by the industrial military complex refusing to give up their power and wealth. Secondly, there may simply not be enough time left for a gradual pain free reduction in population size. Is that a reason to not even bother to try, or try our best to make the landing as soft as it can possibly be? I opt for the latter!
Seven billion plus people are now directly or indirectly consuming up the rest of the community of all life. Chief Seattle said: “Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.” The community of all life is in collapse as we speak. According to Derrick Jensen “two hundred species per day driven extinct, 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans extirpated, more than 98 percent of native forests destroyed, 99 percent of prairies, and on and on.v” Combine the two quotes, and it becomes clear that we are driving ourselves to extinction by effectively trying to convert all life into human flesh, products for humans, and toxic waste.
Fish farming corporations, especially with their plans for dramatic expansion, are very actively contributing to that process. So now it’s clear. The moral justification for increasing food production turns out to be either a weak excuse or a dirty lie for the sake of the rich of the world to become even richer by profiting from the suffering and the demise of the rest of the living world. Perhaps the saddest thing is that such a pathetically weak excuse has become so widely accepted as gospel. Think of the suffering and destruction that could have been prevented if we hadn’t bought that story roughly 10,000 years ago, when agriculture got going!
But hold on. That’s not all. Fish farming is unlike many other forms of agriculture in some regards. Wheat finds its way to both the richest and the poorest people on the planet, but salmon certainly doesn’t. In the words of Richard Adrian Reese:
Salt water aquaculture is not about producing low-cost protein and reducing world hunger. It’s about providing highly profitable seafood products to a well-fed (and poorly informed) elite.
It may well be that those high up in the fish farming industry actually believe that food production needs to be increased to feed a growing population. If so, then perhaps they could be excused to some degree for trying to add more food to the global market, but only if their farmed salmon would actually really find its way to the plates of the poor! But that is not the case, of course. Even though farmed salmon is a lot cheaper than wild salmon these days, for all practical purposes it is roughly as affordable to the poorest people on earth as a Rolls Royce is: not affordable at all, not now and not ever! In fact, in a very real sense fish farming takes away the food of some of the poorest people on the planet! The wild fish needed to feed farmed salmon is caught for an important part in the coastal waters of poor nations, thus leaving the people there with waters devoid of the food they’ve always depended on! Rather than feeding the poor, fish farming makes them even poorer, hungrier, and more dependent. But the industry is able to sell its product to the relatively well-off, and that’s what it’s all about, right?
Is there a moral justification for increasing production of farmed salmon, or of global food production in general? No, most certainly not. The expansion plan for salmon farming will first and foremost serve to make the fish farming corporations and their shareholders more money and to make them more powerful at the cost of almost everything and everyone else. Are we going to let them do that? Are we even going to continue to hand over our tax money to help them to do it? So far we certainly are! Let’s end that!
iMeaning that in the roughly six weeks it took to write this article (I’m a slow writer!), more than 8000 species are estimated to have gone extinct, never ever to return again.
iiTotalitarian Agriculture is coined by author Daniel Quinn. It is the kind of agriculture where production to the max is the ultimate goal, and where any wild animal which comes in to eat the produced food must be chased off or exterminated, and where every wild plant taking up space which could grow produced food is a weed and has to be killed. In this kind of agriculture the world belongs to civilised humans, and so all the food belongs to civilised humans too. It literally is a war waged against the rest of life.
iv“For example, if a population consists of 1,000 humans and food availability for this population is held constant forever, and allows for 3,000 calories per person per day (holding other vital nutrients constant relative to calorie count), this is a total calorie count of three million calories per day. If the number of people increases to 1,014, the number of calories per person per day is reduced to 2,959. If the same amount of population growth occurs the next year, the population will grow to 1,028. The calories per person per day will then be 2,918. Repeated twice more, the calories available per person per day will drop to 2,879 and then to 2,838. After four years of 1.4% population growth, calories per person per day is reduced by only 162. After a total of nine years, the reduction in calories is only 353, to a level of 2,648 calories per person per day. The impingement of the food and nutrient limitation, although subtle, will eventually serve to curb human reproduction. This may occur through social mechanisms, choice behavior or reproductive biological mechanisms. In other words, halting increases in food production will halt the increases in population by means of a reduced birth rate.“ http://www.mnforsustain.org/pimentel_hopfenberg_human_population_food_supply.htm