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The hunger holocaust

LO's Teton seeks to place a food security treaty on the world stage
by: , Teton

Ending world hunger seems to be an impossible dream.

John Teton of Lake Oswego says it can be done.

That is why he has been working for the past 15 years to gather support for putting this issue firmly in the public eye. The consequences are monumental.

'There are 800 million people in the world who are hungry,' Teton said. 'Eight million people die from starvation a year. 'Holocaust' is not too strong a term to describe what is happening.'

The solution? An international food security treaty passed by the United Nations. Teton has been working hard to achieve it since 1993.

Teton says that children understand how wrong hunger is much more strongly than adults, and he experienced that firsthand 15 years ago when his daughter Sage, now a law student at Lewis and Clark College, viewed television reports of enforced starvation in Somalia.

'She said, 'If I was old enough I'd get on a plane and feed those people,'' Teton said.

A writer and filmmaker by profession, Teton realized he wouldn't impress his 10-year-old daughter very much with a novel or screenplay about the subject.

'I told her, 'I'll make a few calls.' She said, 'Will you do it tomorrow?''

Old dad really got on the stick. Teton has made great inroads in accomplishing the first of the five stages of the treaty project, which is convincing people that the treaty is feasible and 'do-able.' For the past eight years he has been making speeches at some impressive venues, including Harvard Law School. April 17 will be a watershed day for Teton as he speaks before a U.S. Senate subcommittee and at John's Hopkins University.

More and more people are accepting the four principles of an international food security treaty:

n Provide access to a minimum standard of nutrition recognized by the United Nations to all people within its borders unable to gain access on their own.

n Contribute to a world food reserve and resource center as it is able, to assist any nation needing emergency help to provide such access.

n Establish and enforce laws prohibiting activities denying or intending to deny the minimum standard of nutrition to any person within its borders.

n Support United Nations food security enforcement actions in nations whose governments are unable to enforce such law on their own, or who are found unwilling to do so through formal United Nations investigations.

Can this be done? Teton draws a parallel between ending hunger with ending polio, which was raging in many parts of the world in 1988 but virtually eliminated by 2003.

'Hunger can disappear the way polio has virtually disappeared,' Teton said. 'In 1988 it was outrageous to have 350,000 new cases of polio a year when the vaccine was available. Within 15 years it was cut by 99.8 percent.

'Hunger can also be cut by 99.8 percent. The food necessary to eliminate hunger is already there. What's missing is the political will.'

In a world that is perpetually at war over something, Teton points out that eliminating hunger is something everyone, including all religions, can agree upon.

'All religions are behind this,' he said. 'This is not attempting to change commercial rights or military behavior. Not any other cause worldwide has more support.'

Teton is the founding director of the International Food Security Treaty campaign, but he and everyone else in the organization work on strictly a volunteer basis. Even as the IFST gathers strength and support, many more volunteers are needed.

'We're very dependent on everyone doing their bit,' Teton said, 'whether it's e-mailing a congressman or being a volunteer. We want people willing to do things because it just makes sense to them - a species-wide sense of decency.

'All great social justice movements - slavery, child labor, the vote for women - involved regular people getting behind it in significant numbers. That's where real leadership comes from.'

Such an accomplishment would be a worldwide uplifter.

Teton said, 'If hunger is eliminated, it will change the entire human race's self image. It would be great if America got out in front on this. It would do wonders for our image in the world. That's why I think this is also a national security issue.'

For more information about the work of the International Food Security Treaty campaign, go to the Web site www.treaty.org .