Tue Apr 15th, 2008 at 02:16:01 PM EST
George Monbiot in today's Guardian.
At 2.1bn tonnes, the global grain harvest broke all records last year - it beat the previous year's by almost 5%. The [food] crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?
There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation, will feed people.
Of course we must demand that our governments scrap the rules that turn grain into [biofuels]. But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals - which could cover the global food deficit 14 times.
Meat is, as is well known (figures in the article), an inefficient use of the world's resources.
In his magazine The Land, Simon Fairlie...found that a vegan diet produced by means of conventional agriculture would require only 3m hectares of arable land (around half Britain's current total). Even if we reduced our consumption of meat by half, a mixed farming system would need 4.4m hectares of arable fields and 6.4 million hectares of pasture. A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.
However, anyone to whom veganism is an appealing prospect is probably a vegan already. Monbiot tried, but couldn't maintain his health in the long term. I have been vegetarian for almost half my life, but veganism would be a painful step up, even for me.
Fairlie estimates that if animals were kept only on land that is unsuitable for arable farming, and given scraps and waste from food processing, the world could produce between a third and two-thirds of its current milk and meat supply.
At a rough estimate, given that Britons consume 40% more meat than the world average, this means that, if the reduced meat production were equitably distributed, we would have to learn to live with approx 50-75% less meat.
That looks achievable (says the vegetarian). Unfortunately, there's still more to consider, and the milk I had on my cereal this morning leaves me no room for complacency:
But this system then runs into a different problem. The Food and Agriculture Organisation calculates that animal keeping is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.
The only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat we should eat is as little as possible. Let's reserve it - as most societies have done until recently - for special occasions.
Or, in other words:
If you care about hunger, eat less meat.