Protein Imperialism

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Wed Mar 14 14:49:58 MST 2001

[excerpt from a fascinating yet flawed book called The Wealth of Some
Nations by Malcolm Caldwell. Caldwell was an English Maoist of sorts who
was a state guest of Pol Pot then subsequently murdered in still
mysterious circumstances in 1977. He was one the first Marxists to
connect energy supply and agriculture with imperialism. He had
considerable prescience but not enough to realize that the Asian
Commmunism he championed was really the opposite side of the capitalist
coin  --a system set up to bring about modernity by other means. The
goal of the Khmer Rouge was not a sustainable egalitarian agarian nation
but full scale industrialization. He also co-authored two valuable books
on Cambodia and Indonesia. --Sam P.]

"The second point to be kept in mind is that modern
'scientific'agriculture, despite its superficial efficiency and high
level of productivity, is parasitic and ecologically unsound. It
consumesmore energy units than it produces, once account is takenfor all
inputs and concomitant services. As far as US agriculture is
concerned,its apparent technological marvels and its real enough export
performance ought not to blind us to the facts. The American farmer
burns more calories in the production process that the ultimate product
realises. It was fortunate for the States that, until the late 1960's,
low-cost domestic oil balanced the cost factors in the agricultural
energy equation to a great extent (i.e. the underlying imbalaced calorie
exchanges were masked by very low oil prices and government maintenance
of prices paid to farmers for food). This fortuitous circumstance is
fast receding. Again, while the American agricultural sector exports
gross low quality protein in the form of grain (deficient in some
essential amino acids such as tryptophan and lysine), it imports
high-quality proteins (fish meals, presscakes of oil seeds and the like)
from poorer countries. This is what might be called 'protein
imperialism' impoverishing the diets of those who can least afford to
experience further nutritional deterioration, in order to titillate the
obese with forced-fed birds and animals (reared in units run and heated
by combustion of fossil fuel).

 "The overall pictureis roughly this. The poor underdeveloped countries
as a whole annually send to the rich overdeveloped countries as a whole
something like 3.5 million tones of high quality protein (fish, oil
cakes, peas, beans, lentils,etc) while in return the overdeveloped
countires ship to the underdeveloped about 2.5 million tons of gross
mainly grain-based protein. Africa exports ground nuts, Peru fish;
Mexico, Panama, Hong Kong and India (and Thailand--SP) shrimps; in each
case at the expence of their own poor, who-- the exports retained and
fairly distributed could take a giant stride toward nutritional
adequacy. In conrast, Ehrlich and Ehrlich point out, Denmark imports
huge quantites of oilseed cakes and grain to support livestock (for
milk, butter cheese, meat and eggs); annually, Denmark takes in 140 lbs
of protein per head of her population, three times the Danish average
protein consumption. Here er that the typical prodigality of
overdevelopment. It has been calculated that the same amount of food
that feeds 210 million Americans would feed 1.5 billion Asians on an
average Chinese (that is, in Asian terms, a good adequate and nutricious
diet). Animals must consume an average of ten pounds  of plant protein
to produce one pound of meat protein, while for cattle the ratio is as
high as 21:1, which means that every pound of steak consumed in
overdeveloped countries could (in theory) provide an amount of protein
for twenty other people. American meat consumption of meat absorbs an
amount of protein equivalent to 90% of the world's annual protein

"...this kind of energy-intensive,protein wasteful food production
cannot and does not hold out hope of pointing the right way forward" The
Wealth of Some Nations. p102-3. Zed Books. 1977.

[excerpt from Robert Biel The New Imperialism. Zed.2000.--SP]

"One way of showing what is going on is to compare the calorific content
of the crops that are produced with the calories used up in the
processes that produce them. For the most favorable of traditional
crops, cassava, the output-input ratio is as high as 60:1. But
industrial countries' agriculture includes huge energy inputs from
fertiliser, fuel for machinery, processing, canning, transportation,
refrigeration, cooking and so on and the figure is often negative. In
the US food industry, the calorific output:input ratio in 1940 was only
1:5 (that is, inputs were five times as great as output) and by 1970 it
had deteriorated further to 1:10. Returns are clearly diminishing. The
case of fertiliser illustrates this well: increasinglylarge applications
are needed for a decreasing improvement. Holland uses fertiliser at the
extremely high rate of 300kg per hectare. Japan consumes more fertiliser
that the wholeof Latin America. Resources such as phosphate or oil are
drawn in at an inusbstantial cost (neither reflecting the full value of
rents nor that of the labor used to extract them.) to make agriculture
*seem* more efficient...Grain converted to meat loses 75-90% ofits
calories and 65-90% of its proteins. According to FAO figures, for 1978,
animal feed accounted for 36% of the total world consumption of cereals
and for 61% of the world consumption of maize. The total cereal deficit
of the Sahel countries during the famine of 1973 was 1million tons,
which was only .25% of the amount of grain fed to animals in the
industrial countries in the same year. A significant quantity of animal
feed takes the form of high quality protein imported from the south.

"So productivity in the conventional definition of producing more with
less labor is increasing while efficiency in real terms in declining;
there can be little doubts that the two phenomena are linked." p147

Sam Pawlett

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