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How Can We Produce More Meat? That's the Wrong Question

01/09/2014 16:26 | Updated 01 November 2014

How will we produce more meat to feed the planet's growing population?

A new report suggests that's a silly question. The report from academics at Cambridge and Aberdeen universities, Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation, addresses an issue all too often ignored in this debate: unsustainable demand for meat and dairy products.

Much of the talk around meat is how we produce more to keep up with demand, which is growing worldwide. But we're building our house on sand. Ramping up meat production to satisfy demand is unsustainable. If we are to build our future food model on solid foundations then the question needs to be: how can we feed a growing world population? In answering that question, we can achieve global food security and feed everyone without wrecking the planet in the process.

The answer is to consume less meat and to waste less. As the report says: "There are... options for reduction on the demand side that are rarely considered." As I explain at length in my book, Farmageddon, getting farm animals back on the land will actually reduce food waste before the food even gets to our plates. If you put ruminants like beef cattle and dairy cows on grass they will turn something we can't eat into something we can. If you cram them into sheds and feedlots and feed them grain that we could be eating then you are wasting a vast amount of food. As the report confirms, animals squander the majority of grain's calorific value when converting it into meat and dairy. Figures vary, but a 70% loss is not over-egging it. That is not to mention the criminal amount of meat and dairy produce we waste as consumers.

Those pushing for more production often do so with technological "solutions", which is misleading, as it makes them look like they are forward-thinking. In fact their way of thinking is stuck in the past, it is an outdated model and in danger of pushing our planet past tipping point.

When presented by huge, existential issues like this, one is tempted to shrug one's shoulders and think "there's nothing I can do about it, so what's the point in trying?" The beauty of a focus on demand and food waste is that individuals can make a difference, simply by cutting down on their own food waste, not overconsuming meat and choosing meat and dairy products from animals raised on the land.

This new report is a welcome addition to the growing body of evidence that supports a truly sustainable solution to our future food dilemma.