The impact of animal agriculture on world hunger

World population is increasing, and with it the ever-growing risks of hunger, starvation, water scarcity, and environmental disasters. The question of how we feed the world fairly and sustainably has never been more urgent. A plant-based diet uses less resources, creates less pollution and pesticides, and can contribute to a fairer and more equal world. ProVeg provides information on how the production of animal products exacerbates both world hunger and the unfair distribution of food.

Unequal distribution of food is a global problem

Globally, nearly 815 million people are hungry or malnourished, and many more are undernourished.1)Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, et al. (2017): The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2017: building resilience for peace and food security. p. 2 At the same time, nearly 2 billion people are overweight, with 650 million suffering from obesity.2)WHO (2018): Obesity and overweight. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ [12.02.2018] It is expected that world population will grow by more than 30% by 2050, with around 11-13 billion people on the planet by 2100.3)UN (2017): World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html [08.03.2018] 4)Gerland, P., A. E. Raftery, H. Sevčíková, et al. (2014): World population stabilization unlikely this century. Science. 346, p.234–237 The question of how to distribute our resources and feed a growing global population in order to create a just world with less hunger, animal suffering, and environmental problems has never been more relevant. Achieving food security for everyone means doing more to ensure that everyone has reliable access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food in order to maintain an active and healthy life.5)Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (1996): Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. World Food Summit 13-17 November 1996. Rome. Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4671e/y4671e06.htm#fn30 [07.03.2018]

The poorest and most vulnerable people are disproportionately impacted by an inequitable global food distribution system. While geopolitical factors play a major role in poverty and access to food, there is one simple thing that citizens of developed nations can do to help, which is to eat fewer animal products, and ideally consume only plant-based foods.

 

Animal farming wastes a staggering amount of food

A shocking 30-40% of all food produced for human consumption never gets eaten. Instead, it is allowed to spoil after harvest, lost during transport, or thrown away by retailers or consumers.6)Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (2011). Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome. pp. 6-9. Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e00.pdf [07.03.2018] The massive amount of wasted food could feed hundreds of millions of people each year.

However, the real waste occurs in animal agriculture. Over 50% of the world’s crops are grown to feed livestock, not people.7)Hertwich, E. (2010): Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Product and Materials. Programa de la Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente. p. 80 If all crops were used exclusively for direct human consumption, it would increase available food calories by 70%, which would mean that an additional 4 billion people could be fed.8)Cassidy, E. S., P. C. West, J. S. Gerber, et al. (2013): Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, p.034015 This means that with a purely plant-based diet more than 10 billion people could be fed using existing agricultural land.9)Cassidy, E. S., P. C. West, J. S. Gerber, et al. (2013): Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, p.034015 10)Erb, K.-H., C. Lauk, T. Kastner, et al. (2016): Exploring the biophysical option space for feeding the world without deforestation. Nature Communications. 7, p.11382 11)The Guardian (2016): Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/14/organic-farming-agriculture-world-hunger [20.03.2018]

Intensive livestock production uses about a third of the world’s grain, and about 75% of soya, undermining global food security.12)Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2017): Crop Prospects and Food Situation. March 2017. p.7 .FAO, Rome 13)Brack, D., A. Glover & L. Wellesley (2016): Agricultural Commodity Supply Chains Trade, Consumption and Deforestation. Chatham House, London. p. 24 Feeding grain and soya to animals and subsequently consuming their meat and milk is less efficient in terms of energy, protein, and land use than eating the plants directly.14)Garnett T. (2010). Livestock, feed and food security. FCRN Briefing paper. Soya, a major livestock feed, can provide up to 15 times more protein per hectare than livestock can produce. Many other legumes and other vegetables also have higher levels of digestible protein per hectare.15)Giovannucci, D., S. Scherr, D. Nierenberg, et al. (2012): Food and Agriculture: the future of sustainability. A strategic input to the Sustainable Development in the 21st Century (SD21) project. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development. p. 10

 

Meat production causes deforestation and promotes land grabbing

The growing demand for animal products requires developed nations to import hundreds of thousands of tonnes of animal feed – in particular soya, maize, and grains – from developing countries in South America and Africa. The EU’s average land consumption per capita (land needed to produce the amount of agricultural and forestry products consumed per person) is 1.3 hectares, while citizens of countries such as China and India require less than 0.4 hectares per capita.16)B. Lugschitz, M. Bruckner und S. Giljum (2011): Europe‘s global land demand: a study on the actual land embodied in European imports and exports of agricultural and forestry products. Wien: Sustainable Europe Research Institute, 2011. p. 14 Nearly 60% of the land required to satisfy the EU’s demand for agricultural and forestry products lies outside Europe. Every year, Germany and the UK each import products requiring more than 80 million hectares of land outside their own borders.17)B. Lugschitz, M. Bruckner und S. Giljum (2011): Europe‘s global land demand: a study on the actual land embodied in European imports and exports of agricultural and forestry products. Wien: Sustainable Europe Research Institute, 2011. p. 22 This is neither fair nor sustainable. Similarly, European and Asian fishing fleets catch substantial amounts of fish off the coast of Africa, destroying local livelihoods in the process.

 

Animal products cause global water shortage

Additionally, animal agriculture requires nearly one third of the world’s total agricultural water footprint.18)Mekonnen M.M. and Hoekstra A. (2012). A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Ecosystems, DOI: 10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8 [07.03.2018] Today, more than 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water while 4.5 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation.19)WHO (2017): 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/water-sanitation-hygiene/en/ [12.03.2018] Water scarcity is likely to increase, and it is expected that by 2025 around 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with water scarcity.20)WWAP (World Water Assessment Programme) (2012): The United Nations World Water Development Report 4: Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk. Paris, UNESCO. p 541 The water footprint of any animal-based product is larger than that of plant-based products with equivalent nutritional value, making it more water-efficient to obtain calories, protein, and nutrients from plants than from animals.

 

Food policy worsens food injustice

Meanwhile, EU and US agricultural and food policies continue to reward the production of feed crops such as soya. This increases animal suffering, worsens global food security, and denies food sovereignty to many people worldwide. Overproduction of certain foods – such as milk and meat, which exceeds demand in ‘domestic’ (for example EU or US) markets – leads to the dumping of food onto global markets, making the production of these foods economically unfeasible in the Global South and giving producers in richer countries an unfair advantage.

 

The impact of the international fishing industry on local fishing communities

Trawlers and other industrial-scale fishing practices have caused substantial damage to the world’s oceans. Reefs are undergoing coral bleaching due to increasing temperatures, while overfishing has caused marine depletion and a loss of biodiversity.

Countries such as China, Japan, and the European nations have started fishing off the African coasts to satisfy their growing demand for seafood. Of this fishing, an estimated 37% is carried out illegally. It is becoming clear that this international fishing is affecting local fishermen’s livelihoods – West Africa alone could be losing $1.3 billion annually. This is another example of the sharp division between the developed and developing worlds, and growing global inequality.21)Mail & Guardian Africa. (2015). Fishy business in West African waters – and the bad guys are not always the usual suspects. http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-05-27-illegal-fishing-africa [07.03.2018]

 

A plant-based diet requires far fewer resources

Animal agriculture contributes to deforestation and land-use change, in this case the conversion of wilderness into farmland. The livestock and fishing industries are partially responsible for the loss of biodiversity, decreased ecosystem functions, climate change, water shortages, and pollution. The consumption of animal-based products on a massive scale decreases food security for hundreds of millions of people from the Global South who are negatively affected by the land-use changes necessary to produce these products. Their land is used to raise crops to feed livestock in wealthy countries, and their oceans are overfished to satisfy demand abroad, while they themselves frequently struggle to simply survive.

Meat, dairy, eggs, and fish are, in truth, luxury foods that the vast majority of people do not need if well-balanced and varied plant-based diets are available. There would be enough food for all if we used resources more efficiently by going straight to the source of the energy (grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds, and so on) and cutting out the ‘middleman’ (the animals).

 

ProVeg supports the availability of plant-based alternatives

ProVeg is committed to creating a fairer food system by not contributing to animal and human exploitation and demanding that politicians change agricultural and food policies to benefit people, animals, and the environment. Furthermore, ProVeg points out healthy, cruelty-free alternatives to animal products and makes them more readily available by advising and supporting innovative companies that want to enrich the veggie market with their products. In its political work, ProVeg advocates and communicates the potential of plant-based foods and lifestyles for tackling various problem areas such as resource conservation, environmental protection, and animal welfare.

References   [ + ]

1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, et al. (2017): The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2017: building resilience for peace and food security. p. 2
2. WHO (2018): Obesity and overweight. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ [12.02.2018]
3. UN (2017): World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html [08.03.2018]
4. Gerland, P., A. E. Raftery, H. Sevčíková, et al. (2014): World population stabilization unlikely this century. Science. 346, p.234–237
5. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (1996): Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. World Food Summit 13-17 November 1996. Rome. Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4671e/y4671e06.htm#fn30 [07.03.2018]
6. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (2011). Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome. pp. 6-9. Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e00.pdf [07.03.2018]
7. Hertwich, E. (2010): Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Product and Materials. Programa de la Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente. p. 80
8, 9. Cassidy, E. S., P. C. West, J. S. Gerber, et al. (2013): Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, p.034015
10. Erb, K.-H., C. Lauk, T. Kastner, et al. (2016): Exploring the biophysical option space for feeding the world without deforestation. Nature Communications. 7, p.11382
11. The Guardian (2016): Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/14/organic-farming-agriculture-world-hunger [20.03.2018]
12. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2017): Crop Prospects and Food Situation. March 2017. p.7 .FAO, Rome
13. Brack, D., A. Glover & L. Wellesley (2016): Agricultural Commodity Supply Chains Trade, Consumption and Deforestation. Chatham House, London. p. 24
14. Garnett T. (2010). Livestock, feed and food security. FCRN Briefing paper.
15. Giovannucci, D., S. Scherr, D. Nierenberg, et al. (2012): Food and Agriculture: the future of sustainability. A strategic input to the Sustainable Development in the 21st Century (SD21) project. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development. p. 10
16. B. Lugschitz, M. Bruckner und S. Giljum (2011): Europe‘s global land demand: a study on the actual land embodied in European imports and exports of agricultural and forestry products. Wien: Sustainable Europe Research Institute, 2011. p. 14
17. B. Lugschitz, M. Bruckner und S. Giljum (2011): Europe‘s global land demand: a study on the actual land embodied in European imports and exports of agricultural and forestry products. Wien: Sustainable Europe Research Institute, 2011. p. 22
18. Mekonnen M.M. and Hoekstra A. (2012). A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Ecosystems, DOI: 10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8 [07.03.2018]
19. WHO (2017): 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/water-sanitation-hygiene/en/ [12.03.2018]
20. WWAP (World Water Assessment Programme) (2012): The United Nations World Water Development Report 4: Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk. Paris, UNESCO. p 541
21. Mail & Guardian Africa. (2015). Fishy business in West African waters – and the bad guys are not always the usual suspects. http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-05-27-illegal-fishing-africa [07.03.2018]