What is needed for raising livestock

Future-proof nutrition is plant-based

Eating all people healthy and sustainable is one of the most pressing global challenges. Although the world has never produced more food per capita than it is today, hundreds of millions - every ninth person - in countries in the Global South still suffer from hunger.

Global meat and milk production plays a central role in global nutrition. While the world's population has doubled in the past fifty years, meat production has more than tripled, thanks in particular to increases in production from the three largest meat producers JBS, Tyson Foods and Cargill. The World Food Organization (FAO) currently estimates global meat production at over 336 million tons per year, which corresponds to more than 70 billion animals killed. The increase in production is rapid: since the 1960s, poultry meat has increased by 700 percent and pork by 290 percent.

But instead of feeding more people, the increase in global meat and milk production and the associated industrial factory farming are bringing with it a complex intertwining of dramatic problems. It is a major threat to world food, the climate, biodiversity and world health, and it also raises fundamental questions of justice and morality.


Meat eats land

No other consumer good in the world requires as much land as the production of meat and milk. Global meat consumption threatens global food security, especially in view of the growing world population. The pasture and arable land required for animal husbandry and fodder cultivation make up almost 80 percent of the world's agricultural area, whereas the calorie needs of the whole of mankind are currently only covered to 17 percent by meat and animal products.

Due to the increasing demand for meat and dairy products, the cultivation of animal feed and the associated use of arable land and water consumption are increasing dramatically: an area the size of Africa - 20 million hectares of which in South America - has been used for industrial factory farming in the past decade. Soy production alone has increased tenfold in the last fifty years. Today, more than 80 percent of all soybeans, half of all grain in the world and a third of all fish caught are fed to so-called "farm animals" and are therefore not used for the direct nourishment of humans. Hundreds of thousands of tons of animal feed are imported into industrialized countries from countries in the Global South. In addition, the industrial cultivation of animal feed leads to profound damage to fertile soils due to leaching monocultures, heavy agricultural machinery and plant toxins, which in turn massively reduces crop yields in the long term.


The meat and dairy industries are heating up the climate

Industrial factory farming is one of the main causes of climate change. Almost 70 percent of the direct greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) in food production can be traced back to animal products. A major reason for the high greenhouse gas emissions is the largely illegal slash and burn clearance of tropical forests. According to the World Bank, 80 percent of the cleared Amazon rainforest is used for growing soy monocultures and raising livestock. Since forests are the world's largest storage of CO2, protecting them would be one of the most effective means of combating climate change and conserving biodiversity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on climate change and land contains a political recommendation to reduce meat consumption. Over 100 scientists came to the conclusion that the plant-based diet is a great opportunity to curb and adapt to climate change. On the other hand, if industrial factory farming grows according to the forecasts, all livestock will consume around 80 percent of the earth's greenhouse gas budget by 2050. The IPCC report concludes that without drastic changes in global land use and human nutrition, the 1.5 degree target can by no means be achieved.


Effects on world health

Studies suggest that long-term consumption of red, especially processed, meat in humans has been linked to an increased risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warns of the health risks that result from industrial factory farming. Globally, antibiotics are routinely used in livestock farming twice as much as they are used to treat diseases in humans. These antibiotics as well as resistant and multi-resistant germs enter the environment over a large area through the liquid manure. Hundreds of thousands of people die every year because antibiotics no longer work for them. In 2050, it is estimated that this number will rise to over ten million people a year. Scientists criticize the fact that such an important topic is not mentioned in the UN Development Goals (SDGs), although it is not only a question of world health, but also a crucial question for global development progress.


Exacerbation of the most pressing problems of our time

While it is expected that the world population will increase by 30 percent compared to today to almost 10 billion people by 2050, forecasts show that global meat consumption will increase by 73 percent over the same period and that milk consumption will double. In view of the immense amounts of feed required for this, this development fundamentally calls into question global food security and food justice.

Although the UN Development Program, the UN Environment Program, the World Bank Group and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn in clear terms of the rapid increase and the effects of industrial factory farming on world food, the world climate, biodiversity and world health, political demands of the United Nations remain in this regard Occasionally off: The 2030 Agenda does not mention the problem of industrial factory farming in any of the 169 SDG targets. However, sustainable development can only become a reality if these interrelationships are recognized and appropriate action is taken. Because plant-based nutrition for people in the 21st century is not a fashion trend, but a decisive contribution to solving many of the most pressing and momentous problems of our time.


Laura Reiner