declared the EU foreign commissioner, Josep Borrell: “(…) It is unimaginable that millions of tons of wheat continue to be blocked in Ukraine while people in the rest of the world are starving (…). This is a true war crime.” A week earlier it was reported that “the shipment with 18,000 tons of Ukrainian corn (…) has arrived at the port of A Coruña this Monday through a new maritime route opened by the Baltic to avoid the blockade of the Russian Navy (…) . The corn will be unloaded at the San Diego dock to be stored and later sent to the factories that make feed for livestock (…)”. Leaving now aside the benefits of Putin, isn’t there any dissonance here?
And it is that, as a manifest With 676 firms from the scientific world, the grain that the European Union uses as feed almost triples that exported by Ukraine. We can add that Spain, according to data of the Laboratory of the History of Agroecosystems, allocated in 2008 65% of its agricultural production (in dry weight) to feed cattle, or the equivalent of 85% of its production if we add the net import of feed. When, instead of directly consuming the cultivated food, it is first passed through the stomachs of cattle, only the average amount of 12% of the initial food. Therefore, we are talking about a loss equivalent to 75% of Spanish agricultural production. And since 2008 the problem has not stopped getting worse: it serves as an indicator that Spanish meat production increased by 28% from 2008 to 2018. Many countries they cannot afford such capricious and inefficient agri-food systems, and have a much more plant-based diet, as it was yesteryear in our lands. What it is about now is not to leave them without any kind of food, for their sake and, as I hope to make it very clear, for ours.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated a food crisis that has only worsened in recent years, due to the joint impact of the climate and energy crisis, the pandemic, the speculation and armed conflicts (often not unrelated to the other elements mentioned). According to FAOthe number of what it calls “severely food insecure” (namely, who will have gone days without anything to eat repeatedly throughout the year) reached 924 million already in 2021 and continues to grow. The UN forecasts, for 81 particularly affected countries, that by 2022 the figure will have multiplied by almost 2.5 in just three years. The UNICEF emphasizes that, every minute, one more girl or boy falls into a state of severe malnutrition. Add the UN that this is only the beginning, since, while what there is for now is a crisis of access to available food, in 2023 there may well not be enough food to meet all the demand. This means that “maritime routes” and others are just patches, which can complement but not replace a responsible prioritization of the uses of agricultural production, in which the demand for human food comes before more expendable demands.
In particular, given the extraordinary magnitude of agricultural production used as feed, the urgency of declaring a moratorium on the next production cycles of livestock whose food competes with human food is obvious. What political leader has an excuse to refuse a measure that is a matter of life or death? In case it wasn’t enough that it was for non-human animals (or, in this case, rather, a matter of unlivable lives), or for humans decades or years away (for climate emergency and unsustainability), now it is for millions of humans in months to come. And, in case human deaths of low purchasing power do not count for those responsible either (except as a rhetorical weapon against the opponent from the East), how about we talk about taking steps to avoid an unprecedented crisis also in the European Union?
What does all this have to do with avoiding a crisis in the European Union? Apart from the pockets of hunger that appear in their territory and that, for the moment, the governments have the capacity to alleviate if they so decide, it has to do with at least two challenges that could overwhelm them in months to come if they do not act now. First, the food crisis is poised to trigger a global instability unprecedented, from which the European Union cannot remain on the sidelines. If the crisis in a relatively small country like Syria (provoked largely due to the loss of crops due to climate change) had so much repercussion in Europe, from attacks to the advances of the extreme right using the handful of refugees as a pretext, what could not happen in a scenario in which instability reaches to countless countries? To give an example here next to Europe, Egypt, with its one hundred million human inhabitants, depends on a 86% of Ukrainian and Russian wheat (and let us remember that the lack of Ukrainian and Russian exports is only part of the problem).
Second, there is the way in which the European Central Bank is reacting to the increase in the prices of food and other resources (not to prevent mass starvation but to moderate inflation in the euro zone). If instead of selectively contracting the demand for resources whose supply is limited, and prioritizing their use sensibly, what is done is to contract demand indiscriminately with monetary tools, what lies ahead in the euro zone, and especially here in the south, it is unemployment, cuts and the threat of a new sovereign debt crisis, if not the collapse of the economy. Furthermore, as noted by UN, such a policy will not help alleviate the food crisis, quite the contrary, since the countries in which it is most vicious will also see their currencies devalued and their external debt multiplied. In contrast, the moratorium on feed, if combined with a call for citizens to contribute by adopting, even temporarily, a more plant-based diet, would be an example of intelligent demand management, which could be extended to other resources. It would be beneficial for everyone except for a few sectors (whose lobby are, on the other hand, so powerful).
On June 16, I had the opportunity to be part of a delegation from Animal Rebellion Barcelona that met with the Minister of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Teresa Jordà, in which we presented the proposal, with three legs. First of all, the moratorium itself. To be clear, what we are talking about is not killing cattle so they do not consume feed. It already happens every day that these animals are quickly killed: pigs after a few months of life, chickens after a few weeks. What it is about is not to replace them, to cancel the next productive cycles, to suspend the breeding of new generations of cattle fed with fodder that competes with human food, or, more plausibly in the short term, to limit it to some extent.
The second leg is to appeal to the collaboration of citizens by changing their consumption patterns, at least temporarily, through an information campaign on the reasons for the moratorium, the Benefits benefits of a plant-based diet for individual health and collective sustainability, and What approach it in a nutritionally adequate way. To also be clear, without feed that competes with human food it’s not possiblenot even remotely, the current level of consumption of food of animal origin, food that, in addition, we do not need. The third leg is economic support to the affected sectors, although not only to help them endure temporarily, but, in most cases, to facilitate a transition beyond food of animal origin. We are awaiting the final position of the Minister.
How could it be otherwise, other people have also noticed the absurdity of not taking feed into account in the response to the food crisis, such as the signatories of the aforementioned manifest scientific. This manifesto calls for accelerating “the shift towards healthier diets with fewer animal products in Europe (and other high-income countries)”. Here I am also talking about more specific proposals, in particular the moratorium and the call for citizen collaboration during this, the temporary nature of which may allow them to take hold much more in society, thus making them especially effective in the short term, and also long-term. Also in the long term because there will be many people who, once they know the benefits of a plant-based diet and have practiced it for a while, will prefer it. In addition to improving the Health of those who practice it, this will bring an extraordinary benefit in terms of animal ethics, and also to mitigate the climatic, ecological and epidemiological crisis, and to prepare for when the dilemma between human food or feed is no longer temporary, as perhaps (only maybe) is now, but final.
Is the European Union already taking a similar measure? Well, from the outset, however criminal and suicidal (or clumsy and hasty?) he may be, he’s doing just the opposite. just approved an amendment that will allow the member states to generously subsidize the livestock industry to compensate for the increase in the price of feed, or, what is the same, so that it competes with an advantage with human food. However, these aids could be redirected as aid to pass the moratorium and for reconversions towards other types of production with more future.
Demanding a moratorium is not asking for the moon: much greater was the intervention in the economy in response to the pandemic, and now we are once again facing an unprecedented crisis, but which, at the same time, gives us an unprecedented opportunity to change things, for the future of our species and others. We have the work ahead of us, the challenge of creating social awareness and putting pressure on state, sub-state and supra-state governments of all wealthy countries. The moratorium will be easier if several countries endorse it jointly, but any government can take the initiative, take it to international forums and apply it in its own country, even starting with a very partial moratorium. It is urgent to persuade governments to live up to the historical moment, so that they dare to leave the comfort zone of the marked path (and endorsed by the lobby meat) and give a rudder to the Titanic.