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Factory Farming and World Hunger in Developing Countries

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Access to food is a basic right. At the 1996 World Food Summit, leaders from almost 200 countries reaffirmed “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger” and “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food.” Yet today over 700 million people in developing countries are seriously undernourished. 12 million children die annually of nutrition-related diseases. While some have tried to argue that factory farming is a cheap source of protein and the solution to world hunger, the opposite has proven to be true because of the “grain drain” caused by factory farming.

Drought and other natural disasters are often wrongly blamed for causing famines. The 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia led to more than 400,000 deaths. I was the Country Director for an international relief agency in Somalia during this time and witnessed the starvation first-hand in the refugee camps along the Somalia-Ethiopia border. While this famine is often ascribed to drought, widespread drought occurred only some months after the famine was under way.

The 1983-1985 famine was in large part created by government policies, including the policy to export feed for factory-farmed meat production instead of growing food for Ethiopians. While people starved in Ethiopia the government exported tons of linseed cake, cottonseed cake and rape seed meal to developed countries to be used as feed for factory-farmed animals. Today millions of undernourished children in the developing world live next to fields of food destined for export as animal feed for factory farming, to support the meat-hungry cultures of the developed world.

Hopefully the irony is apparent. Millions in poor countries starve and go undernourished to support the meat addiction of affluent countries (an addiction that is made possible because of factory farming) while millions in the affluent countries are dying from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer, brought on by eating animal products.

Factory farming is an incredibly inefficient way to try and feed the world’s growing population. In developing countries, the shift from growing food to growing feed is a primary cause of hunger. An acre of legumes such as beans, peas and lentils can produce ten times more protein than an acre used for meat production, in the case of soy, 30 times more. In Brazil, almost 25 percent of the cultivated land is used to produce soybeans, of which nearly half is for export to be used as animal feed for factory farms. Twenty-five years ago, livestock consumed less than 6 percent of Mexico’s grain. Today, approximately one-third of the grain produced in Mexico is being fed to animals.

I also had the opportunity to be the Country Director for the same international relief agency in Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries. I witnessed first-hand the country’s poverty and massive shortages of food. Factory farming, especially battery hen systems, has become widespread in Bangladesh. Plant food that could be used to feed its people is instead used as animal feed.

In summary, countries where people are starving and undernourished are using their land to grow grain for exports to feed the factory-farmed animals in the West and other wealthy nations. Nutritionally valuable food is being fed to animals to produce meat instead of people. Promoting factory farming and meat production can never be a solution to world hunger because it promotes a diet which drains valuable grain stocks.

The problem of world hunger may seem overwhelming. What can one person do? I often felt hopeless as I would watch a toddler die from malnutrition in Somalia. But a man much wiser than me told me that “each child dies one at a time and we can save them one at a time.” So too as each one of us rejects factory-farming and adopts a plant-based died we can make a difference one at a time. Please join me in this effort.

* Doug Meier was formerly the Country Director for a Geneva-based international relief agency in Somalia and Bangladesh. He currently practices law in Colorado and advocates for plant-based/vegan diets.


Author: Doug

Doug Meier is an attorney who practices in Colorado the area of insurance bad faith and legal malpractice. He became a vegetarian 13 years ago and went vegan approximately 2 years ago. He can be reached at or