Is animal agriculture getting too big for its boots?

A staggering 77% of global agricultural land is used for raising livestock, and research has shown that the demand for land to cater to our appetite for animal flesh will be unsustainable if current trends continue.

Researchers from FCRN set out to examine the impact of animal agricultural farming in the UK, in particular on our “land footprint”- that is, the amount of land needed to produce a product.

To obtain the total land footprint associated with UK food supply the authors look at cropland and grassland for feed and food. They combined the cropland area required for feed crop production and the grazing areas required to produce animal products and compared the land footprint of livestock supply with the total cropland footprint of crops directly consumed by humans.

They discovered that the land footprint associated with animal products made up 85% of the UK food supplies total land footprint, but only 48% of total protein and 32% of total calories are derived from livestock products, whereas cereals for human food used 6% of the UK food supplies land footprint and produced about 33% of the protein consumed by humans.

Why the UK’s land footprint doesn’t make sense

Breaking down the figures, Dr. Adam Cardilini explains: “For every 1% of land dedicated to animal production 0.56% of the UK’s protein was produced. In contrast, for every 1% of land dedicated to cereal production, 5.5% of the UK’s protein was produced. That means that the same amount of land dedicated to producing cereals delivers about 10X more protein than it would if it were used to grow animal flesh.”

Cardilini concluded that the findings highlighted “the huge resource inefficiencies in using animals flesh for food.”

Furthermore, according to data based on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation statistics, of the total habitable land on Earth, 50% is used for agriculture. Of this 77% is utilised for livestock while 23% is used for crops, and yet plant-based crops provide 83% of the global calorie intake, and 67% of global food proteins is from plants.

Read More: Why a plant-based diet isn’t just good for the soul

In 2016, researchers also explored how past and present developments in diets have impacted on global agricultural land use. They were able to calculate the percentage of land needed if we continued to follow a “USA diet”, which in comparison to other diets is higher in animal-based proteins.

“Hypothetically, if the world were to adopt the average Indian diet, 55% less agricultural land would be needed to satisfy demand, while global consumption of the average USA diet would necessitate 178% more land,” they commented.

There is mounting evidence that our current eating patterns are not only damaging to the environment but that they are also unsustainable. Opting for plant-based diets appear to not only be beneficial for our health but may help to tackle the growing environmental impacts of our past and present choices.

WHAT TO WATCH: Dr. Joanne Kong discusses the benefits of plant-based eating on the environment and to our health: The Power of Plant-Based Eating Dr. Joanne Kong; TEDx University of Richmond

Journal references: Global Environmental Change, DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.01.007, DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.09.005

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. mliae says:

    Yes! So glad you wrote about this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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