A recent report showed that of all the mammals on the planet, farmed livestock makes up 60%, humans 36% and wild animals just 4%. There is much more living matter than mammals, but it does highlight the huge number of livestock need to provide part of our diet and the massive impact this is having on the planet. We can’t do much about the number of humans, which at the moment stands at 7.7 billion and is due to peak at 10.9 billion people later in the century. Put together with climate change we need to do something about the burden we are putting on the resources of the planet.
In the wealthier countries people consume animal products to get protein as this is a quick and easy solution to a healthy diet but it is a very inefficient method. Effectively we put a cow in the field to eat tonnes of grass and then we eat the cow. The problem is that the cow has to eat 24 calories of food for us to get one calorie in return, pigs need 15 calories and chickens about nine. It also takes 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef.
Taken all together it shows that farming animals to get food is a very inefficient way of sustaining our diet and the time may come in the not to distant future when it will have to change, or it may be that, just like wind and solar electrical energy, the new sources are cheaper and cleaner and there is a market led change.
Scientists can analyse the nutrient content of meat and reproduce it as nourishing food and there are big strides being made in making it palatable and acceptable. The most likely type of alternative beef to be accepted is probably the minced beef we have in burgers and sausages but at the moment they are either expensive or not acceptable in taste. This will change suddenly when someone gets the formula right and commits to the volumes of production needed to get the price acceptable.
Milk is another product where alternatives are becoming available and oat milk is a good substitute for full cream milk in cereals or coffee. At the moment it is roughly the same price as cows’ milk but again, someone will get the price and volumes right and there will be a big change.
If we can get the formula right and make the change it will solve many of our water supply and quality problems and get us on a more sustainable path.