**Warning: If you love to eat meat, the information you are about to read will challenge you, and your love for meat. Take heart. I am not a vegetarian or vegan, I like to eat meat. I find it difficult to refrain from eating meat, but there is information to suggest reducing our meat intake could improve food security, and subsequently benefit the environment. Not convinced? Just hear me out!
What is food Security?
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. 1
Food security is a growing concern. 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide, the vast majority in developing countries. 2
Our food system is one in which very few people control the entire food supply, and the food system is structured in a way that maximises profit. One reason for increased global hunger is the result of countries shifting away from food crops for the local population, towards cash crops for foreign markets. 3
So, what does eating less meat have to do with it?
Meat is in demand.
The total global demand for meat is expected to grow from 209 million tons in 1997 to around 327 million tons in 2020. We also need to consider the extra hectares of land required, extra water consumed, extra energy burned, and extra chemicals applied, to grow the amount of feed to produce the 327 million tons of meat. 3
“There is more than enough food to feed the world’s population today, and even enough to feed the nine billion people projected to be alive in 2050. But because half of the world’s grain and three-quarters of the coarse grain are fed to livestock rather than directly to people, many millions of people face starvation or food insecurity at the same time that resources are being depleted at a shockingly unsustainable pace”. 4
What makes current levels of meat consumption a danger to food security is both the number of animals reared and the fact that they are grain and soya-fed (the land is devoted primarily to feeding animals rather than people directly). It is trends like this that need to be reversed if sustainable levels of production are to be achieved. 5
Meat production is inefficient. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain to feed the animal and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pork and Chicken are a little less intensive. Since food, water and land are scarce in many parts of the world, this is an inefficient use of resources. 6
The following is a video from PETA, explaining how much water it takes to produce different types of food.
There seems to be a discrepancy between the 15,000 litres of water and the 899 gallons which is only 4086 litres of water) with the two different sources, which makes me question if the one source has overestimated the number of litres. Even if we use the smaller figure of 4086 litres or 899 gallons, this is still a substantial amount of water for only 1 kg of beef. “Each calorie of meat takes far more water to produce than a calorie of grain, so one of the simplest ways of to increase the ratio of food produced to water consumed is to reduce dependence on meat”. 3
Reducing meat intake to increase food security also benefits the environment. The livestock industry emits more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined. There is massive deforestation for grain fed cows and also for food crops used for any farmed animals. Deforestation clears trees and releases carbon dioxide, but at the same time reduces photosynthesis which is needed to pull the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. 7
This is why we see a shift from eating meat and promoting plant-based alternatives such as becoming vegetarian or vegan. It is hard to ignore the information we have been presented with, however, Jackie Hayward, who refers to herself as an omnivorous eater and food writer, is not convinced she needs to give up meat. Jackie says that one of the strongest arguments for eating meat is the advantages of feeding cows grass from the perspective of energy consumption. Cows that are grass-fed are eating bio-mass which we cannot glean from food calories. 8
In contrast, may cows are fed grain which increases global demand and drives up grain prices, making it harder for the world’s poor to feed themselves. Grain could instead be used to feed people, and water used to irrigate crops. 9
“If all grain were fed to humans instead of animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people”. 9
This statistic claiming that we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people is outstanding. What has not been mentioned is the vast inequalities in ‘all people being able to access food at all times’. Just because we stop eating meat or less meat, doesn’t mean that the food going to those animals would automatically go to people who need it the most. Food security is a complex issue and our food system still need to change, to ensure equal access to food, but that discussion will be for another blog!
Conclusion: To eat meat, or not to eat meat, the answer.
It appears that we are using up the Earth’s resources by feeding animals to meet the demand for meat consumption when people are going hungry. As discussed, the food that goes toward feeding livestock could potentially go towards feeding hungry people, however, there needs to be equality in our food system to ensure that the food goes to the people who need it the most.
At the beginning of the article you may recall I said I like to eat meat. Although I do not think I could give up meat entirely, I have come to the conclusion I am going to reduce my meat intake and I hope you do to. I cannot ignore the information and want to do my part in improving food security and the environment.