The Guardian columnist George Monbiot is the latest to offer up a vague warning that meat eating in the Western world is responsible for hunger in the developing world, and that this trend is about to accelerate. Like most such arguments, Monbiot buttresses his piece by pointedly avoiding any detailed look at the trends and causes of hunger — better to leave out the inconvenient facts than ruin a perfectly good argument.
According to Monbiot,
The world produces enough food for its people and its livestock, though (largely because they are so poor) some 800 million are malnourished. But as the population rises, structural global famine will be avoided only if the rich start to eat less meat. The number of farm animals on earth has risen fivefold since 1950: humans are now outnumbered three to one. Livestock already consume half the world’s grain, and their numbers are still growing almost exponentially.
If meat eating causes hunger and the number of farm animals has increased fivefold since 1950, it’s a bit odd that Monbiot doesn’t point out the obvious — that hunger has increased dramatically since 1950. Of course he can’t do that because while meat eating has increased dramatically since 1950, the percentage of people suffering from hunger has declined equally dramatically.
From 1970-1995, for example, the percentage of malnourished people worldwide declined by 15%, and today only about 13 percent of the world is undernourished. If meat production causes hunger, it is difficult to reconcile this decline in hunger with the explosive growth in meat eating (thanks largely to the large worldwide increase in income during the same period). Which is why, presumably, Monbiot chose not to mention it.
Similarly, there are a number of countries facing severe food shortages at the moment. Given that meat eating causes hunger, it is odd that Monbiot (nor anyone else to my knowledge) even attempts to explain the role that meat eating plays in causing specific food insecurity.
This is likely because the best predictors of food insecurity are lack of democracy, corruption and internal violence. Take Africa, for example, where large numbers of people consistently rely on international food aid to avert famine. Transparency International estimates that up to US $100 billion is lost annually in Africa due to corruption. Here’s a little chart I put together listing several African countries facing food shortages at the moment, along with a brief summary of major corruption in each country,
Food Insecurity Problems
|Angola||US $1 billion in 2001 oil revenues “missing”(FAO appeals for $5.2 million
|1.4 million people need “urgent assistance” (FAO)|
|Malawi||Corrupt government officials sold 160,000 tons of grain last Fall; $8 million
in European Union aid diverted — EU demanded return of the money in July
2002 (FAO appeals for $1.6 million aid)
|168,000 families at risk (FAO)|
|Swaziland||$2 million aid diverted for down payment on $55 million presidential jet (FAO
appeals for $1.4 million aid)
|21,000 families at risk (FAO)|
|Zambia||Ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency
International; hundreds of millions stolen in the 1990s (FAO appeals for
$2.6 million aid)
|62,000 families at risk (FAO)|
|Zimbabwe||President orders seizure of white-owned farms, causing food crisis; millions $ US aid money missing (FAO appeals for $16 million
|600,000 families at risk (FAO)|
In each country, the amount of money diverted or lost due to internal corruption would be able to buy enough food many times over to avert famine (and in each of these countries, there wouldn’t be a food shortage if the government were not actively interfering in local agricultural production — Zimbabwe being the archetypal case of how to transform a country with a vibrant agricultural sector into a country on the verge famine in a few easy steps).
The world awaits animal rights activists and others to explain how meat — rather than lack of democracy, corruption, and internal violence — is directly responsible for food shortages in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Why vegans were right all along. George Monbiot, The Guardian, December 24, 2002.