The world’s food supply is in danger. On the supply side, extreme weather events caused by climate change are damaging harvests while on the demand size the growing population of planet earth is pushing up demand.
At the moment the price we have to pay for these pressures on food production is mainly in the form of higher prices, but as more and more babies are born, as the elderly keep on living longer and the flash floods, tsunamis, droughts and the warming of our planet places even more pressure on the world’s food supply, the price we have to pay will soon not only be in the form of price hikes but also in the form of food shortages.
How we deal with this growing threat to the world’s food security is a matter of debate. A large part of it is dominated by the vegetarian lobby, who insist the best, and only option that we will avoid a food crisis is by converting to a vegetarian diet. Our reliance on meat, the argument goes, is inefficient considering the finite supply of food. According to a study by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), it takes 4.5 pounds of grain to make one pound of chicken meat and 7.3 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork. 97% of the world’s soya crop is fed to livestock. As the Guardian reported earlier this year, the world’s cattle population consumes enough food to sustain nine billion people, which is the estimated population of the world in 2050.
If so much of the world’s edible resources is taken up by feeding animals that feed humans, the veggie lobby argue, why not cut out the meat and then we would only have to produce enough crops to feed humans? The global consumption of meat stood at 279 million tonnes in 2009 which required almost triple that weight in grain (760 million tonnes) in animal feed. It would take just one twentieth of the grain we feed to animals to eradicate the most extreme cases of world hunger (40 million tonnes). With the number of people going hungry rising every day, we must start the world’s conversion to vegetarian diets now, the veggie lobby say.
Eating meat is wasting the world’s finite resources, and to save the earth’s future population from going hungry, the veggie lobby is insisting that we all convert to vegan diets so that we eat plant foods directly instead of eating meat that has been produced with 20 times the amount of that food we could have already have eaten. A vegan diet for one person can be grown on just one-sixth of an acre of land, but for each carnivore’s diet requires 3¼ acres of land.
The vegan charity Vegfarm estimates that a 10-acre farm can produce enough food to feed 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 by growing maize, but only two by raising cattle.
Not only will converting the world’s population to a vegetarian or vegan diet solve the planet’s food insecurity, it will also help counter the worst effects of climate change and fuel poverty by eradicating the oil burned transporting the meat, the electricity required to keep the meat cool, the gas used to cook it and the energy required to plough and harvest the fields that grow the crops that the livestock eat.
The United Nations are fully aware of the benefits of converting the earth’s population to a non-meat diet, as their own 2009 report indicates. It said the meat industry is “one of the the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
The UN report is clear as to the impact that converting to a vegetarian diet can have and is unambivalent in its insistence on a global shift towards a vegan diet.
The report says: “Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency. Major reductions in impact could be achieved at reasonable cost.”
However, despite the UN’s persistent rhetoric on the issue, it has done relatively little to act on its urgent conclusions.