Marie Antoinette isn't around any more but it seems that her spectre still haunts the halls of many governments around the world. Haiti, Africa and many areas of Asia are experiencing riots because of the high cost of food.
But it is not just those "Third World" countries that have poverty issues; the coming Presidential election in the United States is being influenced strongly by the apparent crash of the economy. Canada is avoiding the worst of it so far and Manitoba is in better shape than most of the country.
Nevertheless, most advocates agree that the next big issue that needs to be addressed is poverty and especially the rising cost of food. Manitobans live in one of the world's breadbasket areas and yet the price of flour has doubled in the last six months. If the farm population was benefiting from the increase it might be easier to accept but that is not the case.
One just has to scan the National Farmers Union website to recognize that the income crisis in rural areas is still very much alive and well. It is also not just among grain growers, the collapse of livestock markets has been very much front and centre in the last few months.
Seniors and others on low income are being hit especially hard. We are already victims of the cost of living squeeze. When it comes to determining the COL increase on Old Age Security every three months, for instance does the Federal Government consider the expensive special needs of older adults?
In this issue we are talking about food so don't get me started about the cost of prescription drugs, housing and transportation. If we are to take advantage of the ‘healthy aging' programs that the Province is promoting then we need to be able to eat healthy foods. After all that is where it all begins; if you do not stoke the engine with the right fuel obviously it will break down all the quicker and cost more to fix.
While everyone should eat fresh and healthy food, seniors for the most part have even greater needs. Many more of us, like this writer suffer the effects of diabetes and similar ailments that require us to eat low fat or sugarless foods. The big food manufacturers know they have a captive consumer and appear to be really sticking it to us.
"Grain" is a publication that is available on the Internet at grain.org
With contributions from researchers around the world it keeps track of what is happening with food. They are especially concerned with maintaining sustainable supplies.
An April contribution from Montreal researcher Devlin Kuyek had this to say about the present crisis:
"The world food crisis is hurting a lot of people, but global agribusiness firms, traders and speculators are raking in huge profits. The fundamental cause of today's food crisis is neo-liberal globalization itself, which has transformed food from a source of livelihood security into a mere commodity to be gambled away, even at the cost of widespread hunger among the world's poorest people.
"The world's largest potash producer, Canada's Potash Corp, made more than US$1 billion in profit in 2007, up more than 70% from 2006. Panicking now about future supplies, governments are becoming desperate to boost their harvests, giving these corporations additional leverage.
"Cargill's Mosaic Corporation, which controls much of the world's potash and phosphate supply, more than doubled its profits last year. Its biggest profits come from global trading in agricultural commodities, which, together with a few other big traders, it pretty much monopolizes. They're the ones who are profiting immensely now from this food crisis. So even though we're in a situation where millions of people can no longer afford to fulfill their basic food needs, you have corporations making record profits
"There are only a small number of companies that control the trade in basic cereals, and Cargill's one of these companies. And its profits are higher than they've been in years. Right now, Cargill's making approximately $471,000 an hour in profits. Cargill's also one of the world's largest fertilizer companies. And so in a time like this where countries are desperate to increase their food production, Cargill and other fertilizer companies are taking advantage of this and boosting up the prices that they're charging for the fertilizer."
The point of view of Kuyek may be considered somewhat radical to some but the simple fact remains that since about 1960 the population of the earth has more or less doubled and at the same time grain production has more than tripled. Less than half of that production is eaten by people; the rest is animal feed and now much of it is going into bio-fuels.
There is something wrong with a system in which technology has increased food production more than ever before, the average Manitoban producing farmers are hardly making a living off their crops and yet millions of people around the world are either unable to get or can't afford to buy bread.