Less Is More: Eating Less Meat Today Could Help Us Avoid Future Shortages
Scientists warn that a combination of drought, population growth, overeating and food waste could cause meat shortages in the years ahead.
In case you haven't heard, you might want to get your fill of BLTs this month, 'cause a global bacon shortage is a-comin'. That's according to estimates out of the European Union, where drought has resulted in less animal feed and thus a downgrading of pork estimates. (The USDA, on the other hand, insists there will be plenty of bacon for all.)
While global droughts are being blamed for the shortage, the blame is probably better placed at our bacon-loving feet. According to a recent report by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), given how water- and energy-intensive it is to produce animal-based food products, the world is simply consuming more meat than we can sustainably produce. In other words, unless we want to see a real bacon shortage in the next couple of decades we'd better curb our intake now.
The SIWI report puts average human meat intake at about 20 percent of calories, but notes that, given estimates that the world's population will swell from 7 billion today to over 9 billion by 2050, that level of consumption cannot be sustained by the earth's resources. "There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5 percent of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade," the report states.
It's not just that we consume too much, but also that we waste a lot. A recent McKinsey report puts global food waste at about 30 percent of all food produced at the moment, and the SIWI report says it could be as much as 50 percent. Unfortunately, food waste is not a new problem. An FAO report released 30 years ago stated that "It is distressing to note that so much time is being devoted to the culture of the plant, so much money spent on irrigation, fertilisation and crop protection measures, only to be wasted about a week after harvest."