How Bad Will the Food Shortage Get?

by Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mercola:

STORY AT-A-GLANCE
  • It’s becoming increasingly clear that severe food shortages are going to be inevitable, more or less worldwide, and whatever food is available will continue to go up in price
  • The cost of agricultural inputs such as diesel and fertilizers is skyrocketing due to shortages — caused by a combination of intentional and coincidental events — and those costs will be reflected in consumer food prices come fall and next year
  • Mysterious fires, alleged bird flu outbreaks and other inexplicable events are killing off livestock and destroying crucial infrastructure. Since the end of April 2021, at least 96 farms, food processing plants and food distribution centers across the U.S. have been damaged or destroyed
  • The global food price index had risen 58.5% above the 2014-2016 average as of April 2022, due to a convergence of post-pandemic global demand, extreme weather, tightening food stocks, high energy prices, supply chain bottlenecks, export restrictions, taxes and the Russia-Ukraine conflict
  • Combined, all of these factors set us up for guaranteed food shortages, food inflation and, potentially, famine in some places, so now is the time to prepare

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Two years ago in May 2020, I predicted the COVID-19 pandemic would be followed by famine, thanks to the intentional shutdown of businesses and global supply lines.1

Depending on where you live, you’re now starting to see shortages to a greater or lesser degree. But regardless of how things appear right now, expect changes, potentially drastic ones, over the coming months and into 2023, because that’s when the diminished yields from this current growing season will become apparent.

With each passing week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that severe food shortages are going to be inevitable, more or less worldwide, and whatever food is available will continue to go up in price.

The cost of agricultural inputs such as diesel and fertilizers is skyrocketing due to shortages — caused by a combination of intentional and coincidental events — and those costs will be reflected in consumer food prices come fall and next year.

On top of that, mysterious fires, alleged bird flu outbreaks and other inexplicable events are killing off livestock and destroying crucial infrastructure. Since the end of April 2021, at least 96 farms, food processing plants and food distribution centers across the U.S. have been damaged or destroyed by fire (see below).2,3

An estimated 10,000 cattle also perished in Ulysses, Kansas, in mid-June 2022,4 under mysterious circumstances. The official claim is that the cattle died from heat stress, but that seems highly unlikely. Heat could conceivably kill some weaker cattle, but 10,000 on the same day?

Recorded temperatures were said to be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the loss,5 but other states have also had 100-degree temperatures, with no recorded cattle deaths.

Combined, all of these factors set us up for guaranteed food shortages, food inflation and, potentially, famine in some places. If you’re still sitting on the fence, I would urge you to get off it and begin preparations. Those who fail to prepare are likely to find themselves in an incredibly difficult situation this fall and next year. Don’t let that be you.

How Bad Is It?

In May 2022, a number of experts started speaking out about the inevitability of coming food shortages. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned of “the specter of a global food shortage in coming months” unless international action is taken,6 and The Economist featured “The Coming Food Catastrophe” on its cover.7

During the 2022 World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, told attendees that “the anxiety about access to food at a reasonable price globally is hitting the roof,”8 and President Biden, in March 2022, told reporters that food shortages are “going to be real.”9

A May 30, 2022, Reuters report10 showed the global food price index had risen 58.5% above the 2014-2016 average as of April 2022, due to a convergence of “post-pandemic global demand, extreme weather, tightening food stocks, high energy prices, supply chain bottlenecks … export restrictions and taxes” combined with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Together, Russia and Ukraine account for as much as 12% of all globally traded calories,11 making the timing of the conflict a particularly perilous one for the world. Not surprisingly, countries that are heavily reliant on imports have seen the steepest food price increases.

In early April 2022, Rockefeller Foundation president Rajiv Shah and Sara Menker, founder of Gro Intelligence, published an op-ed12 in The New York Times blaming “Putin’s war” for the looming food crisis but, clearly, we were already on the path toward global famine long before Putin entered Ukraine.

Weather, for example — whether natural or manufactured — plays an important role. As noted by Shah and Menker, “historic drought” plagues many parts of the world, including the U.S. Midwest, Brazil, Argentina, North Africa, the Middle East13 and India.14 Meanwhile, China’s agricultural lands are drowning under the “heaviest rains in 60 years.”15

How Bad Will It Get?

While it’s difficult to predict just how bad it will get in any given area, it seems safe to say that everyone should prepare for some degree of food shortages, regardless of where you live, as we’re staring at a perfect storm of confounding factors that are global in nature and therefore can cause far-reaching and somewhat unpredictable ripple effects.

As noted by David Wallace-Wells in a June 7, 2022, New York Times op-ed, referring to the price index charts published by Reuters and Shah and Menker:16

“… one thing charts like these do not obviously signal is mass starvation. And yet, according to David Beasley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina who now leads the U.N. World Food Program [WFP], that is what they imply:

[T]he possibility that, as a result of an ongoing food crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, climate change and the continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, 323 million people are ‘marching toward starvation’ as we speak, with 49 million ‘literally at famine’s door’ …

[It] is worth keeping in mind that 49 million is not the number facing ‘acute food insecurity,’ to use the W.F.P.’s technical category distinction.

That number is the much higher one: at least 323 million, which is up, Beasley says, from 276 million before the war, 135 million before the pandemic and 80 million when he joined the W.F.P. in 2017 — a fourfold increase in a single leadership term. Forty-nine million is just the number of those at most immediate risk of death.

Before the war, ‘I was already warning the world that 2022 and 2023 could be the worst two years in the humanitarian world since World War II,’ Beasley says, speaking with me from Rome on last Friday.

‘I’m trying to tell everybody how bad it is — how bad it’s going to be. And then, the next week, I’m like, you know, wipe that clean — it’s worse than what I was saying’ … Beasley believes that 2023 could take a still darker turn.

This year’s price crisis could be succeeded by a genuine supply crisis, in which food is pushed out of reach for many millions not just by price but by ongoing structural conditions (including the failure to plant next year’s harvest in Ukraine and the surge in the price of fertilizer, which can be one-third or more of farmers’ total annual cost), and the world could experience the once-unthinkable: a true shortfall of food.”

According to Menker, the current problem is “not cyclical” but rather “seismic” — “It’s not a moment in time that’s going to pass.”17 Wallace-Wells writes:18

“She cites a longer list of causes, including not just the demand shocks caused by the pandemic and related supply-chain issues but ‘a record number of supply shocks’ that are ‘all climate related,’ such as the rebound of China’s pig population from swine flu and the resulting increase in demand for feed, the problem of public debt in poor countries, the spillover effect of the price of one commodity driving up another and that driving up a third, and so on.

‘Any one of those issues on their own would be considered a big market event. But when you have five of them happening at the same time, that’s what makes it seismic,’ she says.

Russia and Ukraine’s transformation into ‘bread baskets of the world’ was ‘the agricultural miracle of the last sort of 30 years,’ she says, invalidating cataclysmic predictions made by people like Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome.

To take that supply off the market — ‘it’s not an inconsequential fuel to the fire,’ she says. As for the ultimate scale of the impact? ‘I think it’s going to be as big as we make it.’”

Globalization Is a Failed Model

That said, Wallace-Wells points out that agricultural economists appear somewhat more optimistic, as “most food is consumed domestically, not traded on international markets.” So, in many areas, there may be substitutes available for shortages.

According to agricultural economists, “at baseline, there is no true global food shortage, only that unassuming-sounding ‘price crisis,’” Wallace-Wells says,19 and price problems are fixable. It can take time, however, that many won’t have. Personally, I’m not so sure relying on agricultural economists’ optimism is a good idea.

Even though a lot of food is produced and consumed locally, farmers everywhere are struggling with soaring overhead and shortages of required inputs. And, if local farmers can’t grow food because of it, there won’t be any substitutes available when imports lag.

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