Food Crisis, Biofuel and 60 Billion Animals

Posted on June 9, 2008

OK, I’m going to open this blog with something close to my heart… food. In this blog I want to ask questions as much as suggest answers… but I’m going to start with the latter. Problem=food wastage + unequal distribution. Solution= plant-based vegetarian foods + international cooperation. Not growing more food.

Did you know that last year we produced food for more than 10 billion people?

I shook my head when Ban Ki Moon recently said that food production would need to double by 2030. Surely more production would be the last option, after mitigating wastages.


Rising use of biofuels, trade restrictions, increased demand from Asia to serve changing diets, poor harvests and increasing transport costs have all been blamed for the price rise.

Which are likely all part of the problem. I’d like to throw in something else which was just lightly skipped over (not only in this article but in the entire conference in Italy…)

Animal Food.

Yep. Surreptitiously mentioned as ‘changing Asian diets’. As if the west did not consume grossly disproportionate numbers of animals.

Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, interviewed by Yale Environment 360:

Most of this grain we’re talking about is being fed to animals. So meat-eating is a tremendous part of this problem too, and specifically the meat eating increase that we see in places like China and India. They want to eat meat the way we do. Well, here in America, we’re eating over 200 pounds of meat per person per year. When you factor in people not eating meat, that’s an obscene amount of meat. That’s meat at three meals a day, just about. So one way to take pressure off these grain stocks is to start eating the grain and not feeding it to animals and not feeding it to cars. We have to remember that the arable land in this world is a precious and finite resource, and we should be using it to grow food for people, not for cars and animals.

I’m not just making a fuss because I avoid eating animals myself. The fact is that nearly seven times the amount of cereal used for biofuel production is wasted in animal food. Globally this year about 2126 million tonnes of cereal will be grown. Less than 5% of this will be used to produce biofuel but around 35% of this will be wasted by the inefficiency of feeding cereal to animals (source).

So while the solution partly lies in economic and political areas, the problem can be less serious if we all start eating less meat this year. 1/3rd less serious if we take up a healthy plant-based diet instead. Oh, and if we do, climate change will also be less serious – far so. Land deforested for grazing and feed-cropping can be revegetated and farmed animal numbers can dwindle to a few helping us plough the 1/7th of current agricultural land that will be needed to feed the world. (Estimates only – I tried to be conservative! You get the picture.)

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