Displaced Tigrayans in the midst of yet another famine in Ethiopia
Displaced Tigrayans in the midst of yet another famine in Ethiopia. Image by AP

World hunger article fuels misinformation 14 years after publication

Zathia Bazeer July 15, 2022

A 2008 article proves the UN wants to starve people as a form of control


False. The article was intended to highlight fears that some in society benefit from continued world hunger.

Social media users have claimed a 2008 article published by the United Nations (UN) proves the organisation is behind efforts to starve people as a form of control.

The article, The Benefits of World Hunger, was written by then University of Hawaii professor of political science George Kent and appeared in the UN’s magazine, the UN Chronicle, 14 years ago.

But the claim is false. AAP FactCheck tracked down the now retired professor who spent much of his career dedicated to ending world hunger. He said the article had been misunderstood and was intended to highlight fears that some in society benefit from continued world hunger.

The article went largely unnoticed for 14 years following its publication however, in the last few weeks it has been picked up by numerous social media users.

Among them is former Liberal National MP George Christensen who posted a link to this article which described the “op-ed” as “mounting evidence” that food shortages are being manufactured by the UN to establish a “New World Order”.

Others such as the American conservative advocacy group the John Birch Society linked to this article which declared the UN had “praised” the benefits of world hunger.

It has been cited countless times by other users across Facebook (here, here and here) and Twitter (here, here and here).

In the article, Mr Kent makes the argument that the developed world needs to understand what causes and sustains hunger.

“Hunger has great positive value to many people,” it reads. “Indeed, it is fundamental to the working of the world’s economy.”

The article concludes: “For those of us at the high end of the social ladder, ending hunger globally would be a disaster. If there were no hunger in the world, who would plow the fields? Who would harvest our vegetables? Who would work in the rendering plants? Who would clean our toilets?… No wonder people at the high end are not rushing to solve the hunger problem. For many of us, hunger is not a problem, but an asset.”

After many social media users claimed this was evidence of a UN agenda to prolong world hunger, the New York-based organisation pulled the article from its online archive.

A UN spokeswoman described the article as an “attempt at satire” and said it was “never meant to be taken literally”. 

“We have been made aware of its failures, even as satire, and have removed it from our site,” she told AAP FactCheck in an email.

But Mr Kent, who is now retired, refutes the UN’s suggestion it was an attempt at satire.

“I certainly wasn’t trying to be funny,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“I don’t recall any mention of satire when I submitted the paper or at any time since then. The editors of the UN Chronicle could have asked me to clarify my intentions at any time. They did not communicate with me before or after they took my article down.”

Mr Kent, who also has links with the Department of Peace and conflict studies at the University of Sydney,  said the article was an attempt to get across why it is in the interests of some to keep large swathes of the population hungry.

“My article was intended to draw attention to what I see as a simple fact: some people benefit from persistent hunger,” he said.

“It is important to give attention to this point. My paper was not written as some sort of joke or as praise for persistent hunger.

“The purpose of my 2008 article was to call for recognition of the fact that some people with power resist efforts to end persistent hunger because they benefit from it. That should be studied.

“My intention was to call for better understanding of the problem so that we can fight hunger more effectively.”

Mr Kent said he has received abusive calls and emails from around the world in recent weeks and told AAP FactCheck that he wanted to apologise for “what I now see as ambiguity of my article”.

The academic has written dozens of articles, papers and books on efforts to tackle world hunger including his 2011 title, Ending Hunger Worldwide, 2005’s Freedom from Want: The Human Right to Adequate Food and 2008’s Global Obligations for the Right to Food.

The UN also has well established goals on ending world hunger with its current target to “end hunger and ensure accessÔǪ to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round” by 2030.

The Verdict

The claim that a 2008 article is proof the UN wants to starve people as a form of control is false. The author George Kent, who has dedicated much of his career to tackling world hunger, told AAP FactCheck that his article for the UN Chronicle was intended to highlight that some people benefit from persistent hunger. Mr Kent added his intention was to provide a better understanding of the issue of world hunger.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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