The Meat Mob Muscles In: Sustainability
An Animal Rights Article from


ANIMAL PEOPLE June 1997 edition
Reprinted by Permission - 24 April 2003


Beyond all the health, safety, pollution, cruelty, and labor issues is the question of sustainability--bluntly, the question of which humans and animals will live, and which die, victims of starvation, habitat loss, and desperate fighting over remnants of food and territory.

The global human population is approaching six billion, up by a third in 20 years--but that actually represents a slowing growth rate. This could be reason for hope that unrelieved famine might be relegated to history, despite present famines in parts of Africa and North Korea. Already most famines are associated with the use of food as a weapon of war.

"If everyone adopted a vegetarian diet and no food were wasted, current world food production would theoretically feed 10 billion people, more than the projected population for the year 2050," the Washington D.C.-based Population Reference Bureau and Worldwatch Institute jointly reported in March 1997.

But recent gains in food production are not going to feed the hungry. Instead, ever greater shares of grain output are diverted to feed more meat to those who can afford it.

"Since 1990," noted Worldwatch founder Lester Brown, "most of the growth in grain use in China has been for feed to fuel unprecedented growth in its livestock and poultry industry."

A similar trend is evident in India, where despite millenia of religious and philosophical teaching against meat within the predominant Hindu culture, broiler hen production is growing at 15% per year. Egg production in India is up fivefold, to 26 billion per year, since 1968. Similar gains are reported in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Global red meat consumption has held steady since 1976 at about 50 pounds per person, says the Poultry Industry Association, while poultry consumption has doubled, reaching 18 pounds per person. The Poultry Industry Association projects current world poultry consumption at 53 million metric tons--and expects it to double by 2030.

Perhaps demand could go that high. Biotechnology may be able to continue to produce bigger, faster-growing birds and mammals, who more efficiently convert grain protein and water into meat. Biotechnology may also be able to achieve further gains in grain yield per cultivated acre. Yet a basic law of biology is that achieving caloric output requires investing greater caloric input. That means meat industry growth must be sustained by an ever-growing investment of land, topsoil, soil nutrients, water, labor, and energy. Some of the required input is perhaps obtainable in near-infinite supply, albeit at a price: more humans means more available labor, more water could be had at cost of more energy expenditure on pumping and desalinizing, and how much energy humanity may expend is limited in practical terms only by the extent to which we are willing to deal with the lethal waste generated by nuclear reactors.

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