Monday, December 14, 2009

Russians Currently Consume Same Number of Calories Daily that German POWs Did in Soviet Camps in 1941

Paul Goble, one of the finest analysts of the former former Soviet Union, recently posted this article on his blog Window on Eurasia.It is worth reading if not only for the shock value, but for the consequences which confront Russia

After seeing an improvement in caloric consumption since the 1990s, Russians are again consuming an average of only 2550 calories a day, an amount comparable to the amount provided by the diet given German POWs in Soviet camps at the end of 1941 and one that casts a shadow on that country’s demographic future.

Largely because of the economic crisis, Rosstat figures show, Russians consumed 0.5 percent fewer calories in 2008 than in 2007, a small decline but on that understates the country’s food problems, given that even the earlier total – 2564 calories -- was “below medical norms” ({B50CBD92-6CAD-4C27-9CE8-29746F14E4C4}).

The most immediately visible impact of this level of consumption is low weight levels among the draft-age population. Of the 305,000 young men drafted in the last round approximately 45,000 were, according to Viktor Baranets, the military observer for “Komsomolskaya Pravda,” seriously underweight.

And it is not only the expert community that is worried: President Dmitry Medvedev recently told the the State Council that “over the last 20 years, the number of young people ready for military service had declined almost a third” because, often as a result of diet, “the level of [their] physical development does not correspond to the demands of service in the army.”

But it is not just the size of caloric intake that is worrisome: the mix of goods – too much alcohol and too little fresh food – and especially the low quality of food available even in major cities. Recent government tests show that many of the most common products on the shelves are “of low quality, older than their use-by date, or “simply dangerous” for consumers.

“In 70 percent of the cases,” the government testing agency found, the products lacked the required certification, and “in 80 percent,” there was a lack of sanitary and epidemiological testing. As result, specialists could not recommend as suitable for eating “more than 80 percent of the products tested.”

The problems with draft-age young people are only the tip of the iceberg as far as adequate food is concerned. School-age children across the board are suffering. Approximately 3-4 percent of those entering school are classified as “absolutely healthy,” but by the 11th grade, that figure falls to 1.5 percent.

Leonid Roshal’, one of Russia’s leading pediatricians, ascribes this decline to inadequate food. And he says that “never in the history of the country, except immediately after the October revolution and the years during and in [World War II] was the situation [in this regard] like it is at present.”

One explanation for problems in this area is that because of its geographic location and historical problems with agriculture, Russia must import a great deal of its food. Indeed, today, Russian farms “completely satisfy (according to medical norms) the population only for potatoes.”

Not only are imports expensive and often of low quality, Moscow experts say, but “such import dependence” in this key area puts Russia at risk of pressure from abroad. But tragically, they add, the Russian government does not seem prepared to take the necessary steps to overcome this situation and ensure that Russians have enough high-quality food to eat.

Faced with this problem, the Russian powers that be have done what they do in so many cases: they have come up with “a doctrine” on food security that officials claim will guarantee that Russian farms will produce a greater percentage of the foods Russians need sometime in the future but that does nothing to help people right now.

Moreover and despite a great deal of publicity surrounding this “doctrine,” it has not been officially adopted, although it was reviewed at a December 4th session of the country’s Security Council which met under the chairmanship of President Medvedev, who said that addressing the problem of diet in Russia was critical.

“According to the estimates of international experts,” the Russian leader said in striking language, “if the population goes hungry for two or more generations, a situation that in fact is quite characteristic for a large group of countries, then processes of physiological and intellectual degradation at the genetic level arise.”

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