Meat: the Hunger Connection

A common myth about hunger is that it is caused by ‘scarcity’ and this perception very much depends on what you mean by the term. The idea that there is not enough food for everyone is not one supported by the facts:


“Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day – most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land – can’t afford to buy this food.

In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.” ~ Eric Holt Gimenez, Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy

As much as 80% of the global soybean crop and 40-50% of the annual corn crop are fed to cattle, pigs, chickens, and other animals used in agriculture, in large part due to grain consumption facilitating rapid weight gain, which allows industries to slaughter animals in less time. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 756 million tons of grain were fed to food animals in 2007. That’s enough to feed every one of the world’s 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty. And it doesn’t include all the protein-rich soybeans used for farm animal feed.

Ironically, 75% of the grain sent to 3rd world nations goes towards livestock production. This livestock ends up in the U.S. and Western Europe: About 85 percent of total grains fed to livestock throughout the world are fed to livestock in industrialized countries, but at an enormous environmental cost in terms of fossil fuel. Grain importation into developing countries has steadily increased, however, particularly to feed animals that are consumed by the minority higher-income sectors of society. The problem is twofold: first, the poor cannot afford to purchase these cereals because of their low income, and, second, the importation of grains distorts the market for locally produced feed resources.

Tragically, 80 per cent of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses which are fed to animals for consumption by the affluent.

“Realize that 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe. One fourth of all grain produced by third world countries is now given to livestock, in their own country and out.

On a local basis, specific animal based agriculture simply perpetuates both poverty and hunger. This is true whether in urban, industrialized countries, which are affected by all those factors mentioned above, or in rural developing countries. As an example, in Ethiopia, over 60% of their population is considered hungry or starving, and yet they have 50 million cattle in that country (one of the largest herds in the world), unnecessarily consuming their food, land, and water.” ~ Dr Richard Oppenlander, Comfortably Unaware


Livestock includes much greater demands from resources like water, land and crops, effectively wasting them in comparison with just consuming the plants:
Raising animals for food requires substantially greater quantities of water than raising plants for human consumption. It can take 5 times as much water to supply 10 grams of protein from beef than from rice and 20 times more water to supply 500 calories from beef than from rice. Every kilogram of beef produced takes 100,000 litres of water. Some 900 litres of water go into producing a kilogram of wheat. Potatoes are even less “thirsty,” at 500 litres per kilogram. For every kilogram of high-quality animal protein produced, livestock are fed nearly 6 kg of plant protein.

An acre of cereal produces five times more protein than an acre used for meat production; legumes such as beans, peas and lentils can produce 10 times more protein and, in the case of soya, 30 times more. Because of the demand for animal feed, a Western meat-based diet uses four and a half times more land than is necessary for a vegan diet and two and a quarter times more than for a vegetarian diet.

Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein.

Consumption comparisons

The richest fifth (20%) of the world population consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth consume 5%.
Over 840 million people in the world are malnourished – 799 million of them are from the developing world. Sadly, more than 153 million of them are under the age of 5 (half the entire US population).
Every day, 34,000 children under five die of hunger or other hunger-related diseases. This results in 6 million deaths a year.
12% of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water.
1.2 billion people lack access to clean water; 2.4 billion live without decent sanitation; and 4 billion without wastewater disposal.
12 million people die each year from lack of water, including 3 million children from waterborne disease.
Waste from meat production, land degradation, global warming, energy consumption, and disease add up to meat being a liability and not an asset, and especially for the poor, who would be better off with plant production and consumption.

The sad irony is that the world produces more than enough plant food to meet the needs of all its six billion people. If people used land to grow crops to feed themselves, rather than feeding crops to animals, then there would be enough to provide everyone with the average of 2360 Kcal (calories) needed for good health. Meat is little more than an egocentric indulgence by the minority ruling affluent, with dire consequences for the environment and the majority…

“It seems disingenuous for the intellectual elite of the first world to dwell on the subject of too many babies being born in the second- and third-world nations while virtually ignoring the over-population of cattle and the realities of a food chain that robs the poor of sustenance to feed the rich a steady diet of grain-fed meat.” ~ Jeremy Rifkin, author of Beyond Beef, The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture
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