„When I travel around the world, I see poor countries selling their grain to the West while their own children starve in their arms. And the West feeds these grains to its „farm animals“. Just so we can eat a steak? Am I the only one who sees that this is a crime? Believe me, every piece of meat we eat is a slap in the crying face of a hungry child. If I look that kid in the eye, how can I keep quiet? „The earth can produce enough food to satisfy the needs of all people, but not the greed of all people.“
– Philip Wollen, award-winning philanthropist and former Vice President of Citibank
Animal production and consumption waste resources
The extent to which global production of around 324 million tonnes of meat (2017) alone will compete with food security can be illustrated by a simple correlation:
Already 35% of the global grain harvest is used – with an increasing tendency – for animal feed. In addition, 70 to 75 % of the global soya harvest. The conversion of these plant resources into animal products is accompanied by losses of food energy: between 65 and 90 % of the plant food energy and protein are required by the fed animals on average for their own metabolism – only 10 to 35 % are converted into meat and other animal products.
If the fed plant resources (or the arable land used for this purpose) were made available directly for human consumption, it would in principle be possible to feed more people than via the „detour animal“.
Scarcity of arable land“ as a resource
The conversion losses are also problematic in so far as one third of the 1.4 billion hectares of arable land that can be used globally is already used for the cultivation of animal feed. Around one-third of the world’s arable land is also degraded by a moderate to severe degree – not least because of intensive farming methods, with which maximum yields are to be continuously achieved, for example on forage land.
In order to avoid having to use more arable land for the cultivation of animal feed and to reduce the overall management pressure on the areas used, a reversal of the globally still increasing trend towards more animal consumption is indicated. However, the development of further arable or pasture land – for example through the ongoing clearing of the rainforest – cannot be a solution: the environmental damage caused by the destruction of biotopes, the serious loss of biodiversity and the large quantities of CO2 released in the process are too great.
Potentials of sustainable diets
Various scientific studies in recent years have shown the potential resulting from a considerable reduction in animal production and consumption:
According to a study by the University of Edinburgh (2017), around 1.1 billion tonnes of crops are currently used in global food production to produce only 240 million tonnes of animal products such as meat, milk and eggs – the losses of plant food energy and proteins in animal production are particularly evident from these figures.
A study by the University of Minnesota (2013) calculated that four billion more people could already be fed if the entire grain and soy harvest were ready for direct human consumption. In their own study (2013), the Universities of Göttingen and Hohenheim also showed that even a 20% reduction in meat consumption in the industrialised countries could „lead to a noticeable improvement in the food situation in developing countries“„.
Regarding the question whether all humans could be fed in 2050 if the further deforestation of forests for the development of arable and pasture land were stopped, researchers of the Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture came to the same trend-setting result in a joint study (2016):
Of a total of 500 calculated scenarios, all scenarios with a vegan diet (including vegan nutrition and complete organic production) and 94 % of the scenarios with a vegetarian diet proved „feasible“. For all other diets, the rate of feasible scenarios dropped significantly.
“Please don’t refuse with your eyes what the animals endure with their bodies.”