One of the arguments for a reduced human population, or against population growth, or for more intrusive governmental policies into population control is that there are too many mouths to feed. (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but the metonymy of that phrase: “mouths to feed” is quite instructive. We are so much more than merely consuming “mouths”, just as the factory workers in Dickens’ Hard Times were so much more than just “Hands”.) We’ve discussed this argument before on this blog: see here and here and here and here

Well, it turns out that that argument should not be uncritically accepted anymore.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) claimed that one billion people were hungry back in 2009.  As you can imagine, that figure grabbed headlines. One billion is a big number – you could fund a war for a day or bail out a little bank on a billion dollars.  However, it turns out that that figure was wrong – and only 870 million people are hungry in the world today.  The FAO has released its 2012 state of food insecurity report and in it, the UN organisation applied more accurate data back to 1990.  The good news is that the number of hungry people in the world has actually been decreasing steadily over the last two decades from 18.7% of the population, even as the population of the world has increased (did you hear that Paul Ehrlich? Did you!!??) Now the proportion of the world that is hungry is one in eight (12.5%).  I think I can safely say that that would be the lowest proportion of people EVER on this world who have been hungry.  And at time when the population is at its highest point ever.  Furthermore, apparently the world is on target to reach the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry people in the developing world by 2015. All in all, this is good news. 

But of course, you will never hear headlines like: “lowest ever proportion of the world hungry” or “numbers of hungry steadily declining”.  No, Reuters has gone with: “One in Eight of World Population Going Hungry: UN” Now, that is true, but why don’t we focus on the historic positives for once?  Or would that undermine the doom and gloom overpopulation myths too much?  To be clear, I completely agree with Oxfam’s Luca Chinotti:

“The fact that almost 870 million people – more than the population of the U.S., Europe, and Canada – are hungry in a world which produces enough for everyone to eat is the biggest scandal of our time,”

It is a scandal that we can feed everyone in the world, yet people still go hungry. But we are obviously heading in the right direction. Furthermore, we ARE producing enough food now, it jsut isn’t getting to everyone who needs it. So next time you hear someone arguing that the world has “too many mouths to feed” you could perhaps suggest to them that they are parroting an old line that is not true. And then, send them over to this blog!


Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...