One of the most shocking developments in recent years was splashed across the headlines in late April: "Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World" (Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, April 21, 2008). Residents of New York City, as well as some in New England and on the U.S. West Coast found that they couldn't buy what they wanted of flour, rice and cooking oil. Major national food outlets Wal-Mart and Costco announced shortly thereafter that they would limit sales of some or all of these commodities.
That's not to imply Americans are about to go hungry, but there's nothing like a crisis at home to make the United States suddenly aware of the unfolding worldwide food emergency. The shortages that Americans face don't compare with the life of a North Korean citizen who now has to pay the equivalent of a day's wage for eggs—that is, for a single egg!
Nor is it as serious a crisis for the United States as it is for Japan, where 80 percent are frightened about the possibility of not being able to get the food they need.
That's right—Japan, one of the world's wealthiest nations. Virtually dependent upon food imports, it's been hammered by commodity shortages in the world food supply. Japan is now contemplating "...the shocking possibility of a long-term —perhaps permanent— reduction in the quality and quantity of its food" (Justin Norrie, "Japan's Hunger Becomes a Dire Warning for Other Nations," The Age, April 21, 2008, theage.com.au, emphasis added throughout).
Yet the crisis is having an effect on the United States, the world's food superpower. Writing about the increasing phenomenon of Americans stocking up in anticipation of food shortages, James Rawles, editor of SurvivalBlog.com, warns, "Even if people increased their purchasing by [only] 20%, all the store shelves would be wiped out" (Gerstein). That's how tight the situation is between production and inventory in the United States.
This will change the world
The present crisis could literally change the world. The EU may drop its long-standing opposition to genetically modified foods. Up until now, Europeans called them "Frankenfoods," but attitudes are changing rapidly.
The chairman of the European Parliament's committee summarizes the shifting attitudes: "Their hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right" (Andrew Pollack, "In Lean Times, Biotech Grains Are Less Taboo," International Herald Tribune, April 21, 2008). It's a matter of economics, for these crops produce considerably larger yields at lower costs.
Those who fear nightmarish consequences of introducing such foods on a massive scale may find out if their fears are justified.
Another possible major change is in the field of biofuel production. Nations are tripping over each other in a race to reduce dependency upon foreign oil by diverting food grains into the production of ethanol. The U.S. government has set a target that would require using 45 percent of its massive corn crop for ethanol production by 2015.
Now, however, those nations are beginning to realize that this politically correct stand against the global warming is coming at a dire cost.
"The UN says it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol. That is enough to feed a child for a year. Last week, the UN predicted 'massacres' unless the biofuel policy is halted" (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, "Global Warming Rage Lets Global Hunger Grow," London Telegraph, April 15, 2008). The same article noted that some people are starving to death now, and that 100 million others are at the "survival line."
Simply put, the world is consuming more food than it is producing. It cannot now afford the luxury of experimental fuel technologies, which don't yet produce an efficient energy yield and which take feed grains out of the food chain.
A third substantial change is a reordering of international politics, as nations devise their foreign policy around securing food for their citizens.
"Food export controls have been imposed by Russia, China, India, Vietnam, Argentina, and Serbia. We're disturbingly close to a chain reaction that could shatter our assumptions about food security" (ibid.).
The millions of increasingly wealthy people in China and India who have been demanding more meat in their diets will be faced with the decision of whether to continue this trend. This dietary shift requires millions of tons of feed grain to produce the meat, while 2.5 billion Asians dependent upon rice are scraping to find enough to eat—or they are going hungry.
A fourth potential change lies in investment regulations. People have been shocked to learn that some hedge fund managers personally made billions of dollars betting that the prices of commodities would rise last year. This type of speculative investment, while profitable for a few, is suspected of contributing to the skyrocketing cost of food commodities. The more investment that there is in such a fund, the more pressure it actually brings on prices to rise. As investors have fled the housing market due to the subprime fiasco, they've redirected their money into commodities, driving up world prices.
A fifth change is the amount of money needed from wealthier nations for food relief. Food prices are up 40 percent over last June, making the task of relief agencies tougher than ever. The UN World Food Program (WFP) says its costs are up $500 million, just to meet the commitment for projects already approved, before the current crisis struck.
The WFP is attempting to bring relief to 2.5 million hungry people in Afghanistan. Millions are facing hunger or starvation in North Korea, where it now takes a third of a month's salary to buy enough rice for only a few days. Thirty million of Bangladesh's 150 million could be going hungry.
The only One who can truly change what's happening
What unique perspective does the Bible offer on this gloomy subject? Many of our readers will have heard of "the four horsemen of the apocalypse," but you might not know what these enigmatic creatures symbolize. The third horseman is described in Revelation 6:5-6 with words startlingly close to today's headlines:
"When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, 'Come!' I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a day's pay, and three quarts of barley for a day's pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!'" (New Revised Standard Version).
The warning of famine on a massive scale is unmistakable. Whether we are on the cusp of the final fulfillment of the prophecy is unclear as yet, but at the very least, we are tumbling into similar circumstances. (Study this powerful section of Scripture in detail with the aid of our reprint series, "The Horsemen of Revelation," available through our literature library at www.ucg.org/reprints.)
Notice as well the following excerpt from two prophecies from Leviticus and Deuteronomy about this precise issue.
"When I break your staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread in rationed amounts, so that you will eat and not be satisfied" (Leviticus 26:26, New American Standard Bible). This warns of cereal grain shortages.
Deuteronomy continues: "Cursed shall be your basket [in which a crop is gathered] and your kneading bowl [for making bread from the grain]. Cursed shall be...the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks... And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The LORD will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed...
"You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil; for your olives shall drop off...
"The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar...[and] they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you" (Deuteronomy 28:17-18, 23-24, 38-40, 49-51).
The latter speaks of the inevitable food wars, as nations will fight for self-preservation.
Bible speaks first to three "tribes"
If you look up these verses in context, you might well assume that this message is for the Jews, because it is addressed to Israel. But it may surprise you to learn that Jews (a derivative of "Judah") are the descendants of only one tribe of many. In fact, there were initially 12 tribes of Israel; one of them, Joseph, became two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, bringing the total to 13 tribes.
End-time Bible prophecy focuses mainly on three tribes: Judah, Ephraim (Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) and Manasseh (the United States). These are the principal nations in the spotlight of the Leviticus and Deuteronomy prophecies. Curiously, these nations might seem to escape the current crisis for the most part, but they will actually be more and more at the center of calamity. (For more insight on this, see our booklet, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
Moreover, regardless of a nation's ethnic makeup, the principle that our Creator ultimately determines the security of its food supply is true for all peoples. Turning to Him—learning His expectations for human behavior and obeying Him—is the only way to avert the greatest food disaster that the world has ever known.
There is, frankly, little good news to offer for the immediate future on this matter. Food riots broke out in Haiti on April 5 as people revolted against crushing increases in the prices of rice, beans and fruit—up 50 percent in this terribly poor nation since last year.
Rice is a dietary staple for nearly half of the world's citizens. Nearly doubling just since the first of the year, the price of rice on international markets is causing great anxiety to hundreds of millions. There have already been violent protests over the scarcity and/or cost of food in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Pakistan.
Governments used to maintain large stockpiles of rice for such times of shortage. But the practice has largely been abandoned over the past several years because of the expense. Consequently, price fluctuations now have near-immediate effects on the world market. Already they are creating hardship throughout the developing world.
Even though today's news is sobering, the most encouraging insight that the Bible offers is the fact that there is a new world coming in which God will change the curses to blessings.
People often criticize God for allowing the current horrors, not knowing His plan for the future. We often speak of that good news here. I will close by recommending that you reread a sample of this in an article we ran in our September-October issue last year, "The Wonderful World Beyond Today... A Return to Eden: When Hunger and Disease Disappear" (wnponline.org/wnp/wnp0709). WNP