Fixing the Global Food Crisis

Eat Less Meat: Fixing the Global Food Crisis Item #7

How does eating less meat help the world? Take a look at the facts: According to calculations of the United Nations Environment Programme, the calories that are lost by feeding cereals to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could theoretically feed an extra 3.5 billion people. That is a tremendous amount of food lost to meat production that could be feeding the world’s population. Another problem is the effect on the environment.

Here are 2 sets of facts about environmental impacts of meat production:

“The increase in consumption of animal products is, next to population growth, one of the major causes of the in­crease of global fertilizer use. World meat consumption (and production) is expected to grow by 70% in the period 2000-2030 and 120% in the period 2000-2050. The production and consumption of pig and poultry meat is expected to grow at a much higher speed than of bovine and ovine meat. Over the last years there has been a major expansion in large scale, vertically integrated industrial live­stock systems, and this development is expected to continue over the coming decades. These systems can lead to concentration of manure; although manure is a valuable source of nutrients, concentrated spreading of ma­nure leads to significant emissions, to air, soil and water.” (Global, p. 281 1)

A 2,000 kcal high meat diet produces 2.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as a vegan diet, and twice as many as a vegetarian diet. Moving from a high meat to a low meat diet would reduce a person’s carbon footprint by 920kg CO2e every year – equivalent to a return flight from London to New York. Moving from a high meat diet to a vegetarian diet would save 1,230kg CO2e per year. See more on the full article: Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK

Here is an excerpt from the article that appear in almost a decade ago. Consumption today is even greater.

Cutting down on carnivorism is a message that the world does not want to hear. Meat consumption is soaring globally, with newly affluent families from Beijing to São Paulo feasting on succulent pork and beef. Since much of that meat is grown by feeding animals corn, the higher the corn price, the more expensive the meat.

Since 1980, Brazil’s meat consumption has more than doubled to 197 pounds a year. China’s intake of meat has quadrupled to 109 pounds per person, with the bulk being pork, the traditional food of abundance and celebration. This trend has not gone unnoticed in the United States where Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa suggested that the Chinese “go back and eat rice” if they don’t like the fact that American corn is being used for producing ethanol.

It takes about 7 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of beef, 6.5 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of pork, and 2.6 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of chicken, according to the USDA. Although corn grown in the United States is used for livestock feed, annual fluctuations in commodity costs historically have had little influence on meat prices. But with corn futures for 2008 pushing $6 a bushel—compared with an average of $3.40 in 2007—and energy costs for transport a huge factor, the era of cheap meat may be over.

Animal scientists are already working on ways to produce meat with less feed. One possible solution: DDGS, or dried distillers grain solubles. That is what’s left over after corn is turned into ethanol. But it can be eaten only by cattle. “We need to be able to figure out how to be more feed-efficient,” says Maynard Hogberg, animal science chair at Iowa State University.

Until now, Americans have shown little interest in forgoing meat, despite much talk about healthful eating and vegetarian fare. Per capita consumption in the United States rose from 234 pounds a year in 1980 to 273 pounds in 2007, according to the USDA. The only good news there, healthwise, is that beef and pork consumption declined and poultry consumption rose.

Environmentalists and nutritionists say plant-based protein is more healthful and environmentally friendly than livestock raised on factory farms. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, not surprisingly, says that the field corn it takes to grow a strip steak would make a rather unappetizing meal for humans. But unless bioengineered meat becomes a reality, plants will no doubt remain the cheapest source of protein, a fact well known to poor families worldwide.

In conclusion, although not everyone in the first or second world will be wiling to forego meat entirely, a dietary shift to less meat is in the interest of all for our the future of all food security. In the interest of health, environment and sustainability on our planet, eating less meat is a very good thing.

1 Global, p. 281

2 From the article on 8 Ways to Fix the Global Food Crisis  By Kent Garber and Marianne Lavelle | May 9, 2008, at 12:59 p.m.