We'll All Eat Less Meat Soonâ€”Like It or Not
J Thoendell stashed this in Food
But there's a deeper question that Capper doesn't look at: Is the feedlot system itself sustainable? That is, can we keep stuffing animalsâ€”not just cows but also chickens and pigsâ€”into confinements and feeding them gargantuan amounts of corn and soybeans? And can other countries mimic that path, as China is currently?
The answer, plainly, is no, according to the eminent ecologist Vaclav Smil in a2014 paper. Smil notes that global meat production has risen from less than 55 million tons in 1950 to more than 300 million tons in 2010â€”a nearly six-fold increase in 60 years. "But this has been a rather costly achievement because mass-scale meat production is one of the most environmentally burdensome activities," he writes, and then proceeds to list off the problems: it requires a large-scale shift from diversified farmland and rainforests to "monocultures of animal feed," which triggered massiveÂ soil erosion,Â carbon emissions, and coastal"dead zones" fed by fertilizer runoff. Also, concentrating animals tightly together produces "huge volumes of waste," more than can be recycled into nearby farmland, creating noxious air and water pollution. Moreover, it's "inherently inefficient" to feed edible grains to farm animals, when we could just eat the grain, Smil adds.
This ruinous system would have to be scaled up if present trends in global meat demand continue, Smil writesâ€”reaching 412 million tons of meat in 2030, 500 million tons in 2050, and 577 million tons in 2080, according to projections from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. Such a carnivorous future is "possible but it is neither rational nor sustainable"â€”it will ultimately destroy the ecosystems on which it relies.