Instead of growing more to meet the food needs of an increasing population (and razing even more of the planet as we do so); perhaps we just need to change what we are growing.
A recent study states more than a third of the calories produced by the world’s crops are being used for animal feed.
Just 12% of those feed calories wind up as part of human nutrition in the form of meat, dairy, eggs etc.
Researchers at the Institute on the Environment (IonE), University of Minnesota, say growing food exclusively for direct human consumption could in principle increase available food calories by as much as 70% – enough to feed another 4 billion people.
While my skin crawls at the prospect of another 4 billion souls on this planet, the basic points they are making are very important.
It’s not just feed for animals sucking up a tremendous amount of existing agricultural and natural resources either – the siphoning from biofuel crops rose from 1% to 4% of the total caloric count between 2000 and 2010.
“Even small shifts in our allocation of crops to animal feed and biofuels could significantly increase global food availability, and could be an instrumental tool in meeting the challenges of ensuring global food security,” states the study (PDF).
Other tweakery could have a positive impact too. For example, the researchers state shifting grain-fed beef production to pork and chicken production could increase feed conversion efficiencies from 12% to 23%. In doing so, this would represent an extra 357 million additional people able to be fed.
Personally, I’d rather see a focus on seeing that the human head count didn’t expand by X billion. But even if population did stabilize (dreaming I know), applying similar changes could provide major benefits now; not just in terms of human health but also preventing even more natural habitat being destroyed. In fact, we could reverse some of the environmental damage we’ve done.
The point the study makes about chicken is one we meat-eaters can act on now. By switching grain-fed beef from our diets to free range chicken or grass-fed beef, we can lighten our environmental footprint a little.