Do we really need more meat?

We need to double food output by 2050.

Oh yeah?

Who says?

Monsanto and a few other agri-companies say so.

Not the most trusted sources, as far as I am concerned.

A far more trusted source, the organic charity, the Soil Association, believes that the message currently driving food-policy to “double food production by 2050” is based on a lie.

This call to double food production (convenient for agribiz) is based on a forecast that production of animal feed would need to increase by 70% in order to feed developing countries with the same fast-food junk that is making the west ill.

Apparently half the world’s crops are feeding animals not humans. This is nuts. Do we really need more meat?  If we ate less meat, we could use the crops to feed more humans.

The ideal organic vision is for a “closed” system – that is, where the animals are fed by crops grown on the farm, and in turn help fertilise the soil with their poo.

This is Simon Fairlie’s argument in his new book, Meat, which even persuaded George Monbiot that meat thus produced could be ethical.

A mixed farming system (crops+animals+poo all on the same farm) is completely different way of producing meat in factory farms – where the animals are treated as a commodities without sensibilities and their poo goes to waste (literally).

Carnivores – eat meat by all means – but in moderation (remember when we had chicken as a treat?) and from mixed organic farms.

I am at the launch of a new Soil Association report.

Peter Melchett, policy director, gives us the lowdown, starting with above context.

Feeding the animals that feed us is the first of several Soil Association reports on the future of farming including phosphate, water and oil.

Not promising answers – more starting a discussion.

24 responses to “Do we really need more meat?

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  2. “Do we really need more meat?” Yes, we do. Why? Because, firstly the population is growing and, secondly, we need protein as one of the body’s sustenance. Like anything in life, moderation is the key. If one resorts to eating red meat, once a week will suffice or, alternatively if one has to increase their intake of meat, either casserole or braising shouldn’t be a problem. I appreciate there are other forms of protein intake, but some people do like their meat, so it doesn,t matter what kind of protestation is out there, meat eaters will always fight their corner.
    Having said that, I wish you luck in your endeavours.


    • Hi Nina

      The population is levelling out and women in developing countries are having less babies than the previous generation.

      The population is not growing – and there is enough food to go round.

      I am not a great meat-eater but I know plenty of people who are. I am not knocking meat-eaters.

      Like you I am saying: moderation is key.

      Thanks for commenting!


      • Art of the Possible

        Why do you say the human population is not growing?

        I’m afraid we are still growing, and on current projections will continue to multiply, adding another 2 billion to make an epic 9 billion by mid-century, if no force majeure intervenes …


      • Why are you so sure the population will reach an epic nine million?

        Projections are guesses.

        The threatened population explosion in China is a classic example of how unreliable population projections are.

        Projections are useful because they create a scenario which alerts humans to change course.

        I prefer to look at what has and is happening. This can be measured.

        But to my mind a projection is about as reliable as a prediction.

        – and do see my ‘esprit de l’escalier’ comment where I agree I was wrong to…..(see comment below)


      • Art of the Possible

        Why are you so dismissive of projections? They are essential for forward planning, which is why organisations like the UN spend good money on them. We cannot turn a blind eye to the future.

        I’m also surprised that you cannot see or have not heard about the massive ecological damage that our already huge population is causing. Soil erosion, deforestation, species driven to extinction, pollution, climate change, urbanisation and so on. You really should look at what is actually happening. There’s plenty on the internet about it, plenty of books too. Not to mention the evidence of your own eyes showing you how many beautiful wild places and green spaces have been destroyed to build houses and all the other things that people want.

        Even the most optimistic people do not think that the population pressure is going to reduce until somewhere around mid-century. Take a look at this summary and graph:

        The next twenty years are the crunch point as the human population goes on increasing and the resources available to us dwindle as we rapidly consume them.


      • Hi Art of the Possible

        Of course I know about the massive ecological damage the planet is suffering from.

        That’s why I am advocating organic farming, for a start.

        Where we don’t agree is what is causing the ecological damage.

        I think the cause is far less to do with too many being born, and for more to do with the way our natural resources are exploited for profit by a few.

        Women tend to have more babies where infant mortality is high and women’s education is low. So let us look after the poor and sick, and educate women – and watch the population slow even further…

        Thanks for commenting – this is a hot potato, I know! Elisabeth

        I also argue that if you want to reduce population


      • Art of the Possible

        Unfortunately Elisabeth, we are not in an either/or situation. That’s just a false dichotomy made up by an outdated anthropocentric political system of “Left” and “Right”.

        The massive and growing problems of the human species stem from overpopulation and from overconsumption, both.

        We in the West have been appropriating and squandering the Earth’s resources for decades, if not centuries now. Well, guess what, now China, India, Africa and all the other people in the world want to live like most of us do, flying, driving, air-con, fridges, supermarkets, cheap food, pesticides, factories, all the trappings of the consumerist lifestyle.

        And who are we in the West to tell them they can’t “because it’s bad for the environment”, eh???


      • Hi Art of the Possible

        I agree: Right and Left can be unhelpful terms, as we are all in the same boat. I agree Either/Or serves no one. And/And is better.

        I also agree: it is patronising to say to countries in the Majority World: “Sorry you cannot live like lords and squander resources as we have been doing.”

        But that is not where I am coming from.

        I am coming from wanting to support people in the Majority World who want to resist profit-driven multinationals.

        For instance, there is currently a huge movement in Eastern India to combat another so-called Green revolution.

        This so-called Green revolution (misleading marketing term) is trying to push Eastern India to farm with expensive and debt-producing chemicals which caused so much devastation in the Punjab.

        There are plenty of people in the Majority World who see the ecological and economic mess the West has caused and do not want their country to go the same way.


    • But do we really need to double food output? The Soil Assoc reckon that the idea is based on feeding cereal-based diets to animals in vast factory-farm systems, to provide TOO MUCH meat (based on a richer diet than you suggested above).


  3. Good to see you yesterday. I put a video on our website – it’s on youtube so if you wanted to embed it here that’s possible.


    • Hi Jason

      Great to have the video on my blog – thank so much.

      I have tweaked this post to make it clearer as well as to add a reference to Simon Fairlie’s new book, Meat.

      Re your comment “based on a richer diet than you suggested” – I did not understand what you meant. Please do enlighten me – I want to get it right!



  4. Hi Art of the Possible

    On reflection, I was wrong to say: “the population is not growing”.

    It would be more correct to say that the projected population explosion is not a certainty, and indeed, appears to be slowing.

    According to Fred Pearce: “… there is no exponential growth. In fact, population growth is slowing. For more than three decades now, the average number of babies being born to women in most of the world has been in decline. Globally, women today have half as many babies as their mothers did, mostly out of choice. ”



  5. Art of the Possible

    Elisabeth, you appear a little confused.

    Of course the RATE of growth is slowing, otherwise we’d really be in the doo-doo. But, as even Fred Pearce admits, the actual human population is still growing at “70m a year.”

    Since the current human population is already wreaking terrible havoc on the world’s habitats and ecosystems, an additional 70 million people every year, each and every one demanding an increasingly resource-intensive life-style, as people are, is going to mean an ever more impoverished environment.

    The next twenty years is going to be a very bumpy ride!


    • Before we start calling other people confused perhaps we can just check our own facts: the rate of growth is not just slowing, it has been falling since 1967 and is now half of what it was on the 1960s.

      The real issue is not how many people there are but how they behave and the respect they treat each other with.

      Instead of attacking people who spend their whole life trying to envision and create a better world, you could stop trotting out tired old arguments based on early twentieth century eugenics (“too many stupid and poor people having babies”) and apply your considerable intellect on how we solve the situation we are in now with the the vast wealth of human capital we have at our disposal.


      • I don’t often agree with spiked but this article Too many people? No, too many Malthusians amused me.

        Especially this: “Paul Ehrlich, a patron of the Optimum Population Trust and author of a book called The Population Bomb, wrote about his ‘shocking’ visit to New Delhi in India. He said: ‘The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, [we wondered] would we ever get to our hotel…?’”

        spiked is actually running a campaign called: No to Neo-Malthusianism – Why we oppose population control.

        Not sure why this is worth a whole campaign, but hey.

        Brendan O’Neill, spiked editor, believes resources are not finite, thus concluding the greens are deluded. So I don’t agree with him there.

        He also says population is growing exponentially. Don’t agree with that either.

        And I find it interesting that modern-day Malthusians “have adopted environmentalist language to justify their demands for population reduction.” However I think people are genuinely concerned about resources and people. I don’t agree that there is a population explosion but I understand the worry.

        Brendan O’Neill does not, however, mention the importance of having less children – – from a female point-of-view especially – and how this can be achieved by reducing infant mortality and increasing female education.


      • Art of the Possible

        Hey Mike, you’re the one talking about “ stupid and poor people having babies” and that socialist eugenics stuff. What nonsense.

        The human species is completely out of balance with the rest of the natural world now. Anyone who studies the science of ecology will learn the basic biological fact that any given ecosystem can only support a limited number of large omnivorous animals like humans. At the moment we are way over that limit and literally pushing all the other species out, exterminating them, in a way that is ethically unacceptable, as well as suicidal from a self-interested point of view.

        The ecological footprint of the human race is massive and getting bigger all the time. Every year ecological debt day gets earlier and earlier in the year.


  6. …we need protein as one of the body’s sustenance…

    Well, yes, but we don’t need it from meat. Not when there’s cheese, whey, nuts, eggs, milk, soy, quorn, yoghurt and grains – a whole panoply of proteinous products. People eat more than good health recquires, anyway, and even disregarding that and environmental concerns, the ethics of it can be abomimable.

    Oh, sure, I don’t expect steak-eaters to pay heed but that doesn’t mean the case for – at least – reduced consumption isn’t unassailable (well, nihilists excepted).


    • Hi Ben

      I agree that there is a host of non-meat – and non-dairy – protein we could eat.

      That’s why eating LESS meat does not need to be a hardship.

      It can be a culinary joy as well as more healthy.

      But for some, eating meat represents…something beyond the protein argument. I am still trying to work out what it symbolises.

      (Ponder, ponder).


  7. There is ALREADY a population explosion! There are already too many people on the planet – we are crowding out other species (the rate of extinction occurring is as many as 100 to1,000 times greater than normal) and using up more of our resources than we have. Then combine that with the current global population more and more adopting the western lifestyle (meat eating, car driving, holiday taking, gadget using) and anyone can see that overpopulation is a problem now, let alone in the future.
    Working against overpopulation is actually a very humanistic thing to do as overpopulation creates human suffering, esp for women and children.

    David Cameron and Gordon Brown are setting us a very bad example by having 3 kids – STOP AT TWO!

    As for current overpopulation, anyone see the Unreported World program recently on overcrowding in Manilla? Watch that for a taste of our future.

    Re the meat debate, there is nothing wrong with eating meat, but we do eat too much meat in this country (and other westernised countries). Its not just bad for the planet but its bad for our health, and is linked to many cancers, esp bowel and stomach cancer.

    I personally absolutely bloody LOVE meat, so this is nothing to do with anti-meat eating.


  8. I think it would be useful to watch this video of Peter Harper’s presentation to Bristol’s Schumacher CAT Zero Carbon Britain 2030 conference (16/10/2010). You will see the huge greenhouse gas emissions of the livestock sector and why this has to be cut using a huge reduction in livestock.
    Peter Harper is the 2nd presenter, so you may wish to move on to get to him.


  9. Population may be growing in some areas (India for example)
    Population is growing slowly – and in some places is declining – in many meat eating places (America, Australia, many parts of Europe)
    Japan is having a huge crisis (even looking at inventing robots to do aged care as they do not have enough young people to look after the old)

    Religion is the reason that many people in these population booming areas do not eat meat. There is western influence over these places though that is trying to introduce more meat eating.

    We do not need to eat meat.
    It is pleasurable to some, but protein can be got from many other sources. More recent studies show that 15 – 20g/day of protein is sufficient. Average Amerians comsume around 90g/day. High protein levels lead to excessive nitrogen levels in the blood (kinotoxin) This means our liver and glands overwork trying to rid this toxin from our bloodstream, taking with it other nutrients and also leading to Chronic Fatigue, Headaches, Miagraines, Arthritis and other Glandular related diseases.

    This can happen with excess soy power, etc as well.

    What we do need is a more efficent farming method.
    Industrial farming is wasteful. Our supermarkets are wasteful. We are wasteful.
    A quarter of food grown will never reach supermarkets. Much of the food that does is thrown out. In Australia this food is locked away for insurance reasons. 1 out of 4 bags that is taken home from the supermarket will be thrown out.
    We could currently feed at least twice the population with no change apart from better habits.


    • Thank you, Kat.

      I could not agree more.

      The current western model of industrial food and supermarket distribution is wasteful, wasteful, wasteful.

      And it is this model that is being pushed on to poorer countries in the Majority World, usually in return for aid. The only ones to profit from expanding industrial farming are the multinational seed and chemical companies.

      And yes, again I agree: people are not going hungry through lack of food. They are going hungry because of the unfair distribution of resources.

      There is enough food to go round. We just need to learn to share it better – something human beings have the intelligence to do.


  10. In addition to my previous comment – greenhouse gas emissions are epic from the agricultural sector (and not just meat).

    The entire system needs to be changed.

    People are never starving due to lack of food, but by landlessness, poverty and the denial of access to food. This comes from high cost of farming, need to meet export, and large companies forcing smaller farmers off land.

    Much of today’s farmed food is high in chemicals and low in nutrient value due to destructive farming and transport techniques.

    Industrial food is also so expensive if you account for the medical, environmental and social impact that it has. Small farms actually produce a lot more food than larger ones and also need far less mechanical and chemical imput. The less chemical and mechanical imput you need the less you affect the environment.

    The more chemicals and mechanics you need to run a farm, the more you have to rely on big companies to supply you with the seed/equiptment/etc and the less people will have the ability to be able to afford to run such a farm. Biotechnology will not help the world. It will patent and make money.

    I can explain any point further if anything is unclear, but organic, sustainable farming is the best answer for the world and the most productive and economically viable.


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