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Food Supply and Meat

Food Supply and Meat

This is an edited exert from my MA thesis.

Livestock, or feed for livestock, occupies 1/3 of earth’s ice-free land.  However, 1/3 of earth’s ice-free land was not suitable for animal agriculture until recently.  In fact, to sustain the expanding demand for meat, humans have had to deforest vast regions of earth and create more farmland.  Animal agriculture is recognised as the leading cause of deforestation, responsible for 91% of amazing Amazon rainforest destruction.  Deforestation is a serious problem as it perpetuates and accelerates global warming.  Stopping further deforestation is crucial for maintaining the planet’s carbon cycle.  The world can ill afford to continue deforesting at the current rate of 1.5 acres per second.  As well as relying on an unequal distribution of emissions and water, meat-eaters also rely on an unequal distribution of land for their diets.  Translated to an individual level, the land required to feed one person for one year varies enormously with diet.  Depending on the fertility of the land, a vegetarian diet will require X acres of land per year, whilst a meat-eater requires 6X.  Clearly, when one diet requires six times more land, there is not an equal distribution per person.

The reason why a meat-eater’s diet requires more land is because her diet has a higher virtual food footprint.  The meat-eaters food also has to eat a lot of food.  Food is another metabolic requirement for humans and must be distributed ensuring everyone can be fed.  Despite that the fact the world is currently producing enough food for everyone and more, 16% of all people are malnourished or starving.  A major reason for this statistic is because 50% of all grain produced globally is fed to livestock.  Whilst, 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals.  To make matters worse, these animals are subsequently consumed by people in western countries.  On a domestic level, in the USA, 70% of all grain is given to livestock, whilst 14% of USA households (17.4 million households) are food insecure.

Over the next few decades, it is widely accepted that the global population will increase, thus demand for food will increase.  Simultaneously, global warming is predicted to have adverse effects to the supply of food; for every one degree in rise of temperature, crop yields fall 6%.  Recently, a study assessed options for feeding the world in 2050, in a hypothetical zero-deforestation world; the report analysed supply side and demand side factors, combining assumptions on realistic future yields, farmland areas, livestock feed and human diets.  The report determined, “Human diets are the strongest determinant” on whether everyone can be fed.  The report concluded that the Western diet would only be feasible if “cropland yields rose massively and cropland expanded strongly”.  This is not likely; a major issue with the report was it did not take into account climate change’s predicted negative impact on crop yields.   However, 100% of vegan scenarios were feasible and 94% of vegetarian scenarios were feasible.

By Ian Harper


If you're an egalitarian, how come you eat meat?