Updated January 2017
9 Billion human beings by 2050
By 2050 the world human population is expected to rise to over 9 billion, thats 2 billion extra human beings in just over 30 years. As the human population grows, so to does the demand for food. With limited resources this can only place an increasing strain on our environment. We must find sustainable ways to feed our population, and we must also recognise that every year around 56 Billion land based animals are killed and millions of tonnes of fish taken from the sea each year for human food consumption.
This is intensive farming and fishing on a scale never before seen in human history, and it has a devastating impact on the environment. More and more people are becoming disconnected from food production methods, for many people meat is something that is cheap and plentiful at supermarkets and convenience stores. But we must not forget that meat is in the supermarkets because we ourselves create a demand, because we buy the meat, producers produce – slaughter houses process and suppliers supply. There is a very definite link between buying meat and killing animals.
Meat is now the single largest source of protein in all affluent nations and demand for animal flesh is expected to more than double by 2050. Lets ask ourselves what kind of world we want to create in the future ? Is it one that exploits other species for taste sensation, or for profit ? Do we want to live in a world where we exploit other beings ? Our daily food habits have a big impact on the world around us, lets think about what we eat and learn to discriminate – what choices cause suffering to other sentient beings ?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, by the year 2030 an additional 37 million tonnes of fish per year will be needed to maintain current levels of fish consumption. (i). Over-fishing, by-catch, climate change, invasive species and coastal development have resulted in a decline in the number of marine species.
Water Use and Contamination
Much of the world is running out of water. Over 1 billion people worldwide to not have access to clean water and more than double that number do not have proper sanitation (i). The IPCC predicts that by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are likely to be exposed to water stress as a result of climate change (v). The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that by 2025 there will be 1.8 billion people living with absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the worlds population could be living under water-stressed conditions. Agricultural production consumes more fresh water than any other human activity (vi) and demand for water-intensive food items like meat and dairy products is placing increased stress on food production systems (vii).
Farming accounts for around 70% of all freshwater withdrawn from lakes, waterways and aquifers (the accessible underground layers of water) (vi). Meat production, such as the feeding of cattle, is a particularly water-intensive process (viii), (ix) and livestock production accounts for 8% of global human water consumption. The total water footprint of the United Kingdom is 102 Gm2 (billion cubic metres) per year, this equates to over 4,500 lites of water per person per day.
Meat produce in different parts of the world requires different amounts of water due to variations in species, rainfall, hygiene standards, drinking needs, slaughter, butchering, cleaning, packaging and also the water required to grow the animals feed. As a result, estimates of the water required to produce a kilo of beef vary, from 13,000 litres (vi) right up to 100,000 litres (x). Whichever you consider, the damage is plain when you consider that the water required to produce a kilo of wheat is somewhere between 1000-2000 litres.
Rearing animals for meat also contributes significantly to water pollution, with animal waste, anti-biotics and hormones entering the water cycle alongside chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops.
Thirty percent of the Earths entire land surface – a massive 70% of all agricultural land – is used for rearing farmed animals. Much of this is grazing land that would otherwise host a natural habitat such as the valuable rain forest, but crops are also grown specifically as animal feed. In fact, a third of the worlds land suitable for growing crops is used to produce feed for farmed animals (iii).
Livestock farming is essentially inefficient as mammals in particular are inefficient converters of feed to meat. A vast percentage of gross energy (89-97%) and protein (80-96%) contained in the cereal or grain fed to animals is not converted into edible fat or protein (ii). Cattle require approximately 7kg of grain in order to generate 1 kg of beef and pigs require 4kg grain for 1kg of pork. Livestock farming can lead to overgrazing causing soil erosion, desertification and deforestation (iv). Twenty percent of the worlds grazing land has already been designated as degraded due to the rearing of animals for their meat (iii).
Forests are one of the worlds most valuable resources, providing a home for approximately 300 million people along with numerous unique plant and animal species. Over 1.5 billion people depend upon the forests, either for livelihood, fuel wood, medicinal plants or food. Tropical rainforests are thought to hold over half of the Earths plant and animal species. Our forests are being destroyed at a rapid rate. Livestock production is responsible for 70% of the Amazon deforestation in Latin America, where the rainforest has been cleared to create new pastures.
A typical diet requires up to 2.5 times the amount of land compared to a vegetarian diet, and 5 times that of a vegan diet. Switching to a plant based protein diet could free up to 2700 million hectares of pasture and 100 million hectares of cropland.
i) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) http://www.fao.org/
ii) Smil V. 2002. Worldwide transformation of diets, burdens of meat production and opportunities for novel food proteins. Enzyme and Microbial Technology. 30, 305-311
iii) Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. 2006. Livestocks long shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Rome.
iv) White T. 2000. Diet and the distribution of environmental impact. Ecological Economics. 34, 145-153.
v) Amber-Edwards, S. Bailey, K. Kiff, A. Lang, T. Lee, R. Marsden, T. Simons, D. and Tibbs, H. 2009. Food Futures – Rethinking the UK Strategy. A Chatham House Report.
vi) Food and Agriculture Organisation. 22nd March 2007. FAO urges action to cope with increasing water scarcity. Rome. http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2007/1000520/index.html
vii) Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). 2004. Water – More nutrition per drop.
viii) Smil, V.2001. Enriching the Earth Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the transformation of world food production. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
ix) Fallenmark, M. 1989. Water scarcity and food production. Food and natural resources, San Diego (CA): Academic Press. 164-191 in Pental. D, Call CW (eds).
x) Pimental D., Houser J., Preiss E, White O, Fang O., Mesnick L., Barsky T., Tariche J.S., and Alpert S. 1997. Water Resources: Agriculture, the Environment and Society, Bioscience. 47 (2), 97-106.