Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taiwanese Food Policy

Recently food policy seems to be a big issue in Taiwan, at least judging by how frequently the Taipei Times mentions it. A common assumption is that Taiwan should aim to be self-sufficient in food production. Michael Turton offers a more concrete reason than any Taipei Times article:
Increasing grain production is an urgent necessity since rising petroleum prices over the long term gravely threaten Taiwan's food security. In 2008 when oil hit $120 a barrel Taiwan stopped importing sweet corn from the US and sourced it from China. Since China is also a food deficit country, this is obviously not sustainable. Long-term projections for climate change show that the grain regions of the central and western US are going to suffering from permanent drought by mid century (for example) and Taiwan can expect further declines in rain. Preparation now is urgently necessary.

My question is: why so urgent? Why can we not let fields lie fallow until it is necessary to increase Taiwan's food supply again? Farming is an environmentally damaging enterprise, consuming 70% of Taiwan's water and huge tracts of land that could otherwise be left to nature, and gives off CO2 to boot. Increasing food production now is solving one potential problem- a problem that may, hopefully, never come to pass- by exacerbating already-existing problems, namely water shortages, global warming and the erosion of natural ecologies.
It seems to me that modern economic policy is obsessed with boosting consumption in order to boost production. The problem with that is that ever-increasing consumption eats up an ever-larger share of the planet's limited resources. This approach combines the worst of capitalism and socialism. A capitalist solution would be to let prices increase so people consume less and farmers produce more, and both groups waste less. Some form of welfare could be used to guarantee enough food for the poor. A socialist/ communist response would be to ration food, so that all people are given the same amount of food regardless of income. Keep in mind that reducing consumption does not mean starving people; it means people eat foods that themselves don't eat up as many resources, for example less meat and more vegetables.
Any thoughts? Am I missing some facts, or using faulty logic?

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