Feed people, not animals

The big headline across the new lately is the dramatic rise in global food prices. This issue touches me in a special way, because in college I once did a paper studying starvation economics, i.e. how "standard" economics changes when food availability reaches critical levels. It isn't pretty, and experience shows that one round of starvation economics is sufficient to create structures of social injustice that can last generations.

I therefore submit to you that the main reason why food prices have risen is due to our values, and not our capacity to actually produce food.

For example, did you know that in 2004 the market for pet food for cats and dogs was $14.7 billion? And that is just cats and dogs, not fish or birds or other exotic creatures.

And then there is agricultural feed. According to this Wikipedia article, 635 million TONS of feed are grown each year as food for animals. Some of it is food we cannot eat, but is grown on land that could be used to grow food for humans. Some of it (like corn) we could eat, and by diverting that food to feed animals, not people, it actually inflates the price and makes it harder for the poorest to purchase.

Now some may argue that we actually *do* eat that corn, in the form of meat. The problem is that this is a very inefficient kind of diet. I once read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. As long as the possibility of starvation economics reigns, plant matter is more ethical as people food, not animal food.

I am not proposing we all become vegetarians.

I am proposing that richer nations immediately impose a tax on the sale of animals and animal products (such as food that comes from animals, like meat, or food that goes into animals, like pet food).

This tax would accomplish two things.

First, the price of animal products would rise. Supply and demand being what it is, demand for such products would drop. People would have to compete less with animals, so prices for human food could drop.

Second, this tax would then be used to help those at risk avoiding the trap of starvation economics. Insurance and credit union systems could be put in place to give people options in lean times, thus avoiding the trap of falling into usurious debt (or worse, having to sell off their land and other means of production).

As a final point, I think the Church might be in a special position to help. The creation of systems of wealth transfer from animals to the poor will do no good if that wealth gets diverted through corruption. The struggle for genuine property rights regardless of so-called social status is part of the path of justice — and part of the Gospel of Christ.