Oxfam International, a UK-based non-profit, changed its mission to ending poverty and injustice. While Oxfam’s historic focus had been ending world hunger, its U.S. affiliate is now campaigning to bite the hands that feed the world most efficiently.
Oxfam America released “Standing on the Sidelines,” in which it names large food companies as complicit in reckless deforestation, nitrous oxide releases, and other harmful production practices that cause global warming. Oxfam names Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever as the “Big 10.” Oxfam finds these companies guilty of excessive greenhouse gas emissions released both directly and indirectly through others in their agricultural supply chain.
In 2012, The European Union, US, Australia and Canada produced 253 million metric tons of wheat. These are the main locations of the “Big 10” and their supply chains. Oxfam wants the Big 10 to alter their production and supply chain operations by 2020. Oxfam claims that by using so called “best practices,” they could reduce emissions by 30 percent.
There is no “universal” best practice. So-called “best practices” reflect a choice in goals. You can create a best practice for speediest production, or volume of production, or lowest cost of production, or lowest cost within existing labor commitments, and so on. The 30 percent “improvement” Oxfam touts could easily wreak havoc with commitments made to labor, transporters, distribution channels, and lowest costs. Only the “maximum production” best practice produces the most food.
Oxfam’s environmental sermonizing glaringly omits the large supply chains that produce 355 million metric tons of wheat in China, India, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Argentina. These countries produce vast quantities of wheat and other agricultural crops because their populations need the food and/or the export earnings. The motives and operations of all large-scale, efficient producers are similar. So are the weak national commitments to global warming avoidance. Of the major grain producing countries, only Australia and parts of Europe have accepted binding Kyoto II targets (during 2013-2020) for greenhouse gas emission reductions. The other countries have no binding targets, or no intention of ratifying targets, or have already renounced their targets.
If Oxfam had a sense for justice, it would have obligated the second group (China, India, Russia and others) to also meet the best practice standards for greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, Oxfam protects the second group of countries, allowing them to stand smiling and unscathed on the sidelines. Evidently Oxfam adopted the international NGO practice of treating those other countries as more equal.
Oxfam America has a first amendment right to voice its opinion, but no one appointed Oxfam as the martinet for corporate greenhouse gas emission quotas, especially companies of world-class efficiency that produce the affordable food needed by hundreds of millions. Lecturing others may be gratifying for NGO bureaucrats, but Oxfam lacks meaningful standing on the issue.
What will be the change in affordability of food from reducing production to satisfy Oxfam’s global warming whimsy? No doubt the ensuing price increases will cause some poverty reduction advocates to bray that food must be subsidized to the affordable levels companies used to charge — that’s an obvious second inning of Oxfam’s game — but what is it Oxfam really wants from this opening salvo?
Alan Daley writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.