Despite Bumper Harvests, Lester Brown's Sky is Still Falling
October 1, 2004
Volume 6 / Number 30
Lester Brown is at it again.
The world's grain harvests have for four years fallen short of consumption, the founder of the Worldwatch Institute recently told the Christian Science Monitor.
These shortfalls have pulled down the world's grain reserves to only 59 days of consumption. Is mass starvation just around the corner, or is the inventor of the
grain reserves shell game, as my late colleague James A. Miller called it, merely up to his old tricks?
Steven W. Mosher
Despite Bumper Harvests, Lester Brown's Sky is Still Falling
Back in 1965, Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute wrote that
the food problem emerging in the less-developing regions of the world may be one of the most nearly insoluble problems facing man over the next few decades.1
Wrong. The battle against hunger and malnutrition is being won. World food production continues to increase more rapidly than population. Over the course of the eighties, grain production per person increased by more than 5 percent. Since then, it has increased another 5 percent per person. The best measure of global food security is the number of calories available per person per day. This number, it turns out, has been moving steadily upward for decades, climbing from 2,371 in 1968 to 2,800 in 1999. We are already growing more than enough food to keep the world's population well fed, if that food were evenly distributed. And we are not far from producing the 3,000 calories per day required by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in a free market, where access to food depends upon being able to purchase it. The number of people worldwide suffering from acute malnutrition has fallen by three-quarters since 1960.
The doomsayers, led by Lester Brown, continue to reject such views as
cornucopian. Since global grain production and yield per acre continue to climb, how does he justify such pessimism? Often by resorting to what my late colleague, James A. Miller, called the
grain reserves shell game, that's how.2 For decades Lester Brown has argued that the best measure of global
food security was the number of days of consumption represented by global grain reserves.
days of consumption figure is tailor-made for the media: it is instantly grasped and makes for screaming headlines such as this one from the generally staid New York Times,
Expert Says World Has 27 Days of Food!3 Today Brown is still at it, telling the Christian Science Monitor that the world's grain reserves have shrunk to only 59 days of consumption, which he maintains is the lowest level in 30 years.4
Wrong again. Such a calculation is beset with problems, not the least of which is that there is no generally agreed upon figure for global grain reserves. Harvest times vary by crop, season, climate, and hemisphere, just to name a few variables. The very USDA figures that Brown uses for his calculations, warns the Department of Agriculture, are *an aggregate of differing local marketing years and should not be construed as representing world stock levels at a fixed point in time.*5 (italics added) Moreover, grains provide (1) only about half of mankind's food needs and (2) a fair percentage of this is fed to livestock. But meat and dairy products are entirely excluded from Brown's calculations.
The difficulty, not to say the inanity, of calculating global grain reserves perhaps explains why Brown's figures have been wildly inconsistent over the years. In 1974 he cried that we had only 26 days of food left, but in a 1988 retrospective report, he admitted that the real 1974 figure had been 61 days. His estimate for 1976 was a belt-tightening 31 days, which by 1988 had somehow ballooned to 79 days. In 1980 he told us that food prospects were again precarious, with only a 40-day supply on hand, but a few years later he said it had actually been 71 days. As James Miller remarked,
What is one to make of the following *days of consumption figures for the year 1974, all of which Brown issued at various times over a 14 year period: 26 or 27 days (1974); 33 days (1975); 40 days (1981); 43 days (1987); and 61 days (1988).*6 What I make of them, Jim, is that Brown fudges the grain figures for maximum media impact, then gradually floats them up to their real level years later when he thinks no one is looking.
In his more sober moments, Brown acknowledges that the market sets strict upper limits on world grain stocks. In 1987 he even wrote that *...when stocks exceed 80 days-the situation in 1985 and 1986-world grain prices are severely depressed and government treasuries suffer as they try to support farm prices and maintain farm income ...competition for markets intensifies and trade wars develop. The cost of carrying unnecessarily large stocks becomes burdensome.* And, one might add, as the marketing, storing, and shipping of grain becomes more efficient, production corresponds more exactly to supply. Grain reserves are declining over time not because consumption is outpacing production, as Brown would have it, but because there is no point in storing grain for years on end in an era of increasing abundance.
And abundance, not shortfalls, is our future, says Nobel-prize winning agronomist Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution. Having helped feed India's billion, he predicts no difficulty in feeding a world of 10 billion:
The world has the technology-either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline-to feed a population of 10 billion people. ... Even without using advances in plant biotechnology, yields can be increased by 50 to 70 percent in much of the Indian subcontinent, Latin America, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and by 100 to 150 percent in much of sub-Saharan Africa, providing political stability is maintained [and] bureaucracies that destroy entrepreneurial initiative are reined in.7
Instead of tapering off, agricultural productivity appears set to make a major leap forward based on the genetic engineering of food plants. One example of potential gains in crop yields comes from the effort to produce aluminum-tolerant grains. Aluminum affects a third of the world's cropland, particularly where acidic soils make the aluminum soluble, allowing it to be taken up by the roots of plants. Varieties of corn which produce 10 tons per hectare in the absence of aluminum are so stunted by its presence that they yield only about 2 tons per hectare.8 Borlaug predicts another 50 percent increase in yields over the next 35 years from this and other advances in genetic engineering-if their development is not hindered by anti-science activism.9
Or by the wolf-crying of Lester Brown, whose solution to his imaginary food shortage is, as he also told the Christian Science Monitor, to encourage population control in developing countries.
1 Lester R. Brown,
Population growth, food needs, and production problems, World Population and Food Supplies 1989, ASA special publication 6:17-20, Madison, WI, American Society of Agronomy.
2 James A. Miller,
Lester Brown's Grain Reserves' Shell Game, PRI Review, Vol. 1, No. 4 (July/August 1991), p.1-4.
3 The New York Times, 24 August 1974, p. 2.
4 David R. Francis,
Despite Bumper Harvest, World's Cupboard Grows Bare, Christian Science Monitor, e-mail from Negative Population Growth, 27 September 2004.
5 This sentence has appeared in every USDA grain report for decades. See USDA Foreign Agriculture Circular-Grains, FG 3-75, 4 February 1975, note 8, p.2, and note 1, page 22; and USDA World Grain Situation and Outlook, FG 1-91, January 1991, note 7, p. 34.
6 James A. Miller,
Lester Brown's Grain Reserves' Shell Game. PRI Review, Vol. 1, No. 4 (July/August 1991), p. 2.
7 Norman Borlaug,
Feeding a World of 10 Billion People, Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ronald Bailey, Editor, 2002, p. 29-60.
8 Marcia Barinaga,
Making plants aluminum tolerant, Science, Vol. 276, No. 5318, 6 June 1997. See also Ron Brunton,
The Myth of World Food Shortages, PRI Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (February/March 1999), p. 6.
9 Norman Borlaug,
Feeding a World of 10 Billion People, Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ronald Bailey, Editor, 2002, p. 40.
For more articles, click the first link in each drop-down menu, e.g. 2010 (v12).
- Weekly Briefing: Español
- La próxima batalla legislativa: el Proyecto de Ley sobre la toma de conciencia sobre el dolor
- ¿La legalización reduciría el aborto en América Latina?
- Las interrogantes de la demografía actual
- Informe de los Medios de Comunicación: Depo Provera es peligrosa para su salud.
- Canadá: una sorpresa ingrata
- Enfermeras dan el ejemplo: renuncian para no distribuir la Píldora del Día Siguiente a
- Ampliación de la Noticia: La desaparición del matrimonio
- Recordando a Reagan
- Population Research Institute expande su actividad; incorporándose en la fundación de
- Frenando la Expansión del HIV/SIDA mediante la Abstinencia (y la Doctrina Católica)
- Los Programas de Planificación Familiar de USAID merman los esfuerzos para frenar la promiscu
- Weekly Briefing: 2014 (v16)
- Weekly Briefing: 2013 (v15)
- Russia Chooses Life
- The Numbers Don’t Lie: Babies are Blessings for Everyone
- Controlling Women’s Desires in Kenya
- Why Do Filipino Women Die in Childbirth?
- Franchising Abortion and Sterilization
- Open response to: “Overpopulation: Should America have a one-child policy?
- What Does China Want?
- One Small Snip for Man, One Giant Snip for Mankind
- The End of America—as America
- Refugees Subject to Population Control
- Debunking the Myth of Overpopulation
- Contraception as a "Solution" to Abortion: No way!
- Cutting Foreign Aid to Save Lives
- A Crime in Time—and Again
- Catholic Relief Services Leaves Many Questions Unanswered
- Weekly Briefing: 2012 (v14)
- Will Russia Come Back to Life?
- China's one-child policy itself leads to forced abortions
- Why is Government (and Society) Discouraging Childbearing?
- UNICEF Should Rename Itself the United Nations Sex for Children Fund, or UNISEX
- America’s Pediatricians Claim the Right to Contracept Your Kids
- The Mirena IUD is Becoming More Popular - and the Lawsuits are Piling Up
- America's Depressed Birthrate
- Question: What Can we Expect From a Second Obama Administration on the Life Issues?
- Attending the Abortionists’ Annual Pep Rally
- Norplant is Back--Under a Different Name
- Sorry, Mr. Vice President, That Is Not a "Fact"
- Teenage Girl Becomes Infertile after Gardasil Vaccination
- The Contradiction of WHO
- Is Abortion Ever “Necessary?” The Evidence Says “No!”
- Of Mice and Men: New Study Touts a Male Contraceptive
- Weekly Briefing: 2011 (v13)
- Merry Christmas from PRI
- T-Shirts Are Available NOW!
- Catholic Health Care in Jeopardy
- Ban Sex Selective Abortions in the U.S.
- Pro-Life Amendment Defeated in Pro-Life Mississippi
- Baby Seven Billion, Welcome.
- Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics ... and Population Graphs
- Traditional Family Values
- We're In For A Scary Halloween (If You Listen to the Population Controllers)
- Take Good Care of Your Health Care Records - Or the Government Will!
- China's One-Child Policy Toll Reaches 400 Million
- Catholic Bishops Weigh Into Budget Debate
- Latest PRI Video Shows Collapse of Russia
- "Understanding" Joe Biden Perfects the Kowtow
- U.N. Climate Models Flawed - Grossly Exaggerate Warming Effect
- Weekly Briefing: 2010 (v12)
- Fourth Episode of Overpopulation Cartoon Series
- Turner Calls for Global One-Child Policy
- Love and HIV/AIDS
- Pope Benedict Misquoted on Condoms -- Again
- Planned Parenthood Wants to Abort Us into Prosperity
- As Elections Draw Near, PRI Releases Groundbreaking Video
- Does Obamacare Fund Abortion? Let Us Count the Ways.
- Islamic Terrorism and Fertility
- China's Thirty Years War Against its Own People Slated to Continue
- Time to Pay an "End-of-Life Visit" to ObamaCare
- PRI Updates Web Site, Releases New Video
- Radical Environmentalists Disclaim Responsibility for Eco-Terrorist James Lee
- A Farce: The UN's World Youth Conference
- After Passage of Pro-Abortion Constitution, Kenyan Bishops Urge Immediate Amendment
- The United Nations must love Catholics, we give them their best ideas.
- Weekly Briefing: 2009 (v11)
- In His Push for Socialized Medicine, Harry Reid Trashes the Hyde Amendment
- Global Warming Science? Nope, Global Warming Scam.
- Senator Max Baucus Wants to Teach Your Kids About Sex
- Blasted Ovaries: The Failure of Contraceptive Vaccines
- The Overpopulation Movement Struggles to Stay Relevant
- What's Next for the Pro-Life Movement in Health Care Reform?
- Sneak Attack on the Mexico City Policy
- Spain Awakens Against Abortion
- Merck Researcher Admits: Gardasil Guards Against Almost Nothing
- With 19 You Get Heaven
- Population Control to Combat Climate Change?
- Illegal Abortion Hot-Lines: A New Attack on the Unborn
- Obama to Seniors: Take Two Aspirin and Call Me When You're Dead
- Washington Feels the Wrath of Pro-Life Voters
- People Are The Enemy
- Weekly Briefing: 2008 (v10)
- Doug Kmiec's Departure from the Pro-Life Movement
- The Huffington Post Gets It Wrong--Again
- Abortion and Intolerance: Constants of the Left?
- China Frees Pregnant Mom after International Outcry
- Executive (Dis)Orders: Pro-life Policies Set to be Jettisoned
- Payback Time: What Planned Parenthood Expects from Obama
- Killing The Economy: Dennis Howard's "Elephant In The Living Room"
- How to Sell Out Your Country With Just One Word
- Is Immigration the Answer to the Current Economic Crisis?
- Wisconsin Offers "Free" Birth Control -- with Your Money
- USAID Denies Funding to Abortion Group Implicated in Forced Abortions and Sterilizations in China; PRI Applauds Action
- A New Front in the Abortion Wars
- Cyclebeads: The UNFPA Discovers Natural Family Planning, Sort Of
- Sarah Palin, An American Original
- "Kids: Your Time Is Up" -- Global Warming Game Targets Vulnerable Youngsters
- Weekly Briefing: 2007 (v09)
- Preserving Parental Rights in Panama
- Saving the Mexico City Policy
- How Family Planning Programs Cause Sex-Selective Abortion, Female Infanticide, and Other Forms of Ch
- Patrick Carroll's Research and the ABC Link Debate
- What Women Want (Hint: Not Reproductive Health Care)
- Fighting for Our Rights
- Reproductive Health Mortality
- House Democrats Stage Hearing on the Mexico City Policy
- Gender Equity and the Demeaning of Men's Issues
- The Obstetric Fistula Fallacy
- Chimeras, Great Britian, and the Brave New World
- Are There Too Many Columbians
- US Bishops Issue a New CALL to Latinos
- HillaryCare, 2.0
- HIV/AIDS: Western Failure and Ugandan Success
- Weekly Briefing: 2006 (v08)
- Irish Exceptionalism at an End?
- Suicide of the West?
- 300 Million and Immigration: Separating the Issues
- A Cut for Population Control Money?
- 300 Million, Social Security, and Solvency
- Pro-Life Politics
- The Small Problem of Suburban Sprawl
- Three Hundred Million and Counting
- Abortion the Cheap Easy Way
- Life in the News
- Restricting Women's Rights
- FDA Prepares Sell-Out on MAP
- Senate Democrats'Make-Believe on Girls' Abortions
- Kinder, Gentler Genocide in Mongolia
- World Population Aging 2006
- Weekly Briefing: 2005 (v07)
- What Mexican Women Want
- Will making pregnancy profitable save Italy from demographic destruction?
- House Takes an Interest in the RU-486 Poison Pill
- Getting U.S. Out of Abortion
- Time for a RU-486 Rollback
- A Feast for Life
- More Smiles for Scalito
- Abuse of Chinese Women and Children
- France's End
- Smiles for Scalito
- Abortion Doubters at the Washington Post?
- Mostly the Same, But UNFPA Discovers Fatherlessness
- UN AIDS Envoy Cant Stomach Abstinence
- Living the Gospel of Life Down Under
- Pro-Abortion Court Revolution Targets Colombia
- Weekly Briefing: 2004 (v06)
- Unlike Europe's, U.S. Population Continues to Grow--And in the Right Places
- Abortion by Other Means
- China's Persecution of Women and Children: More of the Same
- Canada Cuts off Chinese Women's Freedom in Order to Spite America's Face
- Would Legalization Reduce Abortion in Latin America?
- The Conscience Protection Amendment and NARAL's "D"
- The Abortion Pill Can Kill Mothers, Too
- Will Families Benefit from Tax Reform?
- The Unacceptable Arlen Specter
- How to Reduce the Number of Abortions (Hint:
- UNICEF: The Mask is Off!
- Secularism's Demographic Conundrum
- Despite Bumper Harvests, Lester Brown's Sky is Still Falling
- Peruvian Congress could punish prolife congressmen.
- Media Reports: Depo Provera Is Hazardous to your Health
- Weekly Briefing: 2003 (v05)
- Exposing Domestic Abortion Strategies
- New Revision Points to Underpopulation Crisis
- PRI needs your help for continued success in 2004
- The Coming Demographic Victory
- In Thanksgiving to God for People
- People: the Greatest Unmet Need
- Gates, Microsoft Urged by Shareholders to Cease Making Charitable Contributions
- President Bush Signs Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003
- The BBC's Method of HIV/AIDS Prevention
- Judge Robert Bork in Lincoln Nebraska
- USAID-funded FHI Exploits Women
- Population Control on our Shores
- The Two Sides of the Culture of Death
- Secretary Powell Cuts $25 Million More from UNFPA
- USAID Undercuts U.S. Global HIV/AIDS Initiative
- Weekly Briefing: 2002 (v04)
- Casting Lotts and Throwing Stones in the U.S. Congress
- Bush vs. Bangkok, Abortion as 'Reproductive Health'
- UK Pro-Aborts Seek to CHANGE Peruvian Health Policy
- UNFPA Seeks Drinking Friends to Fund Forced Abortion
- Condom Kingdom Deflated by Failure (Are You Listening, Bill?)
- USAID "Shifts" Focus to More Aggressive Population Policy for the Philippines
- Making "Reproductive Rights" (Read: Abortion) a Relic of the Past
- Broken Promises: Reproductive Rights Agenda Betrays Women and Children
- EU to Increase UNFPA Funding? Not so Fast!
- UNFPA Admits it Has No Way to Monitor China's Forced Abortion Population Program
- Graduating Countries from Population Control
- Foreign Aid in a Grown Up World
- ABOUT FACE: Norplant Victim Sues Wyeth, OBGYN for $120 Million
- How to Save Lives with $34 Million
- Project Afghanistan: A Situation Report
- Weekly Briefing: 2001 (v03)
- Urgent Action Alert! Call on President Bush to Zero-Fund UNFPA
- UNFPA Whitewashes Forced Abortion in China
- Hillary Clinton Forces Abortion Rights Agenda on Afghan Women
- Pro-Family Groups Condemn UNFPA
- Abortion Zealots Threaten Afghan Women
- Muslims Shocked by Western-led 'Genocide' in Refugee Camps
- UNFPA Hides Coercion Behind a Green Front
- An open letter from Steven W. Mosher to Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Popu
- PRI Investigation of UNFPA Prompts Hearing on Forced Abortion in China
- UNFPA Supports Coercive Family Planning—Including Forced Abortion—In China (and PRI Has
- Abortion Group Targets Vulnerable Victims of Terror
- China's Role in Osama bin Laden's 'Holy War' On America
- America's Frozen Population
- What African Women Want (not "Reproductive Health Care")
- About Face
- Weekly Briefing: 2000 (v02)
- What the Abortion-Breast Cancer Link Means for Women in the Developing World
- Executive Orders to Save Lives
- Heedless of Demographic Dangers, Beijing Pushes Ahead with One-Child Policy
- Amend U.S. China Policy
- United in Opposing People
- RU 486 and Our Ties to China
- Abortion and Population Control
- Drowning Babies in Dollars
- AIDS and Population Control In Africa
- Family Planning Costs Lives
- Another Country
- Population Growth and its Enemies
- Immigration verus Population Control
- Land of the Setting Sun
- The Ordeal of Chinese Mothers Continues: New Evidence of Massive Female Infanticide
- Weekly Briefing: 1999 (v01)
- Planned Giving
- Depopulation Strikes New England
- Albright Scrambles to Appease Population Control Allies
- Wei Jingsheng Calls for Democracy in America
- UNFPA Bribes Kosovo Gynecologist
- Chinese Freedom Fighters to Meet at Historical Summit Conference
- Population Control and the New Global Racism
- Welcome Baby Six Billion!
- UNFPA Spokesman Lies About Milosevic Partnership to Preserve US Funding
- Know Your Rights!
- Feminist Rights Agenda Storms United Nations
- When Family Planning Is Ethnic Cleansing
- New York Post Faults UN Agency for Ethnic Cleansing of Albanians
- Reversing Itself, UNFPA Admits Ties to Milosevic Regime
- Disney Continues to Propagandize 'Myth of Overpopulation' in Public Schools