Global hunger on the rise

The number of undernourished people worldwide has been pushed closer to the 1 billion mark by rising food prices, according to the UN.

Statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveal that rising prices of raw agricultural materials have pushed an additional 75 million people below the hunger threshold and reversed the previously positive trend towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger worldwide by 2015.

The estimated number of undernourished people across the globe is now over 923 million.

Peter Bernard, general manager of economic planning and market services for Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), said that while the situation is bad in developed countries, most consumers can cope. In the developing world, however, consumers spend 40% of their income on food and the situation is therefore significantly more serious.

"This is a serious situation facing the world. I don't think people in the industry fully understand the anguish of people in developing world face as a result of rising prices," he said.

Bernard said that the crisis demonstrated the urgent need for nations to reach a global trade agreement. "One would hope that in this crisis the world now faces the WTO would have some role to play."

He added that when facing a global food crisis, there are a number of things governments should not do. These include instituting price controls or general subsidies, restricting exports, subsidising competing uses of food such as fuel or artificially supporting domestic food production through tariffs or subsidies.

Instead, they should allow and support the introduction of new technology and invest in research and development. "GMOs have a major role in helping the world overcome this problem," he said.

Bernard said that above all, governments should "free up trade and let the market work on its own".

He concluded that the meat industry has an important role to play in providing affordable food to feed the world, and encouraged British processors to push for a relaxation of European trade barriers.