The Roles of Church and Government
in Addressing the Global Food Crisis
“I was hungry and you gave me food . . . just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” -- Jesus
“Politics without principles; commerce without morality.” Two of the Seven Deadly Social Sins, Mohandas Gandhi
This resolution calls for General Synod XXVII to recognize the global food crisis in which we currently find ourselves as a global community, its root causes, and the vocations of Church, governments, and global organizations in addressing systemically its causes. It further calls for GS XXVII to reaffirm healthy, nutritional food as a human right and to address the unique dynamics of the present global food crisis in prophetic witness, advocacy for more just food policy, food sovereignty and food security, and to collaborate with like minded partners in effective actions.
The global community finds itself in 2008 in the midst of an acute food crisis. Riots in some of the most affected poor countries have broken out as widespread panic set in. Haiti and India provide two examples. In a world of six billion people, one billion suffer from chronic hunger. This number does not take into account those suffering from vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, and other forms of malnutrition. One especially poignant example is of the extremely poor in Haiti eating a concoction made of animal oil and a unique yellow dirt.
This crisis did not appear ex nihilo, but results from a confluence of factors. It was predictable, inevitable, and largely ignored by those who could have prevented, or at least ameliorated, its devastating effects.
One cannot point to lack of production as the reason people go hungry. The United States, for example, produces ample food to feed its population. And yet, in 2006, the Department of Agriculture estimated that over 35 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 13 million children. Even in poorer countries, large supplies of wasted and misallocated food exist side by side with pernicious and prevalent hunger. In India in 2004, for example, wheat reserves rotted as poor people suffering from hunger rioted.
In 2008, agricultural commodity prices on world markets reached their highest level since the 1970s (adjusted for inflation). Supplies were relatively high, and consumers, mostly in developed countries, demanded low-cost food. Global markets, controlled in large part by a few mega-conglomerates, were only too happy to comply. In order to meet this demand profitably, these corporations with monopolies on the market, paid producers marginal prices. Farmers, in turn, with such a small profit margin, often exploited farm workers, many of whom were migrant laborers.
Higher prices per se are not the problem. It is the combination of higher prices and the demand for cheap food, unaccompanied with short term help for the most vulnerable to price spikes that worked to create the food crisis. If higher prices mean a fairer distribution of money between producers and markets, then this addresses a long overdue injustice in the way food comes to our tables. But presently, the gigantic market monopolies are making record profits while small- and medium-sized farmers barely make a living, if at all.
A series of factors came together in a predictable combination that caused this perfect storm. Among the most critical are:
• A dramatic increase of the use of grains and feedstock for biofuels.
• Less availability of feedstock for consumption by animals grown for meat and milk.
• An increased demand for meat among the middle class in Latin America and Asia, especially China, as their diets becomes increasingly similar to North America and Europe.
• As developing countries were pressured into becoming export-based in their agriculture, they became more vulnerable to the fluctuations of the global economy. Formerly food secure, albeit at a subsistence level, hunger reached critical proportions as food reserves dried up.
• Speculation in the futures market.
• Overfishing has led to dwindling supplies and higher prices for ocean foods.
The global food system comes with extreme environmental costs as well. The present export-based food system means that food travels thousands of miles to reach consumers’ tables. The practice of monocultural corporate farming has led to soil depletion, overconsumption of water, and the use of chemicals as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, all of which adds to environmental degradation.
This calamity has long been foreseen by food activists and many economists. Many continue to call for alternatives that will lead to great food security and sovereignty.
Biblical and Theological Rationale
The biblical witness offers significant concern and compassion for people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Examples include:
• The biblical practice of gleaning. In the Hebrew Bible, farmers are exhorted to leave the outer boundaries of their crops unharvested. In turn, aliens and the poor were invited to partake of those crops. This practice recognized the obligation of those who have for those who don’t. (Lev. 19:9)
• When the crowds that followed Jesus were hungry, and the disciples wanted them to fend for themselves, Jesus commanded the disciples to feed them. (Mk. 6:30f. and parallels)
• The prophetic witness of the Hebrew Bible contains many condemnations to the nation, merchants, and the rich who profit at the expense of the most vulnerable in their midst. Isaiah proclaimed that acceptable worship of the Lord does not consist of performing right rituals while extorting the poor. Rather, he insists that true worship involves, letting the oppressed go free, housing the homeless poor, and “to share your bread with the hungry. . .” (Isa. 58:6-7)
• Jesus taught the disciples that the righteous will be distinguished by how they treat the most vulnerable, including providing food for them. (Mt. 25:31-46)
• The early church took seriously the distribution of food to the most vulnerable. (Acts 6:1f.)
• Mary’s vision of the coming of Jesus from her womb included the good news that the hungry will be “filled with good things.” (Lk. 1:53)
Jesus understood his vocation to stand with the poor, oppressed, and marginalized in the world. (Lk. 4:18-21). He condemned the actions of the rich man who “feasted sumptuously” and disregarded the hungry beggar Lazarus, who ate the crumbs off the table. (Lk.16:19ff.) Jesus further taught his followers that if they truly wanted to be disciples of his, they needed to follow in his footsteps.
Feeding the poor includes, but is not limited to, the actual feeding of those who are hungry. It means addressing the root causes of hunger. Today, as is pointed out above, the addressing of hunger’s root causes means addressing how the global food system operates. The United Church of Christ has long stood in solidarity with the most vulnerable. No less than twenty-six pronouncements and resolutions have been passed by General Synod since its inception on hunger and hunger-related issues, including the pronouncement “The World Food Crisis.” (GS10, 1975).
Whereas, our world presently suffers in a global food crisis, and
Whereas, this food crisis has resulted in widespread and intractable hunger among the most vulnerable, the poor, children, elderly, sick and dispossessed, and
Whereas, this crisis has as its causes factors not prevalent in previous times of hunger, and
Whereas, these causes of hunger are rooted in failed economic policies, often imposed upon producers by governments, institutions, and corporations, and
Whereas, these policies have also led to environmental degradation that imperils all life itself, and
Whereas, our faith compels us to act to relieve suffering and to stand in solidarity with the poor, and
Whereas, justice demands that we address root causes of injustice, as well as pour out compassion,
Therefore be it resolved that as people of Christ, called to "feed the hungry," the Twenty-seventh General Synod of the United Church of Christ grieves at the breadth, depth and inequities of the present global food crisis.
Be it further resolved that Wider Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries are requested to produce resources to help United Church of Christ congregations understand this global food crisis.
Be it further resolved that Wider Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries are requested to find ways to help United Church of Christ congregations advocate for more just policies that will lead to food security and sovereignty.
Be it further resolved that UCC congregations are called to study ways in which our consumerism leads to food insecurity. Such study would include, but not be limited to: the removal of land from agricultural production for corporate or private use, and our high demand for meat and other animal products.
Be it further resolved that United Church of Christ congregations study and act upon ways to change our consumerist behaviors with the goal of creating a more food secure world.
Be it further resolved that all settings of the United Church of Christ are called to advocate for strengthening sustainable agricultural and fishing practices.
Be it further resolved that we advocate on behalf of all those in our local communities and globally, whose vocational call is rooted in the harvest and production of food for the global family.
Be it further resolved that we advocate for stronger regulations on agricultural commodities futures speculation and fair and just distribution of food costs.
Funding for the implementation of this resolution will be made in accordance with the overall mandates of the affected agencies and the funds available.
Justice and Witness Ministries and Wider Church Ministries are requested to implement this resolution.