By a Special Correspondent
One hamburger a week less for each United States citizen would result in food savings equivalent to the grain needs of India. But if rich countries fail to cut down their high protein diet, says Barbara Ward, the economist, the world's depleted grain reserves will not be restored and there will be "megadeaths of mass starvation.'
At a meeting in the Institute of Science and Technology, Manchester, Dame Barbara said that Christians had a "particular and special" responsibility "because if we're content to see the least of these little ones starve, then how can we even dare mention the word Christianity in the same breath?
"So for us it goes directly to the heart of our religious convictions. And if we don't have these, well, we have only to read the Bible to see that we are rejected, useless, the salt that lost its savour, the light that was put out.
"Having said that, let's look at some of the things that could be done — possibly in all the Atlantic world, the postChristian world — if Christian citizens were strong enough to be a minority heard, and that a minority which spoke with conviction..
"The most immediate point to make is this: there can be no quick restoration of grain reserves unless the rich eat less.
"Let's be quite clear about that. If we want to go on with the diets that we've had in the Atlantic world increasingly over the last 20 years, grain reserves will not be restored and there will be starvation."
Barbara Ward added that the record of the 1974 harvest showed a shortfall of at least 20 million tuns of grain — which represented the diet of 100 million people. For only the second time since World War Il the world harvest had gone down.
We were facing a food crisis that had blown up "with immense suddenness and without proper preparation," she said. As principal causes she named the "inexorable upward movement" in population growth, climatic changes, the disastrous Soviet harvest of 1972 and higher-priced energy in the wake of the Arab oil crisis.
These changes meant that grain reserves in the United States — which at one time
represented six months' equivalent of the entire grain consumption of the planet — would now last little more than three weeks. One consequence was that food aid to developing countries had been reduced by a third and it was now at a level lower than it had been for 15 years.
Dame Barbara hoped that the World Food Conference to be held in Rome in November would take action to restore grain reserves, and to organise short-term and long-term investment.
She said that $18,000m (nearly £8,070m) would be needed by 1980 to keep agricultural development going — a sum which seemed large till one remembered that it was only one-twelfth of the world arms bill.
The trend towards high protein food in developed countries was an uneconomic Use of resources, Dame Barbara pointed out. By 1970 North Americans were eating nearly .a ton of grain a year a head, and only 150 lb of this was actually eaten as grain — as bread, for example.
The rest of the grain was given to livestock to produce beef, eggs and milk. Combined with greater use of machines in agriculture, this meant that for every calory of beefsteak eaten, five calories of energy were being expended.
After the Second World War the British Government introduced bread rationing and helped prevent mass starvation in Germany, Eastern Europe and India, said Barbara Ward.
"Are we in fact in such a mood that we wouldn't demand from the government the same thing and say we are ready to be rationed, we are ready to help in the creation of that 20 million ton reserve which we know must be shipped to Asia in this winter if people are not to starve. That is the issue.
"I do not believe that it's been put to us in quite those terms, but the fact remains that there isn't, I believe, a citizen in this country who would not, if asked, cut back by the amount necessary. It is basically so small as I say — a quarterpound hamburger a week for each American, and for us not much more." .
Further measures, added Dame Barbara, should include a 10 per cent cut in the arms bill and the use of increased Arab oil revenue for development.