Meat-eating drives global grain crunch

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:
remember 2008 as the year that world economic analysts and planners
belatedly recognized that people eat too much meat.
Whether that recognition translates into cultural and
political changes of direction remains to be seen, but by January
2008 the global consequences of excessive meat consumption were
already evident.
“The food price index of the Food & Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally
traded foodstuffs, climbed 37% last year,” observed Keith Bradsher
of The New York Times. “That was on top of a 14% increase in 2006.

“In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold,”
Bradsher warned, citing unrest over grain shortages and rising food
prices in 12 African, Asian, and Latin American nations. Three
months later the list of nations enduring food crises had extended to
37 and continued to expand.
“Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing
food and transporting it across the globe,” Bradsher explained.
“Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to
produce fuel and using it for food.”
But the biggest single factor, Bradshet continued, is that
“A growing middle class in the developing world is demanding more
[animal] protein, from pork and hamburgers to chicken and ice cream.
And all this is happening even as global climate change may be
starting to make growing food harder in some of the places best
equipped to do so, like Australia.”
“Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe,”
Daniel W. Basse of the Chicago-based AgResource consultancy firm told
David Streitfield of The New York Times. “But if they do, we’re
going to need another two or three globes to grow it all.”
Assessed Associated Press, “Rising demand for meat and dairy
in rapidly developing countries such as China and India is sending up
the cost of grain, used for cattle feed, as is the demand for raw
materials to make biofuels. In China, per capita meat consumption
has increased 150% since 1980.”
The increase in Chinese meat consumption just since 1995 has
diverted 2.9 billion bushels of grain per year into feeding
livestock, more than the entire 2.3 billion bushel demand of the
U.S. ethanol industry, reported the trade publication Biofuels
Mexican corn consumption to feed livestock is also sharply up, said
Biofuels Digest, increasing at three times the rate of the human
population since 1993.
Rising 30% in three months, the U.S. wholesale corn price
hit a record $6.00 per bushel on April 3, 2008 “amid dwindling
stockpiles and surging demand for the grain used to feed livestock
and make alternative fuels,” worte Will Kincaid of The New York
Times. “Prices are poised to go even higher after the USDA
predicted that American farmers–the world’s biggest corn
producers–will plant 8% less in 2008,” due to unfavorable spring
planting weather.
“While corn growers are reaping record profits,” Kincaid
continued, “U.S. consumers can expect even higher grocery
bills–especially for meat–as livestock producers are forced to pass
on higher animal feed costs, in addition to thinning their herds.”
Ethanol demand exploded after Congress in 2007 ordered that
15 billion gallons of corn ethanol be produced by 2015, and 36
billion by 2022, to help the U.S. move away from reliance on
imported fossil fuels.
But using a food crop for fuel was badly received by the increasingly
hungry rest of the world. “Producing biofuels today is a crime
against humanity,” United Nations special rapporteur for the right
to food Jean Ziegler told the German radio network Bayerischer
Runfunk on April 14, 2008.
By then, the FAO food price index showed a 57% global
increase since March 2007 in the cost of cereals, dairy produce,
meat, sugar, and edible oils. The White House estimate was
43%–but either way, the increase was almost unprecedented.
Defending the ethanol industry, U.S. President George W.
Bush at a May 5, 2008 press conference noted that 350 million of the
1.1 billion residents of India now enjoy a middle class standard of
living. “Their middle class is larger than our entire population,”
Bush said. “And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding
better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that
causes the price to go up.”
Clarified deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel,
“As you increase your standard of living, the food you eat can
venture more into meats, that require more commodities to feed the
livestock, whether it’s corn or wheat or other commodities, and it
drives up the price.”
Wrote Guardian columnist George Monbiot on April 15, “You
have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen
by three-quarters in the past year, that of wheat by 130%. But I
bet you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1 billion metric
tons, last year’s global grain harvest broke all records by almost
“The crisis has begun before world food supplies are hit by
climate change,” Montbiot added. “If hunger can strike now, what
will happen if harvests decline?
“There is plenty of food,” Montbiot emphasized. “It is just
not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13 billion metric tons [of
grain] likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01 billion,
according to the FAO, will feed people. While 100 million metric
tons of food will be diverted this year to feed cars,” Monbiot
continued, “760 million metric tons will feed animals. This could
cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger,
eat less meat.”
Montbiot acknowledged that “meat consumption is booming in
Asia and Latin America,” but pointed out that “booming” is relative.
British meat consumption “is still 40% above the global average,” he
wrote, “though less than half the amount consumed in the United
States.” Sustainable use of meat and milk, Monbiot calculated,
would be about 30% below the current world rate, 40% of British
consumption, 20% of the U.S. rate.
“The only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat
we should eat,” Monbiot concluded, as a non-vegetarian, “is as
little as possible.”
Seeking ways to keep meat consumption and profits high,
European producers meanwhile pressured the European Union to again
allow poultry producers to mix the offal from pig slaughtering into
“The practice, banned in Europe” in 1996 to prevent the
spread of mad cow disease, “would save farmers millions of pounds as
prices of cereal feed for chickens soar,” reported London Observer
science editor Robin McKie.
“This is a sinful idea,” responded Abdel Majid-Katme of the
Islamic Medical Association.
The Royal SPCA, wrote McKie, “said it had major concerns about
the health risks involved,” while the [British] Depart-ment for the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “said it would back the move only
if proper safety tests were introduced.”
The spring 2008 grain shortage is “the worst crisis of its
kind in more than 30 years,” United Nations economist and special
advisor to the secretary general Jeffrey D. Sachs told Associated
Evaluating rising consumption of animal products in India and
China, ANIMAL PEOPLE predicted in a June 1997 cover feature that,
“As the wealthier part of each society eats more meat, the poor will
find it harder not only to buy the grain to feed livestock, but
also–in time–to buy enough grain to feed themselves.”

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