This conversation is closed.

True or false; feeding 9 billion without destroying the environment necessitates plant based diets excluding meat and dairy.

As of last year we used grain capable of feeding 8.8 billion people to feed meat production, turning it into food for about a billion. These animals issued forth a cloud of methane that dwarfed energy, industry or transportation sectors emissions. We are thirty years past Diet For A Small Planet, but the shift to plant based diets are still considered fringe and the China Study remains an "inconvenient truth", to borrow from a famous TEDster. So despite health and economic benefits, scientifically significant data, and morally repugnant results of our failure to act, we remain carnivores.

Is that sustainable? Do we need to give up animal based products to assure food for all?

  • thumb

    W. Ying

    • +1
    Mar 2 2013: .
    My answers:

    (1) To "Is that sustainable?"
    . . Yes.

    (2) To "Do we need to give up animal based products to assure food for all?"
    . . Yes.
    . . Moreover, it is healthy instinctively (our ancestors' successful experiences).
    . . Our digestion system (teeth, ... colon) and whole body tell so.
  • Mar 1 2013: My family is in America because of the Irish famine, so yes, I'd heard... the reliance on a single cultivar of potato was the key causal agent there. 'Lumpers' turned out to be not just a bigger, more prolific potato, but extremely susceptible to the blight; if ever there existed an argument not to rely on single sourced genetics, there it is. Yet we are giving up huge swaths of our agriculture to singular genetics with an added twist of untested, portentially dangerous genetic manipulations to boot. What could go wrong?

    Krisztian, you are relying on yet untested or even undisovered technologies that will take decades to develop, if they even work (my model from above suggests they all won't, or already aren't). GMO's were going to feed the world with the huge bounty they would create; they have yet to show a surplus beyond conventional methods in any trial not 'balanced" in their favor, and at increased costs in seed and chemical to achieve even that. And they are already creating ecological imbalances we were assured they wouldn't ever do, like the undescribed organism associated with the RR gene and glyphosate (now tripled in use since the release of the RR gene) that causes abortion in order Mammalia (see Dr. Donald Huber's work there).

    Your reliance on science as an answer to feeding the world stands on shaky ground already; ask the farmers in the US losing their farms because of overreliance on GMOs, or ask Vandana Shiva what the Green Revolution did to India. I would tell you conventional agriculture as we know it is a 150 year old experiment that is failing as we speak; happy to address that point by point, if you'd like. So expecting great things from the future, pleasant as the thought may be, is likely misplaced optimism, if the past is any indicator of future performance...

    "safely assume that even 100bn won't be too much of a problem"? No my friend, certainly not. 9 billion is still a stretch, as is your magic bullet...
    • thumb
      Mar 1 2013: it is interesting that you doubt future developments, yet if we look back, it is something that never stopped happening. we are inside a trend, yet you refuse to believe in the continuation of that trend. there are infinite ways to improve agriculture and food production. it is incomprehensible that nothing new is coming in the following decades.

      gmo is just one small example. dipping irigation, hydroponics, lab-grown meat or indoor farming, combined fish-veg farms. but also transportation. fifty years ago food was almost exclusively local. today, i buy soy from brazil, acovados from marocco, dates from turkey, and chickpeas from india. technology opens up endless possibilities.

      failure is simply not a possibility, because we are so much interconnected, and we have so many areas and products. the market became fluid and dynamic.
      • Mar 1 2013: Your optimism is reliant on several interconnected complex systems. You are relying on a transportation system that requires cheap energy. Also fertilizers and automated farms that also require cheap energy. You need stable climate factors that it appears are disappearing and bees to fertilize the crops whose numbers are under attack.
        Markets may be fluid but food does not appear overnight. As climate changes, the growth zones for some foods either move to unprepared soils or move to areas that are unproductive.
        I think that even the number of people we have on the planet now is an experiment in russian roulette.
  • thumb
    Mar 1 2013: True.
    To feed 9 billion our diet will change. Eating meat, at least the way West does, is very questionable.
    We need to explore insects and marine crops for protein and carbo.
  • thumb
    Mar 1 2013: False. In Australia the vast majority of beef production is done on land too dry to grow crops. If the entire Australian population was vegan half of what we now consider productive farm land would be abandoned.
  • Mar 2 2013: you have to know that there is no impact zero in human activities
  • Mar 1 2013: As far as the livestock methane production, the greenhouse gases produced by cultivated agriculture are not insignificant. Agriculture and soil management activities such as fertilizer application and other cropping practices account for 68% of all US NO2 emissions. ( Livestock are responsible for approximately 21% of the US anthropogenic methane emissions. (same source)

    Discounting meat and dairy as a contributor to world food supply is extremely short-sighted. An estimated 70% of the earth is arid or semi-arid rangeland. Much of this area is suitable for livestock grazing, but not for cultivated agriculture. In addition, when properly managed, livestock grazing does not produce the wholesale replacement of native ecosystems that is a requirement of nearly all cultivated agriculture.

    The proportion of plants in our diets may need to be increased, and we may need to change how we raise livestock in the developed world (grass-fed on pasture, rather than grain-fed in feedlots), but to exclude meat and dairy is to exclude an important resource for feeding the world's people.
  • thumb
    Mar 1 2013: I agree. Meat is an environmentally inefficient food. But there is more to this than the economies involved. Health is a key issue. I have been a vegetatian for over 30 years and am a healthy 70 year old. My immune system works and my likelihood of developing heart disease or cancer is greatly reduced. The cost of heathcare is an economic issue of course, but the greatest loss is to quality of life of meat eaters. Heart, cancer, diabetes are not going away There is no joy in prematurely dying of preventable deseases. There is only regret.

    Anyone can overcome their stubbornness and reduce the amount of animal products they cosume. In his book "Diet For a New America" John Robbins showed twenty years ago that the incidence of all deseases is substantially reduced in vegetarians and vegans (who eat no animal products at all, including milk and eggs.) He does it using primarily government produced data. It's no secret. It's well preoven fact.
    vegetarians are healthier and longer living.

    If we can reduce desease by reducing meat products along with thier pollutants, then there is avery good chance that they are a key causative factor. Life in this world can be enhanced in every way if we only focus on the facts and apply them.
  • thumb
    Mar 1 2013: I don't know. I'm a big fan of milk, Scott. I was looking at a chart that rated about twenty foods on their carbon footprint in production and distribution. Milk had the smallest carbon footprint.
  • thumb
    Mar 1 2013: with modern technics, the output of a given land increases dramatically. in the last few decades, food production went up 200%, while total farm area went *down*. and we only had a glimpse to what is possible. if we just stop assuming that we need to feed the 9bn with today's technology, we can safely assume that even 100bn won't be too much of a problem.
  • Mar 1 2013: Thanks Peter. unfortunately - who says these extra people will be fed. Scott - I am sure that you have heard of the Irish potato famine. There is one as big as that going on in Africa right now - Isn't there?