Whilst one billion people are undernourished, mostly in the developing world, the UN states that over three billion people could live on the grain fed to farmed animals. Vanessa Kelley of Barchester Green Investment looks at the issues surrounding the livestock industry and food sustainability.
"Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation."
H. Steinfeld, senior author, Livestock's Long Shadow, a report from the United Nations
Estimates suggest that at least three times more water is needed for the average omnivorous diet than the average vegan diet. For example, 200 litres of water is needed to produce one glass of cow’s milk compared with 2,400 litres of water needed to produce a hamburger. The difference is largely due to the amount of fresh water used to grow the feed that livestock animals eat.
A plant based diet, also needs less land than a meat based diet, and in the UK, a vegan diet can cut the land used to produce food by two-thirds.
Farm animals also cause around 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon region because land is cleared for cash crops for them to eat.
To produce meat for people, animals need to eat. In most cases, a significant portion of their feed is grains. The grain-to-meat conversion process is not perfect: "one pound of grain in" does not equal "one pound of meat out." For example, of the world’s soya crop, 10% goes to produce soya milk and tofu products while the other 90% goes to feed beef cattle which in turn feeds people and of the portion used to feed people only 10% is available as protein, because the animals use the other 90% for their life processes. See The Vegetarian Resource Group for further information.
The UN has noted that worldwide “The livestock sector is a major player responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in C02 equivalent.”