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A New Idea Each Morning

A New Idea Each Morning: How food and agriculture came together in one international organisation

Wendy Way
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    A New Idea Each Morning
    Book Description:

    In the years between the two world wars of the twentieth century leaders in Western countries worried about a food surplus. The hardships of the Great Depression were intensified by a glut of wheat and consequent low prices on the world market. Yet at the same time nutrition scientists protested that significant proportions of populations, even in affluent countries, were unable to afford a diet ‘adequate for health’. Fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meat were out of reach for the poor. This book traces the work of three men who sought to bring together the interests of farmers and the needs of the hungry: scientist and passionate campaigner for better nutrition, John Boyd Orr; Australian politician and international statesman, Stanley Melbourne Bruce; and Economic Adviser to Bruce at the Australian High Commission in London, Frank Lidgett McDougall. Bruce once said ‘McDougall brings me a new idea every morning’. One of those ideas became the genesis of their work, which helped bring about the formation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945. All three undertook significant roles in the formative years of the organisation. The story of this contribution to the international world order is little known. The cooperation, diplomacy and persistence of these men provides inspiration for tackling the alarming prospect of food shortages in the present century.

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-11-9
    Subjects: Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustration
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. List of Figures
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. List of Tables
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Imperial Currency and Weights
    (pp. xix-xx)
  8. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  9. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The creation of an international organisation bringing together the needs of the hungry and the interests of farmers seems so logical that it is hard to imagine how revolutionary it was in the first half of the twentieth century.

    The idea of international organisation was itself new. Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century advances in communications had made it feasible. The advent of professional scientists and other experts meant it could become a means of pooling knowledge and experience. International congresses and societies to share expertise in medicine had existed from the mid nineteenth century. Efforts to stem epidemic diseases brought...

  10. Part A: Visions of Empire

    • Prologue
      (pp. 7-14)

      The working partnership between Frank Lidgett McDougall and Stanley Melbourne Bruce in the 1920s aimed to ensure the economic welfare of the British Empire. Their partnership also illustrates aspects of the relationship between a dominion and the central imperial power, for both men had family connections to imperial trade. Both spent most of their careers working for what they believed to be Australian interests, yet for much of their lives they were based elsewhere.

      McDougall grew up in Blackheath, near the River Thames. He could have watched ships at the docks nearby unloading cargoes from around the world, including grain...

    • 1. Renmark
      (pp. 15-36)

      The Murray River meanders for hundreds of kilometres through eastern and southern Australia. In the early twentieth century it formed, with its chief tributary, the Darling, an inland highway, carrying goods and passengers upstream from South Australia through the pastoral inland to settlements in Victoria and the far west of New South Wales.

      In the spring of 1909 a paddle-steamer tied up at Renmark, on the eastern fringe of South Australia. It had churned its way past yellow sandstone cliffs topped with desert saltbush and mallee scrub, and skirted mazes of billabong and swamp. At times passengers had been asked to...

    • 2. Working with Bruce
      (pp. 37-60)

      ADFA delegates from four States conferred in the temporary federal capital, Melbourne, in October 1921, and resolved to seek federal and State help in ‘agitating’ for a preferential duty on dried fruits in the United Kingdom. As ADFA deliberations concluded, senior ministers from all States were arriving for a premiers’ conference. On its first day, Barwell requested consideration of an additional agenda item concerning ‘some matter’ from the ADFA Conference. An ADFA deputation wished to see the Prime Minister. H. D. Howie of Renmark and a Mr Victorsen of Clare saw Hughes at his home on Tuesday, 1 November, the...

    • 3. A Vision of Empire
      (pp. 61-92)

      The idea of writing a book about empire trade occurred to McDougall soon after Bruce left London early in 1924. Amery was enthusiastic. The enforced idleness of some of McDougall’s time in Melbourne and the return voyage to London provided the opportunity. Sheltered Markets: A Study of Empire Trade was published on 30 June 1925, a volume of some 150 pages selling for 5 shillings a copy. McDougall was promised a foreword by Lord Milner, but the mentor of imperial visionaries died in May and Sir Robert Horne, businessman, philosopher and former Conservative minister, took his place.¹ Horne recommended the...

    • 4. The Vision Ends
      (pp. 93-120)

      Shocked by Bruce’s election loss, McDougall determined to carry on as usual and to report regularly to Scullin.¹ Anxiety for himself and for his cause was clear as he wrote consoling Bruce, urging him to ‘make [Scullin] aware of the amazing opportunity which he can take, if he chooses, at the next Imperial or Imperial Economic Conference’. Otherwise, there could be ‘no one effectively to state the case from an overseas point of view in regard to Empire development’. He added: ‘I have…no idea what the attitude of the new Government will be in regard to my work. I can...

  11. Part B: The League of Nations

    • Prologue
      (pp. 123-128)

      Voluntary cooperation between independent nation-states to create a broad-based international organisation only became possible when the ultimate consequences of national rivalries had been demonstrated in the slaughter of 1914–18. All three principals in this study participated in that conflict, which must have influenced their thinking. On the Western Front, Orr served with distinction as a medical officer in the trenches and took part in military action in battles including the Somme and Passchendaele.¹ In 1939–45 his only son was to die serving in the Royal Air Force. In 1916 McDougall was appointed to the AIF Cycle Corps, intended...

    • 5. The Wheat Crisis of the 1930s
      (pp. 129-152)

      Wheat…is a commodity of the greatest economic importance, and yet in certain countries…it is a crop that exercises a psychological influence even greater than is warranted by its almost unique position in world trade.¹

      At the time McDougall wrote these words, the value of world wheat production as a whole was exceeded only by that of rice. Its value as an internationally traded commodity was higher than all commodities except raw cotton. Yet only 18 per cent of all wheat produced in the world entered international trade.² Many countries took extraordinary measures to safeguard domestic production of this staple food....

    • 6. ‘The Marriage of Health and Agriculture’
      (pp. 153-174)

      Nineteenth-century understanding of human nutrition was rudimentary. By that century’s end, orthodox theory proposed five food groups: protein for growth, fats and carbohydrates for energy, salts for bones, blood and thyroid function, and water. Scientific studies were chiefly concerned with food as fuel and requirements in terms of quantity. Despite centuries-old experience that scurvy could be prevented by citrus fruit, and more recent experiments showing cod-liver oil prevented rickets, the connection between components of diet and health had scarcely been made.¹ In the early twentieth century, understanding of the complex nature of foodstuffs developed. Amino acids were identified and shown...

    • 7. A Vision for the League of Nations
      (pp. 175-208)

      In 1936 the League of Nations began its move to permanent premises. An international design competition had attracted 377 entries and a committee of winning architects supervised work on a vast, white Palais des Nations, sprawling through Ariana Park on the north-western outskirts of Geneva. The long, irregular Secretariat building extended to a wing housing the Council; in front of a high Assembly building, the ‘Court of Honour’ portico led to terraces facing Lake Geneva and the Alps of Savoy; a domed library beyond was built with a $2 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The international bureaucracy was provided


  12. Part C: A New Deal for the World

    • Prologue
      (pp. 211-216)

      McDougall visited Washington with Bruce briefly in 1938, and for longer periods alone in 1941 and 1942. There his ideas were well received; the ground had already been prepared.

      In nineteenth-century America, ‘Social Darwinism’ inspired Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, which argued in favour of accumulation of wealth, but also that wealth must be used for the benefit of society. Inherent in this view was capitalism without restriction. ‘Progressivism’ developed as an informal movement aiming to mitigate the harsh effects of unregulated capitalism through measures including democratic reform, regulation of corporations and monopolies, labour rights and social justice. Many progressives...

    • 8. The War of Ideas
      (pp. 217-242)

      A proposal by McDougall in 1938 for an organisation to promote nutrition policies owed much to the models of the Empire Marketing Board and Imperial Agricultural Bureaux in the 1920s. In discussions with Orr and Hall, a new idea was added: the involvement of financial and industrial groups in an ‘International Food Institute…to promote the increased consumption of food along the lines indicated by the newer knowledge of nutrition’. The functions of the institute would include interpreting in economic terms and then popularising scientific literature on nutrition and ‘seeking ways to reconcile national policies on agriculture and commerce with policies...

    • 9. ‘A Keen Outsider’
      (pp. 243-270)

      Wheat negotiations had continued in 1941 after McDougall left Washington, and the resulting Memorandum of Agreement to attend an International Wheat Conference and to establish an International Wheat Council was initialled by government representatives, including Australia’s Edwin McCarthy. Thus McDougall had an official reason to return in 1942. As Bruce later reported to Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin, who had taken office in October 1941:

      …you cabled to me suggesting that Mr F. L. McDougall should go to Washington to attend the first meeting of the International Wheat Council. I greatly welcomed this suggestion as…it afforded an opportunity of ascertaining, relatively...

    • 10. ‘A New Era in the World’s History’
      (pp. 271-302)

      As hasty preparations were made in Washington for the conference announced by the President, the London Observer published an article by John Boyd Orr, who wrote that ‘the carrying out of a world food policy based on nutritional needs will bring about revolutionary changes in our social and economic system’, changes benefiting ‘every class of the community’. The conference would adopt ‘a food policy based on needs’ and establish a ‘Technical Commission’ to report on food conditions in all countries. Economists and financiers would be asked to plan ‘a financial corporation’ to provide long-term credits, and ‘an International Agricultural and...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 303-306)

    At an ECOSOC meeting in Geneva in 1955, McDougall suffered a stroke. After some months of rehabilitation, his secretary wrote of a ‘miraculous recovery’, though his movements were slower, he tired easily and he ‘has lost some of his spark’. He retired officially at the end of that year, aged seventy-one.¹ He remained in Rome, living in a set of rooms in the apartment of a younger colleague, Karl Olsen. He attended his office in FAO regularly until his death from complications of appendicitis early in 1958, at the age of seventy-four. An FAO choir sang at his funeral and...

  14. Appendix 1
    (pp. 307-308)
  15. Appendix 2
    (pp. 309-314)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 315-332)
  17. Index
    (pp. 333-350)