AFTER decades of steady growth, the world's food supply is no
longer keeping up with population increases. Production of meat,
fish, and grains per person has slowed to the point where the earth
may have reached its "carrying capacity," with the result that
nearly one in five (or 1 billion people) is malnourished.
This is the sobering conclusion of the Worldwatch Institute's
annual "State of the World" report, which was released over the
While solutions are to be found in many aspects of environmental
and economic policy, as well as in some emerging technologies, the
report's authors say the key is stabilizing population growth.
Not everyone accepts Worldwatch's somewhat Malthusian analysis,
which is based on information gathered by national governments,
United Nations organizations, and private researchers.
Ronald Baily, author of the 1993 book, "ECO-SCAM: The False
Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse," calls it "a wonderful
propaganda tool for apocalyptic environmentalism." Other
conservative analysts and commentators denounce it as well.
But "State of the World," now in its 11th year and widely
distributed among political and business leaders, enjoys
considerable credibility and influence. Printed in 27 languages, it
is used in about 1,000 university courses.
Vice-president Al Gore Jr.'s "Earth in the Balance" followed
much the same line, as did the 1992 UN Conference on Environment
and Development (the "Earth Summit") in Rio de Janeiro.
The growth in annual food production peaked in the 1980s,
according to data gathered by the Worldwatch Institute, a
Washington-based think tank.
Between 1989 and 1993, the fish catch per person dropped 7
percent. After peaking in 1984, per capita grain output by last
year had fallen 11 percent. The picture on animal protein from
grazing animals is less clear, but here too declines can be
expected since the amount of rangeland per person is decreasing.
Overharvesting of oceans has become widespread. The UN Food and
Agriculture Organization reported last year that all 17 major
fishing areas around the world have reached or exceeded their
natural limits with nine of those in serious decline.
Most of the increase in grain yields during the post-World War
II era can be credited to fertilizers. The use of fertilizers
climbed from 14 million tons annually to a peak of 146 million tons
in 1989. …