World trade, food policies debated at panel discussion

Friday, April 11, 2003

Despite the ability of agribusinesses to produce massive amounts of food, one of every six people in the world is going to sleep hungry in 2003.

During Thursday's Great Decisions program at the Cape Girardeau Public Library, 21 attendees debated the world trade and food policies that make that possible.

Two of three scheduled panel members were unable to participate in the discussion, leaving Dr. Robert Polock Jr., a social science professor at Southeast Missouri State University, as the point man. He said the $3 trillion debt poorer countries owe is keeping them from developing their own economies. "The only way these countries have to pay off their debt is to sell off resources like trees and fisheries," he said.

"... Poor people are being driven off the land to make it available for exporting commodities."

With the U.S. requiring other countries to drop their tariffs, large agribusiness companies such as ADM and Cargill Foods flood markets in Third World countries with cheap food, Polock says, putting small farmers out of business.

Dr. Russ Kullberg, a retired Southeast biology professor, thinks the lack of food in the world is due to an over abundance of people. He pointed out that the world population is doubling every 40 years. "There is no end," he said. "We are producing more food, and that produces more people."

He also worries that the world is running out of energy supplies.

Others maintained that some new source of energy such as hydrogen will be developed when needed.

Barbara Port wondered why genetically modified foods are being shunned by some countries when there are people starving.

Debt history questioned

Frances Brockett asked how these Third World countries got so far into debt. Polock said it was a combination of factors, including large-scale projects such as hydro-electric dams and nuclear plants that were never completed, theft due to government corruption and huge military expenditures.

"Now the poor people are stuck with this debt," he said. "... A good case can be made that the debt is not legitimate."

Charles Stalon, a former economic regulator and college professor, is not opposed to forgiving the debt but maintained that the problem of how to develop economies in poor nations would still remain. He wondered whether Third World farmers losing their land was any different from American farmers surrendering theirs in large numbers during the 20th century.

Polock favors fostering sustainable agriculture in poor countries. He belongs to the Heifer Project, an international program that provides families with livestock so they can feed themselves and become more self-reliant.

Phillips Brown, a retired Southeast economics professors, said he always assumed that enough capital, inventions and discoveries would make a country's economy grow indefinitely. "I don't believe that now," he said. "Much of our capital is a substitute for labor."

Sara Bohnert of Altenburg and her three home-schooled children participate in the Great Decisions program. Seventeen-year-old Josh said it gives them "a wider view of the issues."

His mother said her family is still investigating the facts about genetically modified foods but recently toured a Monsanto plant. "I think I'm confident with what they have done so far," she said.

Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University, is the moderator for the program. The final "Great Decisions" program of this series will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the library. The panel discussion will focus on U.S. foreign policy.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: