World Will Either Need 2x as Much Meat by 2050 or We Could Eat a Little Less

In-N-Out Veggie Burger

Will In-N-Out have to invent a less lame veggie burger? The current one is cheese and toppings--that's all--on a hamburger bun.

If population keeps growing and getting richer like it has been, we’re going to need twice as much meat by 2050, the World Meat Congress announced this week.  They expect 9 billion people on earth by 2050 eating 460 million tons of meat a year. Right now 6.8 billion people get by on  284 million tons of meat. So, they expect population to go up 40% but meat consumption to rise 100% as developing countries get richer.

Jolly meets a cow

Jolly meets a cow

Where can all this meat possibly come from? Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, says this report from Allied Venture. Most of the increases (80-90%) in production are coming from efficiency, especially in the developing world. Allied Venture predicts that the amount of agricultural land in developing countries will go up by 12%. That’s a lot of habitat loss. On the other hand, in the developed world agricultural use of land will actually go down by 8%. Incidentally, Allied Venture says that overall food production is going to have to rise 70% to keep up with demand.

Here in the U.S., we’ve already doubled our meat consumption once in the past 50 years. Consuming only twice as much meat as we did 50 years ago makes us seem modest on the world scale, where countries like China and Saudi Arabia now eat about 27 times as much meat as they did in 1961. (see table below)

The other option is that we all start eating a little less meat.

“More than half the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans,” David Pimentel, a Cornell food scientist calculated in 1997. Mark Bittman says that if you need to use about two to five times as much grain to get your calories through meat.

I’m a huge steak lover but even I am giving it a try. Mostly. I eat meat socially. I’m a flexitarian that doesn’t want to be rude to people who have unwittingly cooked meat for me. There are no really great figures on how many people are vegans, vegetarians or flexitarians, but it’s certainly growing.  About 3% of Americans are vegetarians and many more flexitarians, MSNBC says.

Even USDA data shows meat consumption actually shrinking in the last few years, both here and abroad.  The typical U.S. household at 43 kilograms of beef a year in 2006, but has cut back to 39.3 kg–a 9% decrease.  Steak-loving Argentina went from 64.4 kg to 58.5. Not everyone cut back: Hong Kong surged from 14.8  to 24 kg. Over the same time Americans also ate less pork (29 to 27.7 kg) and broiler chicken (45.8 kg to 43.3).

I don’t know how much the rising squeamishness about factory-farmed meat is built into the meat projection equation.

Where to Find Farm Sanctuaries to Gear You Up to Eat Less Meat

Meat Consumption

(in metric tons)

1961 2002 growth
World 71,342,694 246,771,601 3x
Australia AUS 1,097,602 2,229,695 2x
Botswana BWA 15,691 48,294 3x
Brazil BRA 2,083,936 14,530,350 7x
China CHN 2,524,470 67,798,988 27x
Congo COG 12,340 48,298 4x
Cuba CUB 213,964 363,364 1.7x
Egypt EGY 308,338 1,589,690 5x
France FRA 3,596,544 6,049,705 1.7x
Iceland ISL 15,352 24,331 1.6
India IND 1,695,165 5,456,264 3.2
Israel ISR 66,013 612,225 10x
Japan JPN 724,197 5,595,697 8x
Peru PER 224,495 922,784 4x
Saudi Arabia SAU 38,983 1,050,117 28x
South Africa ZAF 587,103 1,746,914 3x
United Kingdom GBR 3,626,262 4,701,244 1.3x
United States USA 16,867,139 36,329,095 2x

Figures from the World Resource Institute

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