This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Feed the World by Eating Less Meat

I recently discussed an article reminding us how much food we need to produce over the next 40 years to feed an average population of nearly 9 billion during that time. In Chapter 11 I note that one way to accomplish this task is for humans to reverse the trend toward eating more meat per person. This does not have to mean being vegetarian (although that would actually be best), rather it means limiting the meat intake. Last week's Economist had a genuinely scary story about the rise in pork consumption in China--calling it "a danger to the world."
Until the 1980s farms as large as Mr Ouyang’s were unknown: 95% of Chinese pigs came from smallholdings with fewer than five animals. Today just 20% come from these backyard farms, says Mindi Schneider of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Some industrial facilities, often owned by the state or by multinationals, produce as many as 100,000 swine a year. These are born and live for ever on slatted metal beds; most never see direct sunlight; very few ever get to breed. The pigs themselves have changed physically, too. Three foreign breeds now account for 95% of them; to preserve its own kinds, China has a national gene bank (basically a giant freezer of pig semen) and a network of indigenous-pig menageries. Nevertheless, scores of ancient variants may soon die out. 
But China’s pigs are far from the only victims of their popularity. Demand for them worries the Communist Party, underpins what will soon be the world’s biggest economy and threatens Amazon rain forests. 
The Communist Party prizes self-sufficiency in food. Most of the pigs China eats are indeed home-grown. But each kilogram of pork requires 6kg of feed, usually processed soy or corn. Given the scarcity of water and land in China, it cannot feed its pigs as well as its people. The upshot is that Chinese swine, which previously ate household scraps, increasingly rely on imported feed. 
Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs. Already in 2010 China’s soy imports accounted for more than 50% of the total global soy market. From a low base, grain imports are rising fast as well: the US Grains Council, a trade body, predicts that by 2022 China will need to import 19m-32m tonnes of corn. That equates to between a fifth and a third of the world’s entire trade in corn today.
So, that gets us back to the story of why people want to buy agricultural land. The land grab is not about feeding the world--it is about making money selling animal food to rich customers. 

1 comment:

  1. John ... in a more general sense, the "land grab" is a knock-down drag-out fight for resources. And yes, you are quite correct! The WAY that the land is being used now is far from efficient.

    It we take your point and generalize it ... you are hitting on a major "disconnect" in the global economy. This is not a trivial issue ... it's a HUGE issue that is only going to get much worse. Let's take your example. Suppose we want Chinese consumers to STOP eating pork chow mein, and to start eating more vegetable dishes. WHO exactly is going to tell them to do that? The answer, of course, is no-one. All of the economic systems that operate in the world today are basically set up to produce goods - for whoever PAYS for those goods. The entire system is founded on money and GREED. The system was never constructed to be logical, or fair, or to "make sense". Or at least, it did once make sense. But the assumptions that founded this global economic system are now found to be faltering. The system simply developed over thousands of years and countless civilizations. As they say, "whoever has the gold makes the rules". And therefore since China is prospering in the global economy, there is absolutely no-one who can stop them from eating pork. And lest I be accused of hitting China "below their pork-fed belts", who is going to tell Americans to STOP eating hamburgers? It is exactly the same problem.

    Which brings me to the ESSENTIAL POINT - really a generalization of what you already said. The current global economic systems are NOT compatible with the long-term survival of a world that has 9-10 billion people. The math simply does NOT work out. If we retain our current economic systems, we are absolutely guaranteed to see WARS. Many of them, and indeed much larger wars than we have experienced in the past. And the economic system will gladly accept and PROMOTE these wars - because the system "believes" in the credo of greed and fear. It is exactly what Alan Greenspan said about market forces. They are driven by greed and fear.

    Our global economic systems developed in a world that once had "unlimited resources". Today, we do not live in such a world. It is coming to an end - very rapidly. So is our own peace of mind, and possibly the existence of several billion people. They will also come to an end - if we don't radically reform the economic system.

    cheers, Pete
    Redondo Beach, CA