Posted by: mazibuko | March 10, 2010

Benefits of eating less meat–maybe not so obvious

An interesting piece in Science News:

Could Less Meat Mean More Food? By Erik Stokstad

This piece presents some interesting possibilities arising from a modeling study that investigates what might happen if the more carnivorous nations cut back on their flesh consumption.

For one, this could result in an overall increase in global meat consumption by making meat more affordable:

…in 2020 if rich nations cut their per capita demand for meat to half of what it was in 1993…the simulation found that as demand for meat fell, prices declined and meat became more affordable worldwide. As a result, in the developing world, per capita meat consumption actually increased by 13% as poorer consumers could buy more.

In addition to the above, increasing vegetarianism in the developed world, where most meat is grainfed, wouldn’t necessarily lead to more food security, because the crops used to fatten animals aren’t necessarily consumed by people:

Surprisingly, however, when the rich halved their meat habit, the poor didn’t necessarily get that much more grain—their largest source of calories. According to the model, per capita cereal consumption in developing nations rose by just 1.5%…farmers usually feed their livestock corn or soybeans. When the farmers produce less meat, demand for corn and soy drops and the grains become more affordable. That’s good for people in the parts of Africa and Latin America where corn is a dietary staple. But people in many developing countries, particularly in Asia, don’t eat much corn; they eat rice and wheat.

Indeed, cutting meat consumption could make people even hungrier:

Eating less meat could even backfire and make food insecurity worse, suggested the simulation, which was published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. For instance, when consumers in developed countries replaced meat with pasta and bread, world wheat prices rose. That actually increased malnutrition slightly in developing countries such as India that rely on wheat.

The conclusion: cutting meat consumption would help overall food security, albeit very modestly. However, I think the environmental benefits would likely be substantial, in that less grainfed livestock = less land brought under cultivation.

On the other hand, the slack could well be taken up (and then some) by increasing demands for biofuel production.

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