Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cut beef in two and feed two billion

“Population projections of the United Nations (UN) show that the planet will host nine billion people in 2050, time when world population begins to stabilize. A wave of panic on the planet, some raising the spectre of overpopulation ... Will there be enough resources and food for all while already, in 2011, over one billion people stay hungry?  In recent years, countries that feared a shortage embarked on a frantic race to acquire new agricultural land being fought over between the food and bio-fuel industries. And a fierce debate is ongoing between those who want to use agricultural products to run the engines for those who prefer to nourish human beings.  Only few complain a business even more voracious in natural resources, agricultural products and space: that of the meat industry.[a]”

Global food availability is out of balance, although the total amount of food currently produced is sufficient. Currently more than one billion people suffer from hunger and a little less than two billion people suffer from overweight. That confirms imbalance not shortage. However the current situation will get tight. The global human population will grow by further two billion people, or more than a quarter, before it stabilizes around year 2050. These additional people have to be nourished using the land currently available. Global food production patterns have to change to secure that, meat production seems to be an appropriate target to free resources [*].

 Who eats meat?

Those who can pay for it. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day and the poorest 40% of the world's population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest fifth of the world's population accounts for 75% of world income. The poorest fifth for just 1.5% [b]. The richest fifth of the world's population (1) eat most of the meat that is produced on the planet because they can afford it; and their choice determines the pattern of global production of meat.  

Many, even most people like to eat meat. Our evolution set our species on a trail to live on a variable diet; e.g. vegetables, fruits, grains from plants and meat from animals or fish. However, only the better off on this planet have the choice “what to eat”. The World Bank noted already in 2011 that global food prices are reaching dangerous levels. Rising food prices threaten to push millions of people into poverty and put particular pressure on the most vulnerable, who already spend more than half their income on food. Thus many people simply eat “what they can get”.

 How do we produce our – daily - meat?

Green tide - massive algae growth
Pastures cover 60% of agricultural land, forage meanwhile occupies 35% of agricultural land. Thus in total, 81% of agricultural land are dedicated to livestock and its feed. Animal production in developed countries imports 80% of the proteins feed; mainly soya. Additionally, the irrigation of feed crops for cattle accounts for nearly 8% of global human water use, animal production causes 18% of the global greenhouse gas production, and manure affluent to the sea occasional cause algae blooms and “green tides”.  

In 2005 global animal production has used 742 million tons of grain, or about 250g grain per day and person of the global population. In 2009 more than 40% of global production of corn, wheat and barley was used for animal production; and 60% was used for all other uses, food and non-food. Animal production makes up for about 40% of the global agriculture production, and corresponds to 2% of the global GDP (2). Thus globally we use a very high fraction of land and water resources for a relatively minor total output.  

 Beef, pork or poultry -  not the same game.

The relationship between meat production and cereal input varies for beef, pork or poultry. It takes at least seven kilograms of grain to provide a single kilogram of beef, four kilograms of grain for a kilo of pork, two kilograms of grain for a kilo of poultry. Thus beef production is the least efficient use of grain and poultry production is the most effective; for the same amount of grain you get either two kilogram beef or seven kilogram poultry.

The annual global production of meat is about 280 million tons or 40 kg per person and year, a level of consumption recently reached for China or about one third of the consumption in the US. Most meat produced meat is poultry. The ratio of global production of beef, pork and poultry is about 25%, 35% and 40%, respectively. The ratio of grain production needed to produce these amounts of beef, pork or poultry however is 45%, 35% and 25%, respectively. Thus beef is the wolverine devouring most of the grain.  

  Action – target the beef.

Reducing meat production would reduce demand for grain. Reducing beef production would reduce most efficiently demand for grain. Capping beef production at a little less than half of the current level, thus from 45% grain consumption to 20% grain consumption, would free grain to double poultry production. This shift of meat production pattern would increase the global meat production by about 25% without changing total meat consumption  for meat-eaters. Another evident choice, however, is to consume less meat (beef) and  have more grain to nourish human beings, as likely will be needed by 2050. The amount of grain necessary to nourish more people could be made available by capping beef production.  

Poverty Facts and Stats; from [b]
Only a tiny fraction of the 25% increase of global population (plus 2 billion people) by 2050 will be among the richest fifth of the world's population; the main beef-eater (**). The additional people to nourish by 2050 are mainly grain-eater and only occasional meat-eaters. Thus, capping beef production in favour of making more grain available for direct consumption by people would provide food additional food resources.  These resources will be needed to nourish the global population of 2050. Halving the beef consumption of the richest fifth of the global population could free the resources to feed additional two billion poor people, in first instance and to current, although insufficient, standards.  

A modest change of consumption pattern for the richest fifth of the world population to free resources to nourish two billion human beings more.  Daydreaming?  

Ukko El'Hob

(**) p.s "Farm animal populations continue to increase worldwide. The number of chickens grown for human consumption increased 169 percent between 1980 and 2010, from 7.2 billion to 19.4 billion.1 During the same period, the population of goats and sheep reached 2 billion, and the cattle population grew 17 percent to reach 1.4 billion.... The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research estimates that by 2050 the global poultry population will grow to nearly 35 billion, the goat and sheep population to 2.7 billion, and the cattle population to 2.6 billion animals." (found 27thJune: - thus,  cattle population forecasted to double by 2050?

(1) That includes the author and probably all readers.
(2) Worldbank figures indicate that the 2% estimate may be too high.
[a] Agnès Stienne in the blog of the “Monde Diplomatique” in the article “Quandl'industrie de la viande dévore la planète” (Meat industry devours the planet); my translation;  
[*] data are from: “Quand l’industrie de la viande dévore la planète” jeudi 21 juin 2012, par Agnès Stienne”;  [b] or

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Letter to my Cousin - no thanks, no "horror show" please

Dear Cousin,

Karhun Ukko
our correspondence took us the last month  through a kind of circular walk. We set of with your question How... be certain "what reality is about"? Now, your last comment about spiritual experiences brings us back to the subject of my first letter, namely "what is reality?"

The ability to have spiritual experiences is an easily activated trait of human mind [1], important for our values and perception of the world. Nevertheless it is a state of mind and thus its content is "virtual" although the underpinning process in our body are real. How clearly you describe this, when starting of saying “I have troubles to describe....”.  Being "able to describe" in a manner independent from the individual is a very critical feature of what is reality about. You continue saying “a spirit coming into your own spirit and into your imagination and convincing you about something Godly that transcends reality but can be experienced within yourself.” Thus you capture the functioning of the mental process in our inner, “virtual” world, which generates “flash-like mental insights”.  The ability to generate these “flashes” are important traits of our brain (mind). Possibly developing them was very valuable for our survival along our evolutionary path [2].  

What scares you to read...?
Admittedly, I'm a bit appalled by the quote from the famous and respectable John Updike [3] that you refer to "If God does not exist, this world is a horror show.  This world is not a horror show. Therefore God does exist". Appalling is not the quote itself, but what could be derived from it. Likely John Updike made this statement in the early fifties, thus shortly after World War II, Korea-war being in full swing etc.; and nuclear arms race had started with real threat for mutual mass destruction. That certainly was a time of (its) horrors.  

Before describing why that quote is appalling, I cannot hinder the temptation to point out that its starting statement “If God does not exist, this world is a horror show” is flawed, if it is taken literally in a common religious context. Namely, “no god” would mean “no creation” and thus nothing what could manifest itself as horror or recognizing horror; so logically: “no god”, “no creation” and “no horror show”. Putting this aside; what makes it appalling to consider "that humans need god so that this world is not a horror show"?  

Certainly we can assume that John Updike's statement refers to (our) human societies and not the ample world “before humans” in which and for which ethical considerations and moral appreciations have no meaning. Although, having said that, we have to keep in view that part of the attitudes, which we consider ethical or non-ethical, are found among primates; including warmongering among chimpanzee groups!  Thus possibly human ethical considerations have their precursors from which they emerged before fostering cooperation in groups of early human species. 

Sculpture of the Swedish artist C. Milles
Reading John Updike's statement I feel a bit disgusted because it seems to state that you (and I), our relatives, our fellow human beings need a god to render this world a lesser horror show. That seems to be said. To put it simple – should I assume, that humans behave in a more ethical manner because “god” reminds them to do so? I would consider that as insulting any of my relatives or fellow human beings and their ethical standing. Beyond that sentiment, "cui bono" [*] may be asked when advocating that humans behave in a more ethical manner because “god” reminds them to do so? This question leads to study the various social functions of religion and faith, a matter on which I have dwelt a bit previously.

As a teenager I found in my parents' bookcase a mince book, which I still have in my own bookshelf: written by Lin Yutang [4]. One of its sections, which is critical regarding religious believes could be summarized as: Should you be good person, because you are threatened with hell or rewarded with heaven? Or should you be a good human being on your own thinking?

Faith or God are not needed for behaving like a good person. Most humans know well enough what that implies. Sadly, faith-based reasoning is regularly turned into thought to justify non-ethical behaviour and horror-show? Causes being presented as faith-based are far more difficult to question, thus "cui bono"?

Thus I like to take firmly side - sapere aude [**] , or trying to being a good human on your own thinking. 

with Ukko's best wishes,
your Cousin

[*] Commonly the phrase "cui bono" (Latin) is used to suggest a hidden motive or party responsible.

[**] from Wikipedia: Sapere aude is a Latin phrase meaning "dare to be wise", or more precisely "dare to know". Originally used by Horace, after becoming closely associated with The Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant in his seminal essay, What is Enlightenment?. Kant claimed it was the motto for the entire period, and used it to explore his theories of reason in the public sphere.

[1]  Born believers, Justin L. Barret, New Scientist 39, 17th March 2012

[2]  On mental and thus social side of the evolution of our species; “The social conquest of the earth” by Edward O. Wilson

[3]  from Wikipedia: John Hoyer Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic. Updike's most famous work is his Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series, which chronicles Rabbit's life over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to his death. He published more than twenty novels and more than a dozen short story collections, as well as poetry, art criticism, literary criticism and children's books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker, starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books.

[4] Lin Yutang (October 10, 1895 – March 26, 1976) was a Chinese writer and inventor. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were best sellers in the West.