Malnutrition and food waste show the absurdity of decadent capitalism

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A billion human beings suffer from malnutrition[1]. To that we must add the increasing misery of a growing mass of impoverished people, a majority of the world population. In spite of technical progress and unprecedented productive capacity a large number of people are still dying of hunger!

How can we explain this paradox? The ruling class has its answers. This tragedy is linked to “running out of resources”[2] and the “population explosion”[3].

In reality the chronic shortage of food spreading like a plague is the product of the capitalist system, of its law of profit. This law leads to an absurdity in the market itself and for humanity: the overproduction of goods. This is the basis of an irrational and scandalous phenomenon that the bourgeoisie largely passes over in silence: waste.

The report of a recent study reveals that “it is estimated that 30-50% (or 1.2-2 billion tons of all food produced) never reaches a human stomach[4]. Since the study cannot bring to light the profound causes of waste without putting the capitalist system in question, it stays on the surface of the phenomenon, explaining that in Europe and the USA consumers themselves throw food into the bin  as a result of product packaging and marketing (such as  ‘buy one get one free’ promotions). The study does not dare to reveal that waste is above all generated by overproduction and the search for short term profit, leading the industry to make increasing use of inadequate infrastructure and inefficient storage areas with the most significant failures downstream of the production chain. This study forgets to mention that products of poorer and poorer quality cannot be sold for lack of buyers and are piled up in places that are happily neglected if it costs too much to shift them. In order to make economies, and profit, speculative capitalists often end up deliberately destroying goods, particularly foodstuffs. For the same motives “up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested”. So products are often destroyed in order to prevent the market price falling. For example, some producers who cannot sell their fruit or vegetables, even at a loss, use petrol to burn them to artificially maintain their price.

The same phenomenon exists in the so-called ‘developing’ countries, amplified and even aggravated from the start of the production chain. Here “wastage tends to occur at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain” due to “Inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure”, leading to colossal losses. The “deficiencies” can be such that “In South East Asian countries for example losses of rice can range from 37% to 80% of total production depending on development stage,…In China, a country experiencing rapid development, the rice loss figure is about 45%, whereas in less developed Vietnam, rice losses between the field and the table can amount to 80% of production”.

The report underlines the sombre reality: “Cumulatively this loss represents not only the removal of food that could otherwise feed the growing population, but also a waste of valuable land, energy and water resources. In the case of water for example, about 550 billion cubic metres is wasted globally in the growing of crops that never reach the consumer…

According to the engineers writing this report, a simple rational exploitation of existing resources would create “the potential to provide 60-100% more food for consumption … Furthermore, due to the large demand that food production puts on other natural resources including land, water and energy, such an approach offers significant benefits in terms of sustainability and reduced environmental risk.” This ‘common sense’ perspective is impossible to realise within the capitalist system. The problem does not lie in a lack of competence or of will: it lies above all in the contradictions of an economic system which does not produce to satisfy human needs, for which it doesn’t give a fig, but for the market, to realise a profit. This rolls out the worst absurdities, complete anarchy and irrationality.

One of the most scandalous examples is that of children suffering severe malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa, while milk quotas and farm set-aside are imposed in Europe. Meanwhile charities and NGOs are mounting costly advertising campaigns, based on feelings of guilt, to raise funds for milk powder for the starving children who are also without … water! If this were not so tragic it could almost be a joke in very bad taste.

Capitalism is an obsolete mode of production which has become a destructive force menacing civilisation. It generates and activates all the deadly drives and passions. Faced with the growing tragedies which it engenders, its contradictions exacerbate the most irrational and antisocial behaviours. Famine and waste, poverty and unemployment, like wars, are its offspring. But within it grows it negation, its gravedigger, the working class, the exploited class which alone has a perspective for the future. Only the working class can put an end to this rotten system. More than ever the alternative is “socialism or barbarism”.

WH January 2013

[1] This means daily nutrition insufficient in quantity for the physical needs of a person (2,500 calories a day).


[2] All lies have a basis of truth. It is not, in itself, due to a lack of resources. On the contrary, the capitalist system leads to their massive destruction.


[3] It is predicted there will be 9 billion of us in 2050.


[4] Global Food Waste Not, Want Not, published 10 January 2013 by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME). All quotations from this report, see



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