Home Political science From Hunger to Malnutrition: The Political Economy of Scientific Knowledge in Europe, 1918-1960
According to the report, “food shortages may arise from the cutting- off of food imports, disorganization of transport, destruction of crops and farm tools and machinery, scattering of agricultural workers, lack of fertilizers, confiscation of food, and various other causes”. In addition, the impact of these negative conditions on the food situation in any country depended on a series of internal factors, mainly on the degree of self-sufficiency in food supplies and the potentialities for increasing food production. The Joint Expert Committee mentioned, as a standpoint, the impossibility to propose a standard pattern for meeting food emergencies, one that could be applicable in all countries and for all contingencies. The only general principle was considered to be the setting up of suitable national administrative machinery with enough power to prepare for and deal with emergencies. Plans were to be flexible and made well in advance, because even when a satisfactory broad plan of action had been formulated and was being followed, new and ad hoc action was continually needed to meet current changes in the situation.
An efficient organisation and administration scheme was the first point discussed in the report, considered to be the first step in any country. An appropriate person or collegiate body was supposed to be given the responsibility for drawing up the necessary plans, be an individual, a coordinating ministry or an interdepartmental committee. The administrative machinery adequate for the task of handling an emergency should be organized in the preparatory period. In addition, administrative procedures must be prepared so the plans can be put into effect immediately an emergency arises. The creation of a special Food Ministry or a special Food Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, if it does not already exist, may be a necessary step. It is essential that the responsible official or unit should have sufficient authority to review any situation as it changes and take whatever action may be necessary.21
The central organisation bearing this responsibility had to rely on standing scientific committees for advice on the nutritional aspects of the food and agricultural programme and for the assessment of the population’s nutritional status and general health. When a major catastrophe occurred involving several countries, international cooperation and organisation was essential for the global planning and managing of food policies.
The basis of an emergency plan is the knowledge of the total amount of food needed to feed the whole population affected, a calculation that could be assessed in terms of calorie requirements. The amount needed to cover requirements fully was to be estimated, even though the actual level aimed at might fall below this. However, the relationship between the actual level and full requirements must be known, so that the effects of feeding at the lower level over a given period of time could be anticipated and assessed. Many countries had their own average per caput per day calorie-requirement, although scales recommended by experts included a system for the determination of requirements according to variation in body size, age, activity and climate.22 A second suggested reference was the average consumption in the pre-emergency  
period, information that was available for European countries but not in all regions.
During the process of making the plans, a decision had to be made on the principal foods that constituted the diet of the population at risk during the emergency period, depending on the habits of food consumption patterns and the potential supplies provided through local food production, stocks and importation possibilities. In general, the experts considered that foods of vegetable origin, which give a high calorie yield, are of primary importance. In addition to calorie requirements, sufficiency of proteins was considered essential for a well-balanced diet and, under critical situations, the quality of proteins became essential. In these circumstances, pulse and leafy vegetables were considered to be important sources of protein that supplement cereal protein. In times of food shortage in Western Europe, encouragement had to be given to the home production of potatoes, vegetables and fruit, to ensure that the needs for proteins, vitamins and minerals of the adult population was met. Simultaneously, suitable measures to keep the intake of nutrients as high as possible were recommended, introducing actions such as margarine enrichment with vitamins or increasing the extraction-rate of cereals. Arrangements had to be made, however, to provide for the special needs of the vulnerable groups, including infants, children, pregnant and nursing women, old people, industrial workers, the unemployed and, in connection with this, particular attention to milk was recommended.
Food production in times of emergency should, as a general principle, be oriented towards obtaining the greatest amount of food in terms of calories. This strategy involved concentrating on crops of cereals, potatoes and other vegetables, as well as oilseeds for direct human consumption, a reduction of the animal population diverting feed crops to food crops, the ploughing-up of pasture and the slaughter of pigs and poultry, which compete directly with humans for cereals. At the same time, once more, it was recommended that account be taken of the need to maintain milk supplies. Measures of this nature were considered appropriate to prevent food shortages and starvation in times of emergency. Storage of food would enable governments to ensure a supply to the people during scarcity periods needed to implement emergency economy measures. The quantities of food stored “in order to diminish the risk of severe malnutrition and starvation” were dependent on food production resources and the imports likely to be possible during the emergency period. On the other hand, geographical location, transport, military considerations and other factors had to be taken into consideration.
Stored foods had to be those that gave a high calorie return per unit of weight and were easily stored without deterioration over long periods of time, such as sugar, cereals, oilseeds and fats. Foods of specific nutritive value to meet the needs of vulnerable groups, such as processed milk and cod-liver oil, had to be accumulated as well. Stocks of foodstuffs that were usually imported also had to be focused on, since a reduction of importation could be expected in times of crisis. Other goods considered just as psychologically important for the population included coffee or tea in many countries, or white bread, olive oil and rice, among others.
In most countries, responsibility for food storage was shared by government authorities and private householders. An emergency programme called for extensive guidance to householders to ensure that they knew how to handle, store and periodically change stocks of foods placed in their hands. The most important factor in the building-up of stocks of food was that of time, a decision that had to be made well ahead of an anticipated emergency. Technical aspects also had to be considered to prevent deterioration, avoiding infestation of insects and rodents, using appropriate chemical agents.
The following essential parts of the programme were considered to be the proper, rational use of foods: the way they have to be processed and adapted to the needs of economies in transport and labour. Whether foods were to be directed towards human consumption or to animal feeding was a decision to be made in every country, to guarantee the best economic and effective option. Their use for producing alcoholic drinks or milk had to be controlled. As a general rule, policy management had to be directed towards obtaining the greatest nutritional advantage from the food available. In the case of cereals, an extraction rate of 80-85 per cent for wheat made it possible to allocate to human consumption the maximum food available from the original grain. The remaining 15-20 per cent represented an excellent feed for livestock. The decision to dilute wheat flour with other cereals and potato flour had to be made after due consideration of dietary patterns, cultural habits and to whether or not a better diet could be achieved by this procedure.
Procurement of foodstuffs was the next challenge, since food had to be distributed through a rational and efficient system that was able to ensure that all groups in the population gained access to a minimum healthy diet. However, the experts considered that no system of distribution could operate unless the foods required for distribution through appropriate channels were available and under the control of the authorities. If transport space was limited, it was important to select those foodstuffs that could supply a higher return of calories and nutrients per unit of weight or volume. In order to put in place an efficient distribution system, technical cooperation between food technologists and manufacturers in the exporting and importing areas was needed to solve problems of processing, packaging and storage. Experts warned about the emergence of black markets, a traditional problem that appeared readily in times of food shortage in countries in which attempts were being made by the government to regulate food procurement and distribution. An important factor in the control of black markets was the establishment of a policy of food distribution, which ensured that the available supplies were distributed equitably.
The most difficult problem was considered to be the collection of what was produced and, although no general rules could be applied to solve this difficulty, asking farmers in advance about their production plans. This was expected to help and facilitate verification by local committees, representatives of the administration and farming communities, in order to determine the agricultural production of each farm. It was important to make them aware that a part of the production might be retained for domestic use on the farm and the other part delivered to the common pool. Delivery of each farm’s allotted portion could be organised by compulsory methods, but better results were usually able to be obtained by establishing contacts between the producer and the administration by which the latter would guarantee the supply of fertilisers, feeding stuffs and technical equipment to the farmer in return for food. Finally, the price policy followed by the government would exercise a great influence over the production and delivery of agricultural products.
The next stage after procurement was the distribution of foods through an appropriate system to wholesalers, retailers and consumers. Distribution to consumers through a rationing system usually called for considerable changes in normal distribution procedures, although the experts considered it desirable that such changes were reduced to a minimum level and that previously existing channels were used as far as possible, ensuring equitable distribution with the collaboration of manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and caterers. In times of shortage it was essential to guarantee an efficient distribution to consumers, according to nutritional needs. Therefore, several points were to be considered in consumer rationing:
Cooperation among the various groups involved - agricultural organisations, food processing and distribution industries, consumers and housewives - was considered to be essential. To do so, some specific service had to operate, helping the population to understand the dimensions of the food problem, instructing on the need for the equitable and controlled distribution of foodstuffs, and publicising the need to prevent wastage by proper methods of storage and handling. Teaching the public how to make the best use of the food available, taking into account the physiological needs and planning home economics, was an urgent necessity. The authorities would also give full information about the methods of obtaining rations, priority foods and additional meals, and inform producers and the food industry as well about the regulations and needs for the regular and complete delivery of agricultural and food products to the competent authorities. The establishment of a service to implement this function was most convenient. It would have at its disposal all the available scientific information required for the fulfilment of these duties.
On the other hand, price control was considered to be especially important in ensuring that the lower social groups of the population were neither at a serious disadvantage in times of shortage, nor unable to obtain their rations because of their low purchasing power, always taking account of the nutritional importance of milk and other special foods.
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