We Need to Cut Beef Consumption to Keep Dinner on the Table

A new report, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future“, estimates that there may be as many as two billion more people in the world by 2050, and that means we need big changes to how we feed the world.

The Washington D.C.-based thinktank the World Resources Institute unveiled the report at the COP24 summit in Poland this past week. The report looks at our growing world population and attempts to set out a number of action steps we can use to meet the tsunami of mouths we will have to feed in just a few decades time.

It outlines three major problems we need to tackle when the population booms from near eight billion to 10 billion by 2050.

These include a predicted “food gap” in crop calories, with a shortfall of about 56 percent. Using 2010′s production figures, they extending the rate of production through to 2050 to create a kind of baseline from which to rate growth and see where the shortfall lies. What this essentially means is we won’t keep up with crop production, and we won’t be even close.

As you might have already guessed, the need to increase crop production also requires more land use. From the same estimate, the report suggests a 593 million-hectare gap in available land. That’s a shortfall in available land equivalent to nearly twice the size of India.

And, of course, when you scale up crop production and land use, you also increase greenhouse gas emissions. The report estimates an 11-gigaton greenhouse gas mitigation shortfall, and this is under a model that looks at the upper limit of global warming at 2C, not the preferred 1.5C model we really need.

Tim Searchinger, of the World Resources Institute, is told the Guardian: ”If we tried to produce all the food needed in 2050 using today’s production systems, the world would have to convert most of its remaining forest, and agriculture alone would produce almost twice the emissions allowable from all human activities.”

So how do we meet this short-fall problem?

Our Beef with Beef Continues

Report after report  has said that current meat-eating rates are unsustainable, and this has been acknowledged at the highest levels of policy-making, right through to the United Nations. This latest World Resources Institute report is no different.

The researchers note that our meat habit—particularly beef, lamb and goat—is estimated to rise some 88 percent between 2010 and 2050. The world has a taste for beef, but this comes at a cost: it takes roughly 20 times as much land and produces 20 times more greenhouse gasses to produce a gram beef protein than from beans and lentils.

This creates a massive greenhouse gas emissions rate that we will have to offset somehow — unless, that is, we cut our beef consumption.

The researchers suggest that by largely ditching beef and reducing consumption to a global average of about one and a half burgers per week, we could close the emissions gap by 50 percent and almost entirely eradicate our gap between available land and what we would need.

The researchers recommend that creating policies that drive adoption of plant based diets while also funding improvements to plant-based meat alternatives could be key.

They also acknowledge that the burden for this should actually fall on some countries more than others, with the US, Russia and Brazil needing to reduce their meat eating by about 40 percent–which while ambitious appears doable. At the same time, the researchers believe there is room for the world’s poor to eat slightly more meat and to offset that by promoting plant-based diets in developed economy nations.

It is clear that at the consumer level, ditching meat remains one of the single biggest action steps we can take to future-proof our food future.

We Also Need to Eat Less Fish

The researchers also earmark changing how we approach fishing as another major step, noting that the majority of our fish stocks are either overfished or at the absolute limit of sustainability.

The research suggests that in order to just maintain the catch rate from 2010 through to 2050 we would need to reduce fish catch right now. One of the major action points the researchers want to see here is the end of subsidies that promote overfishing which would help to close the sustainability gap.

However, the researchers acknowledge that getting the world to go predominantly plant-based within just a few decades isn’t going to be possible or even practical, so it looks at a raft of other things we need to do in conjunction with this push to really make a meaningful difference and secure our food production.

Changes at the Industry Level

They suggest a number of other mechanisms that are no less important. These include actually improving how we keep livestock animals, aquaculture environments and crops.

For example, we can reduce emissions from manure by improving how we use nitrogen byproducts. We can also look at swapping out relatively resource intensive grains (like rice) for other grains that are better for the environment.

The researchers also look at how using a number of strategies we might change our land management. If we fund existing technologies, we could dramatically reduce problems like the land shortfall. For example, engineered seeds that survive better in intensive farming environments could cut the amount of land we need while producing a greater yield.

In total, the report outlines 22 ingredients to future-proof our food sustainability, with each acting on different areas of our current food production system to make it smarter, more environmentally friendly, and more adaptable as the world’s population rises.

This report is yet another clear reminder that intense animal farming simply cannot work as the world’s population grows.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

58 comments

Maria P
Maria P3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Aa M
Aa M3 months ago

thanks

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Michael F
Michael F3 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Anna R
Anna R3 months ago

thank you

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Debbi W
Debbi W3 months ago

I'm the granddaughter of a butcher, but I have eliminated three-quarters of the amount of meat I used to eat, in frequency and amount. If everyone would cut back as much, It would be so much better.

I have to play devils advocate, though. If everyone stopped eating chicken, fish, all kinds of meat, that would the ranchers do with their cattle? Let them die? Kill them? That would be a horrific situation. Now that every single person is now a vegan, they, supposedly, will be healthier (if enough veggies and fruit are grown, and the will live longer. How will that work out? The Repubs want to cut out Social Security, medicare & medicaid. What will happen to all those aging people survive? On what? Millions of old people won't have S.S. so they could end up on the street.

The future doesn't look too rosy for the aging population.

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Julia R
Julia R3 months ago

All of us need to cut back on our meat consumption dramatically, if we are going to enable our planet to remain a viable one or else all future generations will be doomed! Start to implement more plant meals in your diet now. Plant based meals are healthier for you and our planet! Try it today. Don’t wait till tomorrow what you can do today to create a food system that is sustainable.

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Victoria P
Victoria P3 months ago

Thank you ~♥~

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Alea C
Alea C3 months ago

Let's stop the $38 BILLION in subsidies the US government gives to the meat and dairy industries EVERY year, and stop reproducing like we have unlimited resources.

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Diane P
Diane P3 months ago

As many of the others have said, STOP EATING MEAT! Stop the horrible torture and killing of innocent animals. It would be a much healthier and compassionate world!

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Henry M
Henry M3 months ago

Widespread veganism is the only way to maintain a population of 9 billion or more. If one-fourth of the current U.S. population became vegans tomorrow, the amount of grain saved by not feeding it to livestock could end world hunger.

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