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How many will go hungry if we ‘break up big ag'?

How many people would go hungry if we break up big ag, like a bumper sticker said? My simple answer is billions. Billions with a “B.”

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'Fix Our Food System Break Up Big Ag' bumper stick caught the eye of Katie Pinke recently, spurring thoughts on how all types of agriculture are needed to meet the needs of the world population soon reaching 8 billion people in total population.
Katie Pinke / Agweek
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“Fix Our Food System Break Up Big Ag” read the green bumper sticker on a red minivan with an organization name below it I didn’t catch. At the next stoplight, I asked my husband who was driving to slow down so I could take a photo of the bumper sticker. I snapped two pictures and said to Nathan, “How many people would go hungry if we break up big ag?”

It wasn’t a trick question. My simple answer is billions. Billions with a “B.”

By late 2022 or early 2023, the world population is expected to cross the 8 billion threshold. That number is projected to rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations, despite declining fertility rates globally. We’re having fewer kids, but people are living longer.

Despite anti-agriculture headlines and what activists will say, big ag is feeding — not killing — you. People are living longer, in every country, according to the World Health Organization, which are wins for modern science, medicine, agriculture and nutrition.

More people equal more demands on our food system and global agriculture. As growing populations across Africa, China and India demand more, American agriculture will contribute to feeding you, me … and our world.

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I once tried to explain the great big world of agriculture to a person sitting next to me on an airplane who asked what I did for a living.

“I work in agriculture,” I replied.

She said, “I think everyone should shop organic only and local.”

As I countered about global ag demand, she said she didn’t care about feeding the world. “I just want to feed America,” she said.

Rather than trying to shift her mindset on global agriculture, I brought up that 40% of food is wasted in America and cutting back on food waste could address domestic hunger issues.

Some hearts and minds aren’t ours to change.

The bumper sticker I saw in Fargo, North Dakota, about breaking up big ag feels selfish to me. And yet I understand the ease of slapping it on a minivan, filling the tank with $4 gasoline and driving the kids to travel team soccer practice.

The pandemic exposed the fragility of our supply chain and food system. Now the war in Ukraine is shining a light on how agriculture and our food system truly have a global scope. I don’t have any deep economic insights to change it. A bumper sticker doesn’t change it either.

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We need all of agriculture.

I am for capitalism and competition. Yes, we need choices in food production. No, I do not favor limiting choices of ag production. I believe we need competition. Demand drives choices and competition.

Local agriculture. Urban agriculture. Big farms. Little farms. Medium farms. Animal protein. Plant protein. All the countries and continents need to feed more people who call this world home.

Change the way you grow food, change how you feed your family and celebrate your food choices in America, if you choose. Remember one in six kids in your community and state suffer from food insecurity, and one in eight Americans — that’s 42 million in the U.S. — are food insecure.

Breaking up big ag does not acknowledge agriculture’s critical role outside of our first-world food bubble. If you want to break up big ag, change the way you purchase and support your food system. Supply meets demand or eventually catches up to create change. Big ag will still meet the needs of a big population oceans away from you and feed hungry people.

We do not need agriculture and food system harmony. We do not need to break up one area of a greater system. We need farmers, ranchers, food system competition and growth with big, medium and little agriculture.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

Related Topics: PINKE POSTFOOD
Opinion by Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV's publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers' daughter.
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