Eat Meat, Ditch Factory Farming, Save the Planet, says Friends of the Earth Report


Photo credit: basheertome via Flickr/Creative Commons

You don't have to be a vegetarian to eat green. Not only that, we can feed the fast-growing population of the planet, and slow down (and eventually stop) climate change, and stop destruction of the world's forests, all without the deleterious effects of factory farming.

So says a new report from Friends of the Earth, which lays out a model for food production and consumption that includes fair, healthy diets for the entire planet's population, and sustainable management of the planet's resources, too.

Sounds pretty good. But is it too good to be true?
Photo credit: CarbonNYC via Flickr/Creative Commons

The research models future food production with different farming methods, land use, and diets -- 72 different scenarios in all -- and concludes that ample food can be produced for the global population that is expected to top nine billion by 2050. Doing so, however, will require a significant change from the intensive methods practiced by factory farms, and a more even distribution of calories across the population. In short: Everything in moderation.

A diet equivalent to eating meat three times a week would allow for sustainable land use -- no need for more Amazon deforestation, for example -- as well as for enough pasture for free-ranging livestock, and acreage to grow crops without extensive use of GMOs, pesticides, and other industrial farming methods.

Changing the factory farming paradigm
These conditions -- enough food, enough land, sustainable methods all around -- requires a variety of changes in the way we interact with food; for us in the developed world, the two biggies are carefully, sustainably sourcing it (to help continue building the infrastructure needed to produce it all -- supply and demand), and doing so in moderation. Eating a bit of meat -- something like a weekday vegetarian diet -- is okay, so long as it doesn't come from the industrial agriculture complex and a factory farm.

That isn't going to reduce the energy and inputs necessary to produce intensive products like beef and dairy; eating meat and drinking milk will continue to have a higher footprint than more vegetable-focused foods. But, with as many people obese in the developed world as malnourished in the developing world -- about a billion each -- the whole planet can stand to benefit from a more even distribution of calories and protein.

Lasse Bruun, Head of Campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, summed it up pretty succinctly, saying, "Animals are being reared like factory units to provide us with cheap meat. The true cost of eating too much meat is animal suffering, deforestation and obesity. We have the power to save our planet and be kind to animals. All we need to do is change our diets to a healthier and fairer option."

Balancing food production with other planetary needs, like fuel
Doing so will require a more delicate balance of land use, certainly -- there can't be as many disparate areas of high- and low-concentrations of food production -- and one thing that will need to get crowded out is growing crops (especially food crops) for fuel. Biofuels, especially first-generation ones like corn ethanol -- have proven pretty ineffective as efficient fuels, but it's a good example of the trade-offs necessary in a world of sustainable agriculture.

This plan also assumes global buy-in, which is easier said than done. The average American eats three cheeseburgers per week (along with a variety of other meaty treats), and ramping up sustainable agricultural practices in developing countries will require a big investment in labor, education, and oversight. Still, the point remains: It can be done, and if we can put a man on the moon, why can't we feed the world? Weekday vegetarians of the world, unite!

Read the report [pdf] to get the full run-down on all the research, myriad scenarios, and brass tacks of how sustainable agriculture can really feed the world.

More about sustainable food production
The World Needs a Farming Revolution! Declares U.N. Report
Rethinking Food Production For A World Of Eight Billion
25% Reduction in Global Food Production by 2050: Organic Agriculture Part of the Solution, UN Says

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