A powerful white paper has been circulating through the agricultural community for the last month or so, and it should be required reading. Not necessarily for producers — those who participate in the business of animal agriculture already relate to most of the findings noted in the report — but more so for policymakers, legislators and the media.
Titled, “Animal Feed vs. Human Food: Challenges and Opportunities in Sustaining Animal Agriculture Toward 2050,” the pretentious title masks a hard-hitting study researched and written by a veritable who’s who of veterinary and animal sciences. Its conclusions are succinct and straightforward:
- Global animal agriculture provides safe, affordable, nutrient-dense foodstuffs that support human health and valuable by-products, such as edible and inedible components, medicines, lubricants and other industrial uses.
- Livestock production is critical to economic and social sustainability, especially in developing countries, and supplies considerable “horsepower” for smaller farmers integral to food production around the world.
- Large tracts of land are incapable of growing human food crops because of terrain, soil and climate, but of that acreage can be used for grazing or forage that can be sustainably converted by ruminants into food products.
- The gains made by recycling otherwise valueless by-products from human food and fiber production lessen competition between humans and animals for crops that can equally be used for feed or food, maximize land use efficiency and decrease the environmental impact of food production.
All true, all accurate and all serving as a rebuttal to the chorus of critics insisting that the only choice for the entire planet is either feed crops or food crops. And we know which way their inclinations lie.
Unfortunately, none of the bullet points above represent common (or conventional) wisdom, even after I took the liberty to edit them down to a more reasonable length with simpler sentences. Yet if one were to ask 100 people on the street if they’ve heard that raising beef (or “factory farming”) is responsible for damage to the environment, I’m willing to bet you’d get a majority of them to say emphatically “Yes.”
A simplistic ‘solution’
Therein lies the problem. Despite the eminently practical, sensible statements summarized by the scientists who wrote the report, those conclusions don’t resonate with consumers or policymakers the way that “eat less meat and save the planet” seems to do.