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.
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.
(in metric tons)
Figures from the World Resource Institute