Free 20-page download from ciwf.org/foodsecurity
The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security: an extended literature review, by Karl-Heinz Erb, Andreas Mayer, Thomas Kastner, Kristine-Elena Sallet, and Helmut Haberl, Institute of Social Ecology, Vienna; free 90-page download from: http://www.uni-klu.ac.at/socec/inhalt/1818.htm
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Having commissioned a 90-page analysis of The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security, published in June 2012 to little evident notice, Compassion in World Farming, the Tubney Charitable Trust, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals tried again in September 2012 with Food Security & Farm Animal Welfare, a 20-page condensed version of the findings that includes much less math and many color photos.
The premise behind The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security, restated three times in the early pages, is that “only a few studies exist which explicitly address or empirically analyze the interlinkages between livestock and food security…Given the central role of livestock in the food system and the many relations to food security, it is surprising,” the authors opine, “that the body of literature addressing explicitly this interrelation is so scarce.”
Reality is that Mohandas Gandhi, among others, pondered “the interlinkages between livestock and food security” more than 90 years ago, concluding unequivocally that retaining a vegetarian diet was the surest path to food security for India.
Frances Moore Lappé in Diet for a Small Planet (1971) pulled together data from a wealth of post-Gandhian scientific literature about “the interlinkages between livestock and food security.”
Post-Lappé, and especially as the disruptive effects of global warming on agriculture have become ever more obvious, producing studies of “the interlinkages between livestock and food security” has become a growth industry. Amazon.com offers at least 114 such studies for sale.
Lester R. Brown alone in the past 39 years has produced seven of them, each more comprehensive than The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security.
But maybe all this weight of information and analysis has not come to the conclusions that CIWF, the Tubney Charitable Trust, and WSPA want to put forth.
“Animals are recyclers of wastes”
The argument behind The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security is that “Animals are re-cyclers of wastes and can graze or browse marginal lands which may be of no other food security value…as livestock are able to digest biomass not usable for human food, livestock can be seen as a means of harnessing marginal resources.”
This is scarcely an original thought.
Indeed, variations of the same idea have been expressed for just about as long as anyone has written about agricultural methods.
Yet, though superficially self-evident, this notion is also dead wrong as a long-term prescription for increasing agricultural yields.
Keeping marginal land marginal
An accurate restatement would be, “Relegating marginal lands to grazing or browsing ensures that they will always be marginal lands of no other food security value, eroded and compacted by hooves, less and less able to hold water.”
While migrating herds of hoofed animals may rejuvenate land they occupy for only a few weeks a year, confining hoofed stock to limited habitat creates desert–a lesson which archaeology suggests should have been evident relatively early in the history of civilization.
The parts of the world where livestock tend to eat the least food that might be digested by humans are also the most impoverished and desertified. Continuing to keep large herds only ensures that food security will decline as global warming reduces rainfall over the hottest, driest regions. But the authors of The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security manage to go from page 9 to page 59 without even once using the word “water.”
The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security is critical of the use of food crops for biofuels, a common view worldwide on all sides of the political spectrum, and of economic trends in agriculture that tend to starve the poorest farming families off their land.
Historically, however, the exodus of poor people from small holdings where they can no longer eke out a living has helped to increase productivity in both urban and rural areas. The five co-authors authors warn that, “The trend of increasing urbanization all over the world could also create enormous problems for adequate food supply, especially for the growing number of mega-cities…It is anticipated that food insecurity will increasingly become an urban problem, as more than 57% of people in developing countries are expected to live in cities by 2030.”
Not mentioned is that Marxist economists more than five decades ago issued similar predictions. Eventually the Communist regimes in China and Cambodia forcibly returned urban dwellers to the land. Catastrophic famine followed.
Animal advocates will appreciate the finding that “The additional feed required for livestock to be more active and the space needed for them to roam and perform natural behaviors is relatively small and does not affect food security.”
The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security also affirms that food security would best be served if the most affluent parts of the world reduced meat consumption. But few studies done in the past 45 years that were not funded by agribusiness have concluded otherwise.
“A ‘less meat’ diet can feed the world”
Food Security & Farm Animal Welfare, the WSPA/CIWF distillation of The Impact of Industrial Grain Fed Livestock Production on Food Security, echoes the conclusion that “With the current projections of agricultural yields, a ‘less meat’ diet can feed the world equitably in 2050. This scenario is based on a decreased consumption of animal products in some regions and an increase in others, achieving a more equitable world distribution of consumption of animal products.”
The pursuit of a “more equitable world distribution of consumption of animal products” has already been achieved to a considerable extent by increased meat production in Asia, especially China. But this has not advanced either farm animal welfare or food security. As Lester R. Brown points out in Full Planet, Empty Plates, the present volume of meat production and consumption in China is already ecologically unviable.
States Food Security & Farm Animal Welfare, “Livestock products provide 37-38% of dietary energy in North America and Western Europe, but only 5-7% in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” even though many of the regions which consume the least amount of livestock products devote proportionately the most land to grazing.
These regions lack the topsoil or water to raise more livestock, and don’t have the wealth to import feed for livestock, either.
Yet their people might thrive, if encouraged to stop herding livestock and instead start practicing soil and water conservation, before desertification accelerated by global warming destroys any chance they have of achieving food security.
As the Bishnoi people of the Rajasthan desert in India have demonstrated for more than 550 years, even people with limited technology can prosper in an extremely dry climate by giving up meat and instead cultivating climate-appropriate varieties of beans, vegetables, and fruits.