(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 20 - Pope Francis on Thursday said it was scandalous that around 870 million people suffer hunger when the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. The Argentine pontiff also chided the international community for failing to live up to its promises in the battle against undernourishment. "It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation," Francis told a delegation of officials taking part in the 38th Conference of the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "This is truly scandalous. A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being". Francis added that "something more can and must be done in order to provide a new stimulus to international activity on behalf of the poor", bemoaning "promises which all too often have not been kept". He also blamed traders in food commodities for exacerbating the hunger situation with "financial speculation, which presently affects the price of food, treating it like any other merchandise and overlooking its primary function". Francis has repeatedly highlighted the need to combat poverty and hunger since being elected head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics in March. He sees these problems as a result of the misplaced values of a modern world too preoccupied with money, empty consumerism and power and not sufficiently devoted to solidarity. For example, he recently complained on his Twitter account, @Pontifex, that "consumerism has accustomed us to waste" and said throwing food away was like "stealing it from the poor and hungry". Francis has become enormously popular since his election, in part because of his warm, off-the-cuff, unconventional style and also because he practices what he preaches. This is seen by things like him deciding not to live in the papal apartments, but instead staying at Saint Martha's House, the hotel for Vatican visitors where he had stayed during the conclave, in one of a series of breaks he has made with Church tradition. His new approach has put on a backburner the controversies about many cases of child sex abuse carried out by Catholic priests around the world, which overshadowed the run-up to the conclave that elected him in March. According to a poll by the Demopolis Institute released on Thursday, the pope has an 85% approval rating among Italians. The rating is even higher, 96%, among Italians who consider themselves practising Catholics.
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