Commentary

[SCMP Column] Vulnerable Choke Points

July 22, 2017

Around 60 per cent of Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports (12 percent of the global total, and growing fast) depend on rail to reach the Black Sea, then go onward through the Turkish Straits past Istanbul and into the Mediterranean. Not only did I not previously realize the huge importance of this region for global wheat production; I did not know that the countries of North Africa and the Middle East are “the most food import-dependent region in the world”, and reliant entirely on supplies delivered through the Turkish Straits. This chokepoint might not worry us in Asia very much, but to many of the world’s most food insecure its smooth operation is crucial.

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[SCMP Column] Invasive Species

May 28, 2016

A study by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew near London found that thousands of plant species are today at risk of extinction from threats ranging from climate change, habitat loss, disease and invasive species. Conservationists have now logged around 5,000 invasive species around the world, and the global cost of tackling invasive species alone is estimated at nearly 5% of global GDP. The annual cost just to the United States economy is estimated at $120 billion a year, with over 100 million acres (an area roughly the size of California) suffering from invasive plant infestations, according to The Nature Conservancy.

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[SCMP Column] Food for Thought

March 28, 2016

As food adulteration problems increase, and governments step in with increasingly strict regulations and increasingly clever technologies to detect adulteration, so it is clear that food fraud problems will never be stamped out. As soon as a new smart test is invented so some smart fraudster with a strong financial incentive will invent some way of circumventing it.

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[SCMP Column] Issue of food security erupts on to agenda of APEC leaders

August 14, 2014


While food production is looking steady, and food consumption in the rich western economies is stable, China’s fast-rising appetite for more meat protein and processed foods is pushing global demand inexorably upwards. China’s wheat imports have jumped 50-fold since 1980, while pork consumption has jumped five-fold to 50m tonnes a year – half of world consumption, and six times more per capita than Americans consume.

The flip side of marvelous success in cutting the world’s under-nourished from over a billion to 840 million is that food consumption is rising sharply in the poor developing parts of the world. Along with this, land and water resources are under increasing stress, and environmental damage is immense.

The fact that APEC officials are dedicating serious attention to food security is commendable. But the fact that they have after two years still refused to define what they mean by “food security” is a source of concern. We are hoping there will not be another Mt Tambora, nor three volcanic winters, any time soon. But even without such a catastrophe, the challenges we face in providing the world’s 7 billion people with food security are more acute than many presume.


 

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What a Waste

September 04, 2010

I was in Chongqing. It was July. And it was very hot. Having asked to look at some of the city’s food export operations, officials compliantly led me into a factory in a drab suburb where hundreds of women spent their days handling pigs intestines. Literally millions of them. Sichuan slaughters over 300 million pigs a year, and the intestines from most of them ended up here.

With unsmiling efficiency, the intestines were flushed clean, wrapped into bundles of 12 intestines at a time, smothered in salt, and laid carefully in vast ceramic urns. Once full, each urn was trundled deep underground, to be stored until summer passed, and temperatures fell. At that point, the urns were raised back to the surface, put on boats down the Yangze to Wuhan, then on trains to Beijing. From Beijing they transferred to the long, slow train to Russia and into Europe. These urns of salted intestines provided sausage casings for a very large share of Europe’s sausages.

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