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The World Is Awash in Grain

June 01, 2002

Re "There's a Bone to Pick With Meat Eaters," Commentary, May 27: Jeremy Rifkin has been making predictions for a very long time. I suspect that his intentions are honorable. However, he is usually wrong with his predictions and his ultimate conclusions. His commentary, which connects the degree of meat consumption and world hunger, has no basis.

During the Soviet era, as much as 40% of all the USSR's grain production was lost to spoilage, poor harvesting techniques, lack of storage and transportation infrastructure flaws. The world is awash with excess grain production today; "U.S. Exports Misery to Africa With Farm Bill" (May 27) clearly articulates the matter. Grain production surpluses are creating a real problem in the global capitalistic systems. We don't know what to do with the excesses. Producer hardships are a real problem. The world has had excess grain surpluses for a very long time. Surpluses simply won't go away.

Rifkin is correct in stating that the overconsumption of food and animals (meat) is causing a real health concern in America and other developed countries. The fast-food eating trends will cause immeasurable health concerns over time. That has literally nothing to do with starvation in other parts of the world. If all of Earth's humanity became vegetarians, the same number of people would be hungry. It is the forms of government. It is corruption. It isn't even the economy, stupid!

With a world that currently has the largest excess food supply in all of human history, Rifkin's intentions are still honorable. His conclusions are still off the mark. We are drowning in food. We can't give it away. Our farm subsidies confirm it.

Roy A. Fassel

Los Angeles


Rifkin's commentary was great reading and very educational to people who view vegetarians more as extraterrestrials than caring people concerned about the suffering of animals, destruction of the Earth's ecology and personal health. I don't sit around a table preaching what others should eat, but as soon as the subject arises--that I'm vegetarian--many people become very defensive and quite insolent about my choice of lifestyle. They start telling me that maybe I should be concerned about harvesting lettuce, since maybe it is also alive and might feel pain.

The ridiculous conversation takes many absurd turns; I just sit and listen in shock most times. The facts, or my feelings on the subject, are not even up for consideration, since the thought of any human being a vegetarian seems to insult many people.

Myriam Giovannini

Woodland Hills


Rifkin's basic premise is that grain producers sell their grain to cattlemen when they could just as easily give it away for charitable purposes. It's a pleasant thought (that everyone should address every ill in the world), but alas, that is not how the world functions. Grain producers sell to cattlemen not out of a nefarious deal (a conspiracy?) to make fatter cattle for the wealthy West's consumers; they sell to the people who can guarantee the best purchase terms.

The answer, therefore, is not some central-planning solution (i.e., as in a Soviet designation of grain distribution and sales). The solution is to assist the countries in question to achieve economic and political gains so that they can purchase grain (and technology, etc.) on the open market with fair terms.

James Boshnack



Rifkin must not have known about the front-page article running in the same issue. "U.S. Exports Misery to Africa With Farm Bill" (May 27) presents arguments that current and future overproduction of grain in the world is detrimental to African farmers. Rifkin claims there is not enough grain to feed both people and livestock. He should know that the reason some people starve while the rest of us are well-fed on beef is because corrupt leaders choose to let others starve, not because we feed our grain to cattle. I would sooner send my steak to Somalia than eat it--if they would let me.

John Fortman



Rifkin's harangue, subtitled "Growing grain for feed instead of food may be humanity's greatest evil yet," seems somewhat extreme. Where is this man when I protest the growing of grain to make gasohol? Now, that is absurd.

Gilbert S. Bahn



You forgot to mention how vegetables, even some organic vegetables, rely on the manure from those same grain-fed dairy cows, beef steer, swine, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens. So pick your poison.

David Garcia


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