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Food Industry Holds the Cards to Effect Change

Food Industry Holds the Cards to Effect Change

The history of the Grocery Manufacturers Association reminds us of the power food can have on politics and social issues.

Here are a few examples:

During both world wars, GMA worked with the U.S. presidents to help ensure an abundant food supply for the nation, troops and allies. When the Soviets blockaded Berlin, GMA and member companies helped airlift foodstuffs. The association was called upon to raise $12 million in food to ransom soldiers captured during the Bay of Pigs.

GMA supported the federal food stamp program and initiated nutritional education programs for food stamps. It pushed for school feeding and Women, Infants and Children programs, and became a force in growing national foodbanks, like America's Second Harvest.

A front page story in the New York Times last week — “Food Is Gold, and Investors Pour Billions Into Farming” — leaves little doubt that food is our most precious commodity and a means to effect societal change on a global basis.

Polarity among the populations — the “haves” vs. the “have-nots” — is just one critical challenge among many complex issues GMA will face in the 21st century. We were again reminded of the severity of the problem last week during a global agricultural summit in Rome that addressed possible causes for soaring food prices and how to feed 75 million people in developing countries.

In the U.S., resources are dramatically down at food banks across the country. The Food Bank for New York City, a main provider for the city's 600 pantries, is experiencing the sharpest decline in donations in a quarter of a century, according to reports.

When it comes to hunger, the food industry has always rallied to the cause and has contributed billions of dollars. Those efforts, as we know, aren't totally philanthropic and must make good economic business sense for all parties involved.

Going forward, the food industry can expect public and perhaps government pressure to do even more. Much of the industry's support for hunger has remained local. However, as the world continues to shrink, the food industry may be compelled to fund projects beyond our borders — like Unilever, a global company, is doing. It recently signed a 3-year agreement to support the United Nations' World Food Programme to aid hungry children. “With this global reach comes responsibility. Today over 850 million people worldwide know what it is like to be hungry. Tragically, 400 million of them are children. And with recent disasters in China and Myanmar, these numbers are rising,” said a Unilever spokesman.

Unilever's support consists of cash, product donations and professional expertise. To date, Unilever has provided more than 15 million school meals to 80,000 children in Kenya, Indonesia, Colombia and Ghana.

If the past is any indication, GMA, its members and other food industry sectors will meet future hunger challenges. The solution is to apply the “New Ways of Working Together” process to social causes like hunger and to come up with permanent solutions that can bring the “have-nots” out of poverty.