PC – references and bibliography

Here is the raw text of Planet Carnivore, published August 2013 by Guardian Shorts.

This has much fuller endnotes than the e-book, including references, but it is inferior to and NOT a substitute for the published text.

My apologies for the clumsy format here.  It is a late draft of the book, but not the final one, so it may differ slightly from the published text. Any quoted passages must be taken from the final text available from Guardian Books. This text and footnotes are intended as a resource only, and I make no claim as to their accuracy. Please buy the final version of the book  for £1.99 or US$3 – then I can afford to write more!

You should through search be able to find most references.

If in doubt, or if you wish to question a source or an attribution, please email me – alexrenton@gmail.com

Planet Carnivore

Why Cheap Meat Costs the Earth (And How to Pay the Bill)

Published August 13 – downloadable final text available via iTunes and Amazon Kindle Store – or from Guardian Books


  1. Introduction
  2. Why Eat Meat?
  3. Health: The Hazards of a Super Carnivore
  4. A Blow-Out: The Modern Meat Habit
  5. The Resources Crunch
  6. What’s Going to Happen?

Author’s Note:

As a journalist, I’ve come to treasure scientific meta-analyses, the research that gathers all the other research on an issue or a problem, puts it together and assesses it as a whole. The sum is so often different from the parts. Some meta-analyses feature in this book, particularly in the section on meat and health. While there are many interviews and investigations conducted by me that feature in this book, I have a debt to some greater and far more qualified writers, including Colin Tudge, professors Tim Lang and Vaclav Smil, Paul McMahon, Michael Pollan, Simon Fairlie and Jonathan Safran Foer. I can’t claim to have done an academic meta-analysis of them, but their work is blended in this one.

In the text the term ‘meat’ refers to the flesh and fat of animals, birds and fish. By ‘animal protein’, I mean all edible products of these creatures, including eggs and dairy.

My thanks to Nick Sidwell, Petra Cramsie and, most of all, to Ruth Burnett.

[Chapter heading] 1: Introduction

[Extract] There’s a part of me that envies the moral clarity of the vegetarian Yet part of me pities him, too. Dreams of innocence are just that; they usually depend on a denial of reality that can be its own form of hubris.
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

In January 2013 we woke up to some nasty realities about meat. The revelations began simply with a report from an Irish government agency that had carried out DNA tests on a range of ready-to-cook minced beef products. It turned out that in many of them the beef wasn’t beef at all. Some of the burgers, from processors in Ireland and the UK, were as much as 29% horse; almost all of them had traces of pork.

Some of the biggest names in European food retailing – Tesco, Findus, Asda, Burger King, Lidl, Aldi and more – were humiliated in the following weeks. More testing of ready meals and beef products produced more traces of horse. The scandal spread across Europe, as far as Moscow. The disgusting and bizarre revelations continued: a popular beef pie in Iceland was found to contain no animal protein at all.[1]

The inquest continues. But the origins of some of the horse and donkey that got into the beef supply have been traced to eastern Europe. A European ban on desinewed meat – a pink paste recovered from animal carcasses with pressurised water – in April 2012 had created a need at the bottom of the market, where ‘value’ sausages and the cheap ready meals are made. A ban on animal-drawn carts on roads in Romania later in 2012 sent a glut of unwanted animals into a grievously under-regulated meat market. Slaughtered in the east, they entered a meandering supply chain stretching all over the continent. With feed prices rising because of speculation and supply pressures on the global commodities market, cheap meat was becoming expensive. Too expensive … for a retail system so tightly wound and competitive that it cannot absorb any significant rise in suppliers’ costs.

[Sub-head] Schadenfreude Burgers

Many of us revelled in the Horsegate scandal. For those who worry about the larger food system, especially the harm done by the huge rise in meat consumption, it was the best news in years. The jokes flowed, and so did the crocodile tears: ‘A scandal was inevitable,’ said Lord Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, acknowledging the benefits that there would be for organic sales. ‘The multiple retailers’ relentless drive for cheap food comes at a price.’ In fact, by my count (in a piece written for the Daily Mail at the time) this was no extraordinary event: we’d had a major scandal around the food chain every two years of the past decade. But the food system did indeed appear to be in a mess.

During those weeks, the mood among traditional – that’s to say, pre-industrial – farmers and the organic movement was ebullient. I went to a celebratory horse steak feast at a ‘slow-food’ French restaurant in Edinburgh. They held a blind taste test: offering horse rump and organic Orkney beef, cooked in the same pan. All 20 of us present preferred the horse. But this was specially bred French pedigree carthorse, not an old nag from the streets of Bucharest.

At that dinner, and in the wider circle of foodies, poverty campaigners and food policy academics, there were hopes that the scandal might provide a spark that would wake the public up to the wider problems that have come with cheap meat. That they would demand the political changes to fix the ‘broken’ food and agriculture system and its side effects – from rural poverty and mistreated animals to environmental damage and global hunger. Not to forget, of course, the new dietary diseases epidemic in the rich world, where food is more plentiful and cheaper than it has ever been in our history.

As the 21st century began, meat, milk, eggs and the other animal food products were historically cheap. Not just in relation to other goods, but cheaper in the ways that affect lives – how many minutes you need to work to buy a chicken, the percentage of household income that needs to be spent on a family’s Friday fish supper.[2] The key to the scandal over horsemeat, as it has been to all the scandals around food in Europe in recent years, was that the meat had become too cheap[3] to sustain the system that produced it. Twentieth-century food retail with its model of eternal price war (while producing ever-increasing profits and market share) had arrived, it seemed, at an economic sound barrier. To break through it would demand some enormous further change, in marketing and technology. But meat that cheap could no longer be produced in the current system without grave risk to health and the environment – and dishonesty.

The collapse in food prices in the 20th century squeezed producers. Their share of the retail price has been halved and halved again in recent years[4] – to the extent that, according to government figures, by 2009, with feed prices soaring, two-thirds of British farms were no longer economically viable. Those still in business have been forced to industrialise production and to cut corners, on animal welfare, health, environmental concerns and safety. And, as the pork feed scandal, foot and mouth, BSE, antibiotics in animal feed, the passing-off of farmed catfish as wild cod all showed before the horsemeat scandal appeared, some producers have been forced into insanely risky practices or even criminality.

At the root of the horsemeat scandal was the 12.5p ‘value’ beefburgers sold by the chains that were exposed: it is just impossible to produce meat so cheap decently with the retail price of standard grade minced beef at £4 a kilo.[5] Despite that, in July 2013 you could again buy eight value beefburgers for £1 at Tesco and minced beef was at the same price as before the scandal – but, in a familiar supermarket sleight of hand, the new burgers were 25% smaller than those that had turned out to be nearly one third horse. You can only conclude that, ultimately, the horsemeat scandal was caused by us – the cheap meat eaters, blithely and willfully ignorant.

[Sub-head] Business as Usual

Six months on, there had been some changes. Not many. Reviewing the story, there was a call in June 2013 from a British parliamentary committee for people to eat less meat. But political leaders across Europe have shelved the horsemeat scandal as a labelling issue, nothing more. There will be a tightening of regulation. In Britain the investigation had, as of August, produced no prosecutions. Sales of ready meals were still below normal levels. Tesco and Findus remained in the doldrums, as far as markets are concerned. My local butcher said trade had been up all year, but though retail prices of steak are still high, wholesale ones are back to pre-scandal levels. Organic sales are on the up, for the first time since before the 2008 recession. The numbers of people saying they are eating less meat or who are vegetarian have increased. But the number who say they won’t change their shopping habits for ever is higher. So it’s a decent bet – with none of the pressures on farmers and processors off – that another cheap meat scandal will break before long.

Consumer reactions like this have been seen before – but they don’t last. In January 2008 the chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall worked with Channel 4 to deliver a series of shows exposing the cruelty and environmental damage of industrial poultry farming, which provides 95% of all chicken products. Viewing figures were good, the press took notice and battery chicken sales dropped 20%. But, six months later they were back to what they always had been. More seriously, today you can still buy a whole chicken for around £3 – despite five years of massive rises in feed and other input costs, and the implementing of a European ban on some forms of battery farming.

[Sub-head] A Carnivore’s Future

During my lifetime the world’s population has doubled. But it has increased its meat consumption by four times – to the point where meat production, in the summary[6] of one eminent UN panel’s recent report, is ‘as damaging as fossil fuels’.[7] Meat consumption is forecast to double again by 2050.[8] In this short book I will go over the causes of that historic dietary shift, and some of the problems that the rich world’s addiction to cheap meat is causing. I look at the great pleasure we’ve had from meat, and how it has helped us become the animals we are. We in the rich world eat three or four times as much animal protein as we need, so I also ask what moral duties we now have to animals, to the planet and to each other. We’re facing a near future where a ‘substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products’, in the words of that UN report, could soon be not just a good idea, but vital to avoiding great suffering and, inevitably, violence.[9]

Meat is not the problem – cheap meat is. Cheap meat has driven consumption so high in the rich world that we are now poisoning ourselves with it, while damaging the rest of the planet with the demands for resources. Technological change that we don’t really need is causing damage entirely disproportionate to the benefits gained. To make meat so cheap we have turned from animal husbandry to an industrial system that causes enormous suffering to animals – suffering that many meat eaters are horrified by, when they take the trouble to find out about it. The pollution caused by this industrialisation, the waste of fossil fuels and the damage to the atmosphere are unsustainable. We don’t have to stop eating meat. We do need to do it less, and farm it better.
Since 2008 we’ve seen again and again how food price rises lead to social unrest and – in half a dozen countries – revolution.[10] Food, peace and the price of oil are inextricably entwined. Yet, as I found, the world’s most powerful do not have much of a plan, or any means, to stabilise the markets in these key commodities. Nor can they place a coherent strategy for the 9 billion of us due to be on this planet in 2050. We should worry about this while worrying about horse in burgers: the two are part of the same problem.

The good news is that there is no lack of ideas for addressing the meat problem, and designs for a future world in which we can all eat well and fairly. They come from all over: anti-poverty non-governmental groups (NGOs); philanthropic millionaires; climate change researchers; bio-tech science; the agri-food industry; animal rights activists; and from the back-to-basics sustainability campaigners. Many of the plans are feasible, though they don’t often tolerate each other. Some seem to have no practical use outside the conference jaunts of political economists.[11] But the best ones – ranging from what we can do as consumers to what a World Food Organisation might attempt – are laid out in detail in this book’s final chapter. There is an almost convincing global plan to continue producing nearly as much meat as we now consume, but without using 40% of the world’s grain supply (as is currently the case). But with these, a political scheme is needed: how to construct an authority system with the tools and the will to implement all these save-the-world ideas.

During the course of writing this book, I’ve gone on my own journey. All my life I’ve been a joyful and pretty uncaring carnivore. If I bought good meat it was because that pleased me as a cook and a gourmand, not as a fellow-creature. I cared for animals – and I’ve bullied people, including my own mother, to avoid cheap bacon. But that has been as much because of my anger at the dishonesty and greed of big retail and industrial agriculture. But I have had to get serious about my meat eating. I thought, after 10 years writing about food policy and culture, I knew pretty much all the dark and nasty places in the food system. I didn’t – and so I have had to make some hard, and some pleasurable, decisions about my own relationship to meat and all industrially produced food. Some of these are detailed at the book’s end.

[Chapter heading] 2: Why Eat Meat?

[Extract] At any one time there are about 54 billion[TD1]  cows, pigs and chickens alive in order to feed us. 52 billion of those are chickens.[12]
Professor Helen Sang, genetic modifier working on poultry

Humans eat meat because they enjoy it. There are of course a host of cultural, physiological and psychological debates behind that simple statement: the ingredients of pleasure are always complex. And meat eating, in its 21st-century form, has now emerged as one of humankind’s most damaging addictions. It is doing more damage to the atmosphere than the entire transport system. It is fast draining the resources of the planet, while putting in doubt our ability to feed the people who will come after us.

We have the flattish teeth and long digestive tracts of herbivores. But it is generally agreed that we, like our cousins the chimpanzees,[13] were always opportunistic carnivores. That’s to say, we and the hominids who came before us may normally have eaten vegetable and fruit matter, but in reality our diet was governed by what was easiest to get hold of. When animal protein was easily available or our hunger was strong enough to overcome any taboos, we made use of it.

Human tribes settled near places that were rich in animal protein and water – at the seashore, or by lakes, or animal-gathering places. We defended such places. Migrations of humans during prehistory often coincided with the mass decline of large mammals.[14] The remains of bones at our ancient campsites and the tooth or tool marks on them show that we would eat each other, as well as animals.

Meat satisfies hunger and all sorts of social demands. But it is not automatically useful for nutrition. Eating animal protein is important, especially when you’re growing. But, unless you are genetically adapted for it,[15] a meat-only diet will quite quickly damage the kidneys and liver. And you will soon start digesting your own body fat to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates for energy. Fat is more useful. It delivers vitamins and highly concentrated energy. Traditional hunters still seek out fatty animals,[16] just as the most expensive tuna for sashimi is the fattiest part of the fish’s belly flesh. The stories told by prehistoric rubbish heaps reveal that our ancestors did too. They’ve left traces of their struggle to obtain animal fat, in bones cracked, sawn and baked to get out the fatty marrow. Sawing or smashing a roast thigh bone to extract the tasty, greasy gel inside was almost certainly the first act of cooking with tools.

Our forebears did not need to be told that fat was necessary, especially in times when there was not plant matter to eat – their bodies told them to get it. Carnivores crave fat, especially when deprived of it, far more than they crave lean meat.[17] (Fat is where the energy lies; it also contains most of the taste of meat. Try cooking a strip of fat-free lamb and one of beef side by side: most people you serve it to won’t know which is which.)[TD2]

So the first organised meals were probably meat fests. Teamwork was needed to get to the flesh – especially if the animal was large or swift. A deer, an aurochs, a seal or a mammoth took labour and cooperation to kill, skin, butcher and cook; but they provided a lot of meat to share.

Cooking is more than just a way of extracting the fat. It also dissolves collagen and gelatin, the fibrous tissue. It coagulates blood. In other words, it makes it much more easily digestible. Burning fuel to cook – like cooperating in the hunt – is a cheaper, more efficient way of obtaining energy from our food. Meat and other animal products deliver more energy to primates like us the more they are cooked: only 65% of an uncooked egg is digested, compared with 90% if it has been boiled.[18] Many animals will opt for cooked food before they do raw.

Cooking helps nourish those who would not otherwise be able to find enough raw food to meet their energy needs, like the very young, the sick and the old. The food historian Bee Wilson writes that it was only after the invention of pottery and vessels to cook in that human skeletons without teeth turn up in gravesites – people then started to survive beyond 30 or so (the age at which the teeth deteriorate) in primitive societies.[19] Most of all, cooking releases the things that make food, especially meat, delicious.

[Sub-head] Why Does It Taste Like That?

There’s much research, and a lot of debate, around why cooked meat is tasty – and, indeed, why we have acquired a taste for it. That story begins with the first food – the milk we drank from our mother’s breast, full of flavour-laden fat, sugar and amino acids. Most common among those is glutamine, whose salt is glutamate – notorious (and hugely common in processed food) in its synthesised form: MSG.

For all its bad reputation,[20] glutamate and its cousins are the cornerstone of taste. The Japanese were the first to decide that the savoury flavour was a fifth taste, to add to the existing four: they call it umami, ‘deliciousness’, and it has now been shown that we have nerve receptors to spot it. Glutamate by itself tastes of little. It’s vaguely sweet, like saliva. But added to other flavours it boosts taste, like pressing on the piano’s loud pedal. It can turn the ordinary delicious. Michael Pollan, the American philosopher of food culture, says it italics taste[21]

It is certain, as food manufacturers know, that glutamate will outperform salt in persuading you to eat more of something. It plays an important part not just in flavouring snacks but in also getting the elderly – who are prone to under-nutrition because the taste faculty deteriorates with age – to eat. And, equally, the glutamate and the sugar in your mother’s milk may have persuaded you to like it: or they may have taught you to like other things with glutamate and sugar in them – inducements to lure you to eating the protein and carbohydrate that glutamate and sugar naturally accompany.

The most important thing that the simple act of burning meat does is release glutamate and sugars. Key to this are the Maillard reactions, wonderful processes officially discovered – although certainly long part of cooks’ magic – by a French physician in 1910. Maillard worked out that at 125C the molecules inside carbohydrate and protein chains would start to be released and so interact, forming and breaking bonds and releasing all sorts of compounds responsible for smell and taste. One of these is of course glutamate (glutamic acid is as much as 25% of all proteins). This is why meat heated to these levels is tasty, while meat that has merely been boiled at 100˚C is not. A bonus of Maillard is that, at 155˚C, the sugars released start to caramelise, releasing more flavour and odour.[22] The conversion of glutamic acid under Maillard is also what turns meat golden brown[23] – a colour we’re now conditioned to associate with flavour.

There’s a controversial belief that cooking meats and crops did not just enable our ancestors to nourish themselves more efficiently, but was also key to their development. The anthropologist Richard Wrangham’s much-discussed 2009 book states – it’s part of the title – that cooking ‘made us human’.[24] The decisive moment was 1.8-1.9 million years ago, when we became something more than raw-food-eating apes – specifically, evolving from being Homo habilis to Homo erectus: a faster, bigger-brained model.

Wrangham contends that cooking provides the basis for a new theory of evolution. Cooking is behind the descent of our ancestors from the trees, walking erect (because their stomachs decreased in size, because they no longer had to work on digesting the raw food); it brought about the development of our smaller-than-other-apes’ mouths and all the first steps of social humanity, including the birth of gender roles. Although clearly the advantages of cooking are dramatic, Wrangham has been mocked for overstating the case.

Some parts of the theory have good support though. ‘Cooking made our guts smaller,’ agrees Professor Peter Wheeler of Liverpool John Moores University. ‘Once we cooked our food, we didn’t need big guts … They’re costly in terms of energy. Individuals that were born with small guts were able to save energy, have more babies and survive better.’[25] Wheeler’s research shows that the 20% increase in the brain size of Home erectus mirrored the reduction in the size of the gut.

[Sub-head] The Economics of Meat Eating

Cooking shaped us, but the seductions of sugar and glutamate in cooking meat do not have much purpose other than pleasure. All they’ve done is ensure that humans have killed an enormous number of other animals. Just as we can get most of what we need in fat and protein from dairy or from non-animal sources, we can get most of the taste treats from these as well. There’s more glutamate per gram in parmesan cheese, tomato sauce and indeed a ‘yeast extract’ like Marmite than in any cooked meat. The sugars that the Maillard reactions release are available elsewhere too, notably from carbohydrates. But, although vegetables are far cheaper to produce, in terms of energy input, getting those latent calories out may need more energy – or its proxy, money – to obtain. A chimpanzee spends six hours a day on chewing raw vegetation. Wrangham – who is a vegetarian – quotes Plato: ‘[He] said if we were regular animals, we wouldn’t have time to write poetry. He was right.’[26]

As societies developed, however, more non-vegetable food was eaten. This is particularly true in cities, because meat and dairy can be easier to transport: the food will walk at least part of the way. Then its energy can be concentrated by mass production, near the markets, or in ways that make it easy to carry. Meat is dried and salted. Milk is made into cheese: ‘white meats’, as they were known, were the most common source of fat and protein for the urban people of medieval Britain[TD3] .

Eating protein became associated with achievement and success. With hunting, animal husbandry and cooking came organisation, hierarchy and rituals. That these were key to the development of society is an obvious truth for thinkers back to Aristotle (who, anachronistically, believed that boiling food was more civilised than roasting it).[27]

Roast meat had been a food of aspiration since written records began.[28] Long sequences of Homer’s Iliad – a familiar text to educated 18th-century Europeans and Americans – recounts in detail how the demi-gods and heroes of the Trojan War chopped and seasoned, cooked and feasted:

[Extract] Then in the firelight he set down a large chopping block,

placed on it slabs of mutton, goat, and the chine

of a plump hog, swimming in fat. Achilles carved,

while Automedon held the meat.[29]
But our very desire for meat carries a built-in hazard. [TD4] In the next chapter I’ll weigh the health benefits of animal protein and fat consumption against the damage that too much of it can cause. Steve Simpson, a biologist at Sydney University, has looked at different species – from flies to mice, monkeys and humans – that have a strong instinct to consume protein. He has spotted a ‘protein leverage effect’[30] – where a powerful appetite for protein leads to ingesting excess calories, predisposing the animal to obesity. In most cultures, fat, especially in the adult male, has been associated with power and success – the sign of a reaction to protein leverage.

[Sub-head] Beef: Millionaire’s Meat

The planet’s most expensive meat habit was born out of testosterone, patriotism, braggadocio and class arrogance in 17th-century Britain[TD5] . As would happen again, animal protein and technology came together to speed up social change. British beef was preserved in salt, barreled and carried around the world on British warships. It fuelled what was to be the founding of the largest empire yet. ‘Beef and liberty’ was a popular 18th-century slogan, and the Royal Navy (and also, in a historical quirk, the US Marine Corps) still sit down to dine, on formal occasions, to the strains of a ballad from 1731, ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’.

[Extract] When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,

It ennobled our brains[31] and enriched our blood …

In Britain, as supply increased, we became choosy about what animal protein we ingested. ‘White meats’ – dairy products – were the food of the poor, and largely spurned by those who could afford meat or fish. But the poor in turn had different values. ‘Poverty and oysters always seem to go together,’ Dickens noted in 1836, and there are accounts of household servants in Britain rebelling against being fed on them. They wanted red animal meat. In Scotland, where I live, our ancestors guzzled the oily protein of herring, cod, haddock and salmon (though they still wanted red meat). Without these fish, it’s doubtful that any civilisation could have developed, given how hard it is to harvest calories in these unforgiving landscapes. As in Norway and Sweden, many of our cities and towns were built in places that had access to fish fats and protein or could be easily defended. Or both.[32]

While the Navy’s formal dinners today recall their historical counterparts, the beef of the 18th-century would have been raised and eaten very differently. There was no intensive farming of animals until the mid-19th century, and animals were rarely bred primarily for eating. That is still true today for much of the planet. A UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) survey of why the poorest people keep edible domesticated animals, other than pigs, lists as uses: transport; farm labour; a ‘networking mechanism and social status indicator’; a way of storing their savings; and, crucially, as fertiliser providers.[33] Meat was far from the most important thing to be obtained from a domesticated animal.

Asian cuisine became sophisticated (in the sense of complexity and elaborateness) long before kitchens in Europe got beyond the open hearth and roasting spit. Yet meat was scarce and prized. Not long ago, beef was so rare in China that it was known as ‘millionaire’s meat’. Jane Kramer, the cultural journalist, has written: ‘Meat was the caviar in a Chinese peasant’s diet, and what we now call Chinese cooking probably began as culinary experiments in making very little of it go a long way. The trick was to cut small quantities of meat into paper-thin slices, season them with condiments, preserves, and spices, add whatever vegetables you could grow or barter, and keep adding until you arrived at a dish so tasty that you forgot how little meat was in it.’[34] In that enticing summary lies a plan for the determined meat eater in the resource-hungry world of the future.

Of course, a culture that values meat as ‘caviar’, like Kramer’s Chinese peasant, is liable to grab all it can when the resource is more plentiful. There is no data on how much meat the pre-Communist Chinese peasant actually did get hold of, but the Szechuan-trained chef Fuchsia Dunlop writes sadly of the ‘path of destruction’ that the modern affluent Chinese are following when they go out to eat: ‘On one of my most recent trips to Chengdu, a banquet I attended included a beefsteak for every person, individually plated in the Western style and served with knife and fork. Also served were individual steaks of salmon, another recently-popular food, and one that is often farmed intensively, with fairly gruesome environmental consequences.’[35]

Dunlop quotes US state department figures[36] showing that China now eats twice as much meat by tonne as the US – a quarter of the world’s total consumption. The rate of increase in China’s meat eating is astonishing, and directly in line with the increase in wealth. In 2009 the Chinese ate 58kg of meat a head a year, compared with just 18kg 30 years ago,[37] and – although the figures probably aren’t worth much – just 3.6kg in 1962.

2730[38] [AQ: delete 2730? not sure what it stands for]

In the US where they, at 120kg per head per annum,[39] eat as much or more meat than anyone, these scary Chinese statistics are reported with a mix of horror and glee.[40] It is pointed out that the Chinese are already having to import animal feed and breeding stock from the US, as well as buying some grand old American meat companies. The threat to resources and the contribution to climate change of developing meat habits in the growing economies like China and India are one of the first things mentioned by people concerned about food supply and security. They have good reason (see chapter five on the resources crunch). But, as ever with issues of finite world resources, it seems that it is those who’ve consumed most of them who are the shrillest at the prospect of others aping their greed.

But at the moment there’s less to worry about from the most populous countries of Asia than western doom-mongers would have you believe. Indonesia’s meat eating is probably already near its peak and the threat from India hardly exists. The average Indian consumes a thirtieth of the meat that an Australian or an American does – around 4.4kg in 2009, up from 3.9kg 10 years earlier.

Indians lie at 177 in a world league of carnivores, ordered by appetite,[41] and largely because of cultural (rather than economic) vegetarianism, fewer than 30% of them consume meat regularly. No one believes that, even on the most optimistic growth scenarios, Indian meat consumption will top 10kg per head per annum in the foreseeable future (though their dairy use is forecast to double). Africa’s meat consumption rates are stagnant at around 20kg, and not expected to change[42] until the continent starts genuinely to develop, in an economic sense. Far more of a problem, today, is the fact that the 300 million people in the US eat a third of the world’s meat supply – and they eat more beef, the most expensive meat in resource terms, than most.

As important is the type of meat that Chinese and other Asian peoples eat[TD6] . Chinese and east Asian carnivores eat mainly pork and chicken, both of which are traditionally fed in part on kitchen waste or from the proceeds of marginal land. Even in industrial farming, these animals are much less expensive to feed than beef, which provides a third of all the meat that the rich world carnivore eats[43] and is four times more expensive in both feed and water to produce than pork.[44] The Chinese eat less than 10% of the beef that Americans do – indeed, if anything, most of them still want to eat more pork. The Mandarin ideogram for a home is a house with a pig underneath it[TD7] .

Until recently, the Chinese did not waste meat as we do in countries where meat is cheap. In the US and the UK less than 10% of household income is spent on food. In China, a third is. Here we eat around 50%, by weight, of a beef animal. In societies that prize offal and fat and pay more for their meat, as we used to, 25% more of the animal is used for food. Here again lies hope for the hungry and fearful – as is often said, if we could use the 40% of edible food that gets thrown away, there would be no crisis in food security. In 2013 China launched its own campaign against food waste.[45]

[Figure]  [AQ: place first url as footnote for the graph?]

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/04/daily-chart-17And of income spent on food, worldwide: http://wsm.wsu.edu/researcher/WSMaug11_billions.pdf

But that should not make us complacent. As China gets richer it will continue to eat much more meat. It had the largest grain crop of any country in world history in 2011 – but the largest part of it wasn’t rice. It was corn – to feed the chickens, pigs and the fish in its massive aquaculture sector.[46] A third of all Chinese crops already go to feed animals,[47] and China is now buying half the world’s soya crop for animal feed (see chapter 5).

So: why eat meat? Because of a host of ancient cultural associations and because it did a lot for our ancestors. Because it tastes nice. Because we need protein – and 10 million children, all of them in the world’s poorest countries, suffer diseases that are caused by lack of protein.

But we don’t have to eat it. As the UNFAO drily puts it: ‘While it is clear that meat is not essential in the diet, as witness the large number of vegetarians who have a nutritionally adequate diet, the inclusion of animal products makes it easier to ensure a good diet.’ But at the moment we eat meat and fish like we use cars – because we like them. We very rarely need them. There are other ways of getting where we need to go. And the evidence is mounting that most of us in the rich world are now eating so much meat that it is actively damaging our bodies and shortening our lives.



[Chapter heading] 3: Health: The Hazards of a Super Carnivore

[AR8] In the developed world most of us are omnivorous. You might better call us super carnivorous, because most us who eat meat are getting far more than our necessary allowance of protein – we glut on it, every day, like vultures who’ve found a dying elephant. Protein should be 7-8% of total calorie intake. But the average American male consumes 40% more than that. The same group gets 11% of its calories from saturated fats – the least healthy kind.[48] (The American Heart Association recommends this figure should be 7%.) Most of the nutrients in protein are just as available from plants – meat provides protein that is only a little ‘higher-value’,[49] though it may provide it more cheaply[TD9] .

As is ably demonstrated by vegetarian and vegan diets, most adults with a normally varied diet don’t need any meat at all. Young children and feeding mothers in poor societies are the only people for whom meat or fish can be crucial to health, and even then the amounts required are small.

So how much protein and fat should we be eating? We can get most of the nutrients and protein we need from plants; 150g of nuts and seeds[TD10]  a day will do the job. The US health authorities recommend that an adult man eat 56g of protein a day, and a non-pregnant woman 46g. Thus, she would get what she needed from eight eggs or a chicken breast or a 220g piece of fish[TD11] . But that assumes she is getting no protein from plant or dairy sources.

Currently, most of the rich world gets far more protein than it needs: 100g a day per person in the US and France, though only Americans and Australians get so much of their protein, 30–40%, from meat. In Europe the average is 25%. In India just 2% of protein supply is meat.

And fat? Adults need a minimum of 32g per day, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). (Again, children need much more, and 50–60% of the energy value of breast milk is from fat.) But a normally trimmed, small serving of meat (80g raw) and a glass of milk on top of a normal, largely vegetable diet will ensure an adult will get more than enough protein and fat – as well as a good dose of vitamins A, C and of iron.[50][TD12]

[Sub-head] The Diet and Health Revolution

It’s an immense irony that after having done so much to aid human development, the meat habit  – overindulged – then started to damage our bodies. The effects of that change are still emerging. It began though at the start of the industrial age in the west, when technology changed and a regular supply of fish and animal products were available to the new urban populations[TD13] .

One of the subsequent myths of the industrial age is that people ate better. In fact, even though prices of meat and fish and other staples like wheat were a fraction in 1900 of what they were in 1801, the century saw an interesting deterioration in the health of ordinary people in the western industrial economies. Stunting, a key indicator of malnutrition, increased in 19th-century Britain.[51]

In 1902 the British army was forced, for the third time in 50 years, to lower the minimum height requirement for recruits. It went down to just five foot[52]and stayed that way for the first world war – having been five foot six just half a century earlier. And in 1902 40% of wannabe soldiers were refused on the grounds of other physical problems. In 1911, when two in every five children in industrial areas had the vitamin-deficiency illness rickets, the Daily Mail was proposing campaigns for a ‘national loaf’, a wholemeal bread to provide nutrients to people suffering ‘degeneracy’ and a ‘decline in the national physique’.

Simpler and more effective solutions to some of these issues emerged in the 1920s – based on cheap animal products. The most remarkable emerged from a mass experiment carried out in Scotland on large numbers of ‘normal’ children. Feeding them a pint of milk a day was followed by a 20% acceleration of their growth rate – ‘and an obvious improvement in health and vitality’.[53]Cheap or free milk was made available for schoolchildren and mothers for the next 50 years. By 1942, at the height of war rationing, the infant mortality rate in Scotland and England was at its lowest ever.[54]

Nutrition science and mass social studies emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, and the combined data brought about a revolution in public health. ‘Health is directly correlated with diet’, an obvious truth now, but a historic statement when nutrition pioneer Sir John Boyd Orr wrote the words in his groundbreaking Food and the People (1943). Government and scientists across the richer world began to decide what people should eat, and how much they should spend on it. In Britain in the 1930s, it was believed that between 30% and 50% of the nation was malnourished,[55] though the cause was poor diet, not lack of animals. It was recorded in 1936 that only the very poorest were getting inadequate meat and fat – and they were getting 80% of what they needed.[56]

Crucially, the first nutritionists insisted on us eating a huge amount of animal protein. A 1940s pamphlet put out by the Canadian Medical Association suggests a family with three children eat 8lbs (3.63kg) of meat or fish a week, 5lb (2.27kg)  of cheese and butter, 18 eggs and 38 pints of milk. That is a massive amount of fat: 50% more meat than the maximum recommended for five adults today.

But by the end of the war, Britons – if you discounted those who had died [AQ: delete?]– were taller and living longer than ever before. Infant mortality was at the lowest levels ever recorded. It was an extraordinary change, and Boyd Orr and his prescriptions, enforced by the Ministry of Food[AR14] , were feted for it. But one major thing seems to have escaped his analysis: the radical change of diet forced by rationing meant that Britons ate less of what had done them harm (like excessive red meat and fat), and not just more of the things that the government had decided were good (like wholemeal bread and oranges for mothers and children). By 1942, Britons – at the peak of war-time rationing – were eating far less: 500–600g of meat per week, close to the amounts now recommended today.

Sir John and his colleagues went on to set up the UNFAO after the second world war. Deservedly, given the millions he had helped, he won the Nobel peace prize in 1949. But the pioneering nutritionists never knew how their prescriptions for meat and fat would go on to create a huge new set of health problems – largely for the poorer people they’d helped escape from the blight of under-nutrition. They set the table for a meat feast, and an epidemic of disease caused by over-nutrition.

The evidence of this has emerged only slowly. The medical establishment has been sidetracked again and again, not least in underplaying the role of the huge rise in sugar consumption while overestimating the damage done by animal fats to our hearts (consigning a generation to the miseries of margarine and trans-fats that turn out to have been more dangerous than butter).

Even now, we’re not entirely sure on the quantitative effect of meat consumption on health in the rich world. That’s in part because the undeniable data on the extraordinary increase in diseases associated with diet – obesity, heart failure, stroke and cancer of the digestive system – has also come along with huge changes in diet and eating habits. Is it sugar, alcohol, salt, processed food, lack of fibre or saturated fat that is causing the huge increase in health problems[TD15] ? Or all of them?

[Sub-head] Red for Danger

Medical science will continue to debate all of this. But at the moment the finger of blame has swung significantly towards ‘red’[57] meats[AR16]  – mature sheep, cow, pig – and processed ones. The most recent authoritative studies were done over many years on nearly 200,000 people in Japan and the US, and though there are disagreements, the conclusion of both of them is that the more of these meats you eat, the shorter your life will be. A 2010 meta-analysis[58]by the Harvard School of Public Health of 20 other studies concluded that processed (but not fresh) red meat played a significant role in coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The diabetes issue is perhaps the most worrying. It’s another of the modern-age diseases whose rapid rise in the rich world is clearly about dietary change – but medicine still seems confused about the mechanics. Type 2 diabetes, where the body’s insulin system malfunctions, used to be called ‘late onset’ – but the term has been dropped now that people in their 20s are developing the condition.

In Scotland, where I live, GPs in poorer areas say their caseload of diabetics has doubled, and that people under 30 are regularly undergoing amputations as a result of the complications. In the US 19 million people have diabetes, three times as many as in 1980, and a further 80 million are ‘pre-diabetic’. Excess sugar in the diet has long been fingered as the chief culprit: but a study of 150,000 Americans, published in June 2013,[59] showed that people who eat 50% more red meat than the recommended average double their chances of developing diabetes. Those who cut consumption saw the risk drop.

A box:? http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=2697&ArticleID=9303

In the 20-year Harvard School of Public Health study of adults [AQ: addition ok? More clarity was needed] , 24,000 of the 121,000 subjects died, and these were predominantly the carnivores. Another study[60] that used some of the same data concluded[AR17] : ‘Every extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat (steak, hamburger, pork, etc.) increased the [relative] risk of dying prematurely by 13%. Processed red meat (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and the like) upped the risk by 20%.’

The authors suggested that saturated fat, cholesterol and iron were the most likely culprits. But cooking red meat at high temperature can create cancer-causing compounds. Salt might play a role, too. And: ‘It’s also possible that red-meat eaters may be more likely to have other risk factors for serious, life-shortening diseases.’ They added that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women in the sample populations could have been prevented if all the individuals had consumed no more than 42g a day of red meat[61] – equivalent to one large steak a week[62] or two-thirds the average British consumption.

The data is complex but you can extract a simple formula: cut your red and processed meat consumption by a third and you can add up to 10% to your chances of staying alive longer.

[Sub-head] Bowel Cancer and Meat


One of the most mysterious ‘new’ diseases is colorectal or bowel cancer. It is now one of the top three cancers suffered by both men and women in the rich world,[63] where it is far more common. (The lowest incidence is in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.) A 2005 European study claimed that those who regularly eat more than 5.6oz (160g) of red meat daily increase their risk of contracting bowel cancer by a third.[64] And as many as 16,000 people die each year of bowel cancer in Britain, most of whom are diagnosed before they turn 50. Death rates from colorectal cancer have declined slightly in the US since 1975, but that’s ascribed to better screening and treatment.[65]

Clearly, people who eat more red and processed meat get more colorectal cancer. It is especially a male problem, and men in Britain eat much more meat than women do. Colorectal cancer incidence rates have increased 29% among men since the mid-70s, and only 6% for women: in 2010 men had a ‘1 in 14 lifetime chance’ of developing colorectal cancer, women 1 in 19.

The rise in incidence is clear, as is the fact that the meat-eating world has more colorectal cancer. But the cause of this health crisis is not. It may be something to do with the curing salts used in processed meat.[66] It may be associated with acrylamides[67] – the toxic chemicals formed when we bake and roast any food. Some research is looking at haem, an iron-carrying protein from meat that has destructive effects on the cells of the digestive tract.[68]

[Sub-head] Eat Meat and Live Longer Than Your Ancestors (But not as Long as You Could)

What is certain is that the illnesses associated with meat are what medical science calls ‘dose-responsive’ – the more you take, the more the effect. And the converse is true too. A 21-year German study of vegetarians[69] and healthy non-vegetarians, adjusted for other lifestyle factors, found significant differences in mortality rates, though the most marked were for heart disease, not cancer.

It is hard for any long-term academic study to adjust its findings for all the other possible causes of disease. So let’s turn to religion.

The Seventh Day Adventists are a Christian sect that eschews meat, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, spices and over-consumption of anything. Their diet contains milk, eggs, fruit and a lot of grains, beans and seeds. In 1975 it was first reported that colorectal and breast cancer rates among them were low;[70] since then they have been closely studied by government and academics. Here’s the conclusion of the Adventists’ own Dietetic Association:

[Extract] [Seventh Day Adventists] in general, have 50% less risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, and diabetes. More specifically, recent data suggests that vegetarian men under 40 can expect to live more than eight years longer and women more than seven years longer then [sic] the general population. SDA vegetarian men live more than three years longer than SDA men who eat meat.

[Chapter heading 4: A Blow-Out: The Modern Meat Habit[TD18]

[Sub-head] A Palaeofantasy

We are sentimental about what we eat. We respond enthusiastically to words like ‘natural’, ‘traditional’ and ‘farmhouse’ that proliferate on processed food labels, although most of us know that the terms are legally meaningless and, consequently, abused. [TD19]

Traditional food production still exists in the rich world; in fact, a side effect of over-cheap industrially produced food is that old-fashioned practices are thriving. For many they are a model of how everything should be. There are obvious bonuses of a food culture that celebrates biodiversity and rewards small farming, while cutting waste. But it is not a prescription for the future. Despite some shrill proselytising from the organics movement, it is clear that returning to pre-industrial farming simply won’t feed the world of 2050. In fact – as discussed later in this chapter – it would be outrageous to deny the developing world the benefits of the technology we’ve used to become so excessively well fed. Intensive farming and cheap meat may have to be part of the answer to the problem of the just and equitable 2050 meal; if so, we will have to get to grips with the problems, moral and practical, that surround modern agriculture.

Currently, people like me dodge them. It is one of the bonuses of living in our part of the world that, by spending just a little bit more on our meat and other food, we can still play a part in the pre-industrial fantasy. Coughing up £25 for a ‘locally bred, organic’ chicken, refusing any bacon that sells for less than £12 a kilo, buys me a little relief for my conscience – I am able to shield myself from some of the moral challenges of the modern food system. But I have no doubt I am still a part of that system, as complicit in its practices as any value mince buyer.

[Sub-head] When Meat Became Murder

It seems undeniable that some time in the 19th century, our relationship with farmed animals turned malevolent. Before then, mankind and livestock had what you might judge a mutually beneficial relationship (given that one enslaved the other). The animals, especially those that were useful for more than just their meat, generally lived well and longer than their wild ancestors – and far longer than the intensively farmed animals of today.

With the industrial age, all that changed. The shift in our meat consumption was driven by a new-found ability to store it for longer, in greater quantity and without it going off. Curing technology is the oldest practice in meat processing. Drying came first. The Greeks knew how to use salt compounds to aid the desiccation and preservation of meat and fish nearly 3,000 years ago. A classic peasant cookbook, The Scots Kitchen, first published in 1929 and still in print, contains a section on how to salt an entire bullock. But even as its author, F Marian McNeill, was growing up in Orkney in the last years of the 19th century, two new technologies arrived nearly simultaneously. They were canning and refrigeration – and they became feasible just as vast populations in Europe and America were coming in need of them as they moved to new employment in the cities.

[Sub-head] Mechanising Animals – Industrial Food

In the 19th century a rapid evolution in technology coincided with the new needs of concentrated populations. So, for the first time, the meat of bovines, ovine and poultry became the primary reason for rearing them. In the 1850s the world’s biggest city, London, had a population of 2.5 million, and it imported an animal for nearly every one of them: 2.2 million animals in the year 1853.[71] The chronicler George Dodd recorded that and other fascinating details of London’s food supply that year. But he confessed he did not know how London actually got fed. ‘It is useless to ask by what central authority, or under what controlling system, is such a city as London supplied with its food. “Nobody does it” … And yet such a supply did reach London,’ he wrote, beguilingly.

Unfettered, hardly regulated, capitalism and the new technology – from railway and canal transport to pasteurisation – were doing the job. From the 1840s onwards railways brought fish on ice to the capital, spurring the development of deep-sea fishing, and then, amazingly swift, the decline of the vast stocks of coastal fish like cod. By 1869 Sainsbury’s was operating a shop where a mechanical cow dispensed milk 24 hours a day. In 1880 the first shipload of frozen Australian beef arrived – as edible as the day it was shipped. By then the London population was enjoying 40kg of meat per head per year, around the world average today.[72] Forty per cent of the supply was imported. Just as Robert Malthus’s theories on the problem of unsustainable population growth were gaining ground in 19th-century thinking, technology and trade were addressing the core issue that the planet would run out of food.

Trade and transport were dependent on a two-way traffic to make a good profit: business people do not like an empty ship or railway carriage. From around 1830 railways shipped cheap grain across the US to places where it could be fed to cattle and pigs: the resulting cheap meat came back by rail to factory processors, first to Cincinnati and then Chicago. The ‘disassembled’ animals could be shipped down by river and rail to the cities of the east coast. By 1905 the Chicago stockyards were processing 17 million sheep, cattle and pigs a year, and importing labour from Europe to do the work. The meat they processed went to Europe in tins – enabling British meat consumption to triple between 1870 and 1890.[73] Most of the modern increase in Britain’s protein and animal fat consumption can be accounted for by industrial fishing and imported meat.

Cheap American wheat and corn went to Europe too. In what economic historians call the ‘European grain invasion’, feed prices plunged from 1870 – and as a consequence so did the retail price of meat. River valley land in Britain that had for centuries produced grain were turned over to animal grazing, as the American imports made arable farming uneconomic.[74] Cheap grain meant that in Netherlands and Denmark, two countries short of land area, the intensive feeding of pigs and chickens in new factory farms began.

Cutting labour costs and restricting animal movements became economically necessary, as the retail price of animal-derived food fell. On both sides of the Atlantic, farmers started a hunt for more savings. Breeders began to seek animals, especially cattle, profited from a new diet of grains, often grown far away. As this proved more profitable than grass fattening, the Old World’s ‘proxy farming’ extended to other continents. By the end of the 20th century, Europe was using one-and-a-half times[75] its own land mass abroad to provide food for its people – much of that land was in South America and was used for growing beef and feed for beef[TD20] .

[Sub-head ‘Leave it to Tesco’ – Keeping the State Out of the Kitchen

Assess the 20th century in broad terms and you see extraordinary achievements – medicine, nutrition and wealth combined to make most humans thrive by all the basic indicators: longevity, height and infant mortality rates all improved far more than at any time in the previous millennia of Homo sapiens’ existence. Most significant of all, our population increased seven-fold.

No one organised this. Little has changed since Dodd wryly noted the lack of a guiding hand behind the business of feeding mid-century London. The great shifts, by which the rich world exported much of its farming, and changed the diets of billions, were done without any grand plan and only with the lightest state regulation. In fact, in the modern period government intervention in food supply has been largely disastrous – when ideological in strategy, famine has almost always resulted. Government did not intervene on a global level in the crucial main artery of the international food business, the grain trade, until 1934 – and most supranational intervention in food commodities was removed again in the anti-state fervour of the Reagan years.

Capitalism has so far proven to be the only effective way to feed industrialised countries, but that doesn’t mean the job has been done well. Britain’s 19th-century story is punctuated by food riots, scandals over mislabelling and adulteration[76] and public health – much as it is today. In 1906 the American journalist Upton Sinclair published an expose of life in the Chicago meat-packing industry, The Jungle. America woke up to the appalling toll that industrial meat was taking. The book inspired outrage both on behalf of the tortured animals and the immigrant workers, enslaved by their debts and fed on tuberculosis-contaminated pork. It gave impetus to an intellectual argument for vegetarianism and animal rights that had already been taken up by some in the socialist movement. [AQ: deleted as info repeated later] And, reluctantly, the US government became involved in policing the meat industry and then public health around food.

But beyond the core issues of labour rights, animal welfare and health, government has largely kept out of food supply on the grounds that private enterprise can and should be left to do it. Bodies like the World Bank have exported the first part of this philosophy to the poor world too. With the carrot of development aid and loans, international donors forced their client governments to drop subsidies, export and import controls, and abandon traditional state safety nets for farmers. The consequences[77] for nutrition and hunger rates in the poorest of those ‘structurally adjusted’ countries have largely been disastrous.[78]

Tim Lang, City University professor of food policy, calls the hands-off policy the ‘leave it to Tesco’ strategy for food security.[79] [80] (He doesn’t believe it has served us well.) The strategy has been in vogue for 40 years now, but its origins lie in the laissez-faire ideologies of the Victorian age. There was a moment after 1945, when, with the founding of the United Nations, the idea of a World Food Board was put forward by Sir John Boyd Orr, the nutrition scientist who had overseen British diet through the second world war. But the superpowers rejected moves to create a UN body for food security strategy then as they have several times since. (Boyd Orr became the first head of the UNFAO. But it has no teeth: it is an advisory and research body.)

[Sub-head] Cheaper, Happier, Better

Capitalist industrialisation of food supply did produce one crude ‘good’ in economic terms: food, especially meat, got cheaper. At the end of the 20th century an average US worker could buy an average chicken with the fruits of 15 minutes’ labour. At the beginning it would have taken nearly three hours.[81] Now in Britain and the US, we spend about 10% of income on food. (In developing countries people spend 60% or more – and nearly a billion don’t spend enough to nourish themselves. Rises in the price of food, like the 15–40% we’ve seen in some of the years since 2006, obviously hurt the poor much more.)

The crude good of cheaper food carries with it many absolute bads; 870 million people remain chronically undernourished (a figure that has changed little over 20 years). Under the current system, the hungry will always be with us. And with the changes of the 19th century, several new problems emerged. They’re still rocking the meat-eating boat today.

  1. With the industrial production of meat came abuse and exploitation, of both humans and animals. This troubled consumers and, eventually, policy makers and the powerful.
  1. Animal rearing, formerly neutral or even beneficial to the human environment, has started to cause sufficient degradation and hidden costs. Some of these – like the effect on the atmosphere – were not to become apparent until a century after industrialised meat production started.
  1. An unfettered, market-led food system has unavoidably led to low consumer prices and low-cost production. These can become so low that they create new problems that may ultimately match the problems of expensive food.
  1. The dependence of industrialised meat production on fossil fuel energy has meant that all food prices are unavoidably linked to the price of crude oil – and subject to political and ideological pressures on the market.
  1. Humans in the richer world have began to suffer from diseases that the new mass-production processes have created or fostered, largely because the price of meat and other animal products has dropped.[82]

[Sub-head The Horror Show: Abuse and Exploitation

[Extract]Farm animals are sentient beings with the ability to express positive and negative emotions, such as happiness and fear.
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) report on GM, cloning and food animal welfare[83]

Daisy the cow, happy among the buttercups is one of our loveliest myths of animal consumption. There is a three-legged stool, a rosy-cheeked milkmaid, butter churns and a little straw hat on Daisy’s brow to keep the flies away. No adult really believes it, but the picture, and other pastoral scenes like it, dominate food retail. The truth of modern animal farming could not be more different. Daisy, if she lives on the most modern enterprises in the US – and increasingly in Britain – is an animal treated pretty much as a machine. She is kept indoors, fed grains and soya from another continent that toxify her digestive tract, and liberally supplied with drugs. Her life will be short as she produces 10 times the milk her ancestors did, her calves will be taken from her and, if they are male, will live just 12-14 months – a quarter of the span they would have enjoyed just 30 years ago. Daisy will end up with a bolt through her head, her meat used for dog food, her hooves and bones frozen and sold to the parts of the world where safety rules aren’t so tight. We tell our children lies, and believe them ourselves.

Every year we farm 59 billion birds and animals for their fats and protein – 10 billion of them in one country alone, the US. By 2050, the UNFAO predicts, demand for meat will double.[84] Through selective breeding over the six or seven millennia since domestication started, we have changed animals’ nature. We’ve made them more productive, less dangerous and more amenable. We now believe all farm chickens are descended from the Asian Red Junglefowl, first domesticated around 5,400 years ago. [85] In the wild the bird produces 12–20 eggs a year. The modern layer chicken will produce 300. Similarly, a dairy cow that produced 2000 litres of milk in its life-time around 1900, might produce 10,000 today – although it will be much shorter-lived.[86]  (Jared Diamond points out that we managed to make them all significantly smaller-brained than their ancestors as well.)[87] Virtually all intensively farmed animals and many farmed fish have to be administered antibiotics to combat diseases caused by the breeding process or exacerbated by overcrowding. (Eighty per cent of all antibiotic use is on livestock, and resistance to these drugs in animals and those who eat them is one of the major challenges that may end up changing our cheap meat-eating habits.)[88] Many of the breeds we now use would be unable to survive if released, which in itself implies a moral duty to them. But the one thing we have not bred out of the animals we use is the ability to suffer pain or feel fear.

[Graphic] [AQ: Source for graphic?]

[Sub-head] The Great Meat Feast – And Its Aftertaste

In the rich world each of us consumes or uses 30 or more animals a year (the bulk of those – 52 of the 59 billion – are chickens[TD21] ). We don’t, in the nutritional sense, need any of these animals to feed us – certainly not in those numbers.[89] Yet, in order to eat them at an acceptable price we have to imprison them, alter them genetically and chemically, and kill them. We have moved inexorably into ever greyer ethical territory. Any planning for a food future that still envisages using animal products and meat must debate the ‘moral cost’ issues.

I am not sentimental. I have killed and butchered many kinds of animals, and I’ve been on pre-arranged visits to slaughterhouses in Britain and abroad. I have seen the job done carefully and kindly: I wrote a magazine piece about the taste benefits of ‘happy meat’,[90] raised well and slaughtered humanely. It would have been better if I had just dropped in to those abattoirs, but as any journalist can tell you, that’s not easy at all in modern Britain. The business of meat production is the most secretive of all agriculture. It keeps itself hidden because if it was public, it would lose customers. In other places the meat trade is less shy: I’ve also seen puppies blow-torched in tiny cages to remove their hair before butchering – a normal village practice in Vietnam.

Many moral meat eaters think the horrors of the slaughterhouse are exaggerated; they scoff at the whimsical anthropomorphism of the people who report them. But impartial research by the likes of the American scientist (and abattoir designer) Temple Grandin reveals extraordinary and unnecessary horrors. She reported ‘deliberate acts of cruelty occurring on a regular basis’ at 32% of the slaughterhouses she visited in the US.[91] Twenty six per cent of the chicken-killing facilities had abuses that should have meant immediate closure.

Examples of the sort of cruelty she thought worth noting? Chickens scalded to remove their feathers, thrown in the trash because of defects and found later, still alive. Workers poking cows in the anus area with a cattle prod. A worker dismembering a fully conscious cow. Cows – which are usually stunned then bled while their hearts are still pumping – ‘waking up on the bleed rail’.

‘What went on when she wasn’t looking?’ asks a horrified Jonathan Safran Foer, in his fascinating moral dissection Eating Meat. [AQ: Eating Animals?] That’s a question any journalist who has visited industrial animal production should ask. Cheap meat means that corners are cut on safety, health and welfare: humane treatment generally slows down a production line. But Safran Foer makes an even more vivid point, after reviewing interviews with slaughterhouse workers. Low pay and industrial production methods – even the smell of blood – habitually turn frustrated, bored humans into sadists. How culpable are we who eat the remains of the animals they have tortured – especially when you consider that the more pennies we save, the worse the animals are treated.

Safran Foer makes a good case to show that pigs bred for industrial farming has left them less happy than their ancestors. There’s more than the fact that these new, sometimes ‘monstrous’, hogs would not survive outdoors, let alone in the wild. Safran Foer quotes research that shows ‘the demand for lean pig meat … has led the pork industry to breed pigs that suffer not only more leg and heart problems, but greater excitability, fear, anxiety and stress … We have focused the awesome power of modern genetic knowledge to bring into being animals that suffer more.’ [AQ: own emphasis? If so, pls specify in parenthesis or footnote]

[Sub-head] The Pig with no Squeal

But animals that feel more pain may not be the worst moral horror on the menu. There’s another quite likely future in which animals could be even worse off. Genetic modification by gene splicing offers the chance to make literally infinite changes to animals – removing unwanted features or introducing characteristics from any living thing, be it mammal, fish, insect or flower. Already Chinese scientists have begun random tampering with the genes of laboratory mice, just to see what they can get. Food science writer Emily Anthes describes what she saw at Fudan University in Shanghai:

[Extract] Peek into the 45,000 mouse cages and you’ll see a growing collection of misfits. By randomly disabling the rodents’ genes, the scientists here are churning out hundreds of odd animals, assembly-line style. They have created mice studded with skin tumours and mice that grow tusks … One strain ages at warp speed. Another can’t feel pain. [AQ: source?]

The worry for the moral meat eater is that once species begin to depart this far from normal, we will lose the benchmarks by which we can judge that they are properly treated. We should all be to able tell when an animal is being cruelly used or badly looked after: we can sense or hear its anguish. We can see that a stall is too constricting, or that a parting from offspring is causing distress. But how will legislation on animal welfare, which is generally applied to specific vertebrate species, adapt as the species do – to, say, a pig with no pain reflex? It is a future gruesomely imagined in Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake in the form of ‘ChickieNobs’ – amorphous fleshy bulbs made up of chicken parts, just breasts or just drumsticks, ‘twelve to a growth unit’ with ‘a mouth opening at the top … No eyes or beak or anything, they don’t need those’.[TD22]

If we engineer animals to remove our empathy with them, no one will complain how they are treated – and that would of course be a great boon to the meat industry. And as fictional as they sound, these conundrums are already causing arguments in the animal welfare lobby.

The academic philosopher Adam Shriver has written[92] about the prospects for ‘pain-free’ meat: he stated in 2009 that it may already be possible that ‘we can genetically engineer factory-farmed livestock with a reduced or completely eliminated capacity to suffer’. He goes on to say that if animal suffering is the principal concern of the movement, this idea ‘should be of central interest to its adherents’. Shriver cites research going on at Washington and Toronto universities, where proteins and peptides have altered the brains of mice so that, although they still feel pain, they don’t avoid it as untampered mice might. [93] GM scientist Professor Helen Sang (see box below) told me that such changes could be pursued using gene-editing techniques. But for her, at least, that would throw up ethical issues.

She is not alone. Judging by the response[94] to an op-ed written by Adam Shriver in the New York Times in 2011, people who care about animal rights believe we should stop factory farming rather than modify animals not to suffer when being farmed in such a way. Commentators, like agricultural economist Simon Fairlie, say that Shriver’s proposal is an attempt to make animals into the ‘automata’ that the philosopher Descartes said they were three centuries ago. Fairlie doesn’t like Shriver’s ‘lunatic’ notion, and neither do I. And of course, the driver of the most likely of these changes to animals will not be better meat, but meat that is less trouble – and so even cheaper and more profitable – to produce. Indeed, it should demand a whole new round of debate over meat eating: if society sanctions meat-machine animals with no feelings and no rights at all, the only feasible way to oppose it would be to be against all meat eating.

Could the arrival of a pig without squeal or pain reflex herald the moment where, to any normal human being, veganism is a moral imperative? I asked Philip Lymbery, CEO of the charity CIWF, an organisation that prides itself on representing the ‘mainstream’ animal welfare campaigners. It is ‘agnostic’ on GM,[95] and some carnivorous people work for it. Lymbery was impressed by the promise of GM ‘golden rice’, which addresses childhood blindness through built-in vitamin A. However, he says: ‘But we recognise with some concern that technologies like GM are all too often used in a way that damages welfare, is against them as sentient beings, and takes us further down the route to animals as machines.[96] Trying to reduce their animalness reduces us as moral beings[TD23] .’

[Box]Editing the Poultry Genome for the Common GoodHelen Sang likes her new office, a glass room in a building like a cruise liner that rises out of the farmland south of Edinburgh. In the fields outside, the Scottish Agriculture College’s flocks of ewes bleat around their new lambs – descendants, perhaps,[TD24]  of Dolly, the first ever cloned animal. The ewe was developed here at the Roslin Institute, where Professor Sang is a senior staff member. But that was back at the old offices, where security was oppressive because of attacks – including a fire-bombing in the 1970s – by animal rights activists.
Professor Sang manipulates poultry genes, splicing together parts of DNA to achieve useful adaptations. What she does is no more than a different way of modifying genomes – something humans have been doing ever since they first domesticated animals 10,000 years ago. She explains this with patience and some wariness – the Daily Mail has described her workplace as ‘Frankenstein’s Farmyard’.

Her most famous work, so far, has been a transgenic chicken whose eggs can be used to manufacture antibodies to treat human illnesses like multiple sclerosis and skin cancer. But her interests lie in more than disease resistance: in GM there are environmental benefits – as well as productivity and quality improvements – that will all be advantageous to food security and society, in her view. [AQ: change ok? Benefit was repeated] But Sang believes that food security, health fears and the resources crunch will demand the benefits that can’t be achieved by conventional breeding.

‘I believe there’s nothing innately wrong in genetic modification, as long as you know what you’ve done and you characterise the effects of that carefully – and you don’t put in antibiotic resistance genes, or anything like that. I don’t see anything wrong with improving an animal by GM rather than by selection. But, because people are very suspicious of using these technologies, you can argue that we should concentrate on using them for things that can’t be achieved by selection.’

But while gene splicing scientists across the world are making cats glow in the dark, Sang’s current chief project is very useful indeed. Funded by the British government, she and her collaborator Lawrence Tiley are introducing a decoy gene to chickens which they believe could fool the bird flu virus, and render it safe. The work has just received a new tranche of funding because, although far from perfected, the implications are enormous. Avian flu develops in poultry and has mutated to infect humans several times in the last century, since before the rise of intensive poultry farming. There are regular scares about viruses like the H5N1; between 1919 and 1921 avian flu – then called Spanish influenza – killed more people than the whole of the first world war.

At best, the avian-flu resistant chicken is a decade away. But Sang lists work by other colleagues on farm animals that could have huge benefits for human health – ways of tackling disease through genetics so as to avoid the use of antibiotics (farming’s antibiotic use is widely blamed for the terrifying rise in antibiotic resistance). One scientist is developing transgenic goats whose milk contains a human breast milk enzyme which will see off bacteria that cause dangerous diarrhoea in babies – one of the prime drivers of infant death in the developing world.

GM has interesting promises, says Sang, reducing the resources demand of farmed animals, by making available lower-quality foods for animals. Chickens are efficient feeders; they convert feed to usable meat and eggs at less than 2:1, unlike the 8:1 of cattle. But they largely fed on corn, soya and fishmeal: we might be able to make them consume those more efficiently, or even crops that humans can’t otherwise use. [AQ: should any of the text in this paragraph be quoted[TD25] ?]

[Sub-head] The Cost in Humans

Some in the world of food politics believe that industrialised food systems must exploit people as much as animals in order to function profitably. Raj Patel is an ex-World Trade Organisation (WTO) and UN staffer, now an academic ‘involved in campaigns against his former employers’. In his polemical history on the world’s food systems, Stuffed and Starved (2007), he argues that capitalist food economies since the middle ages have stolen resources and enslaved people as a matter of practicality. The first act was in taking control of the common land of England and enslaving peasants to work it, thus starting the first economic agricultural revolution. From this beginning the west European middle classes gained the wealth that, by the 17th century, enabled them to trade in foreign food and export the exploitation of human workers. The British tea and milk habit provides Patel with his example.

[Extract] To grow tea and sugar required industrial agriculture’s single most bloody innovation – the plantation. The agricultural technology of advanced and permanent monoculture came bundled with is [AQ: its or sic?] own social technology, of soil tilled, cane hacked and leaves plucked by an endless supply of almost disposable people from the Global South. In 1645 records show the purchase of 1000 slaves for [AQ: [a]?] Barbadian cane sugar plantation. A commentator noted that more slaves would soon be on their way, for so lucrative was the sugar industry, and so low the value of human life, that within 18 months the slaves had recouped their [price] for their masters.

Slaves, as Patel states, were ‘an integral part of the provision of cheap food to European cities’. How much has changed? Forms of slavery are still used to produce foods we import: in recent years there have been stories about exploited African migrants in the southern Spanish fields whence northern Europe gets its year-round salads; of child labour in the cocoa fields of West Africa; and bonded labour in the vineyards of South Africa. Meat and fish processing has been exported from Europe to east Asia to take advantage of cheap labour and lax regulations – even the Scottish ‘scampi’ you eat in the pub was caught here, and sent to Thailand to be peeled more cheaply.

A global meat corporation recently extracted itself from an embarrassing prosecution in Brazil by promising to ensure that slavery was stamped out on all its Amazon hinterland plantations within one year. (It was the second time it had made the promise.) Conditions and wages in the great chicken-packing factories in Thailand wouldn’t meet many European standards – yet, if chicken doesn’t say ‘British’ on the packet, it may well have come from there. Food and agriculture work is the worst paid in the world – whether you’re talking about the farmers who make up 70% of the world’s poorest, or the ‘trainee’ subsidised by the British state to stack supermarket shelves at £3 a hour. Of course, food retail feeds its workers largely on its own products, often at a discount – thus creating a useful cycle for the corporations, one that Raj Patel would recognise. Cheap meat is addictive in an economic sense, too.

The harm cheap meat does to people who can’t even afford to consume it goes further. The feed we import for our pigs, chicken and cattle is causing deforestation and other damage to the environment of the people who can grow soya [AQ: replaced all instances of “soy” with “soya” as per house style] and wheat more cheaply than the West can. Rich countries have been borrowing poorer people’s land to grow luxuries for themselves for two centuries. Trade has brought good things to poor countries, it is true. But the fact remains that one of the reasons that 870 million people are hungry today is that 40% of the grain the world produces is being fed to animals raised for the richest to eat.

All across the world, you can see examples of our demand for meat and protein causing harm to others. We export the risks of intensive farming of tropical shrimp – the typhoons, the poisoning of rice paddy, the loss of coastline, the pollution – but fail to pay a price that would compensate the local people for the damage we cause. Such is the cost of cheap meat.

[Sub-head] Tradition v Technology: The Good Food Movement[TD26] 

So, what to do?

‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,’ is a mantra among both food lovers and food campaigners. It comes along with ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ from the American writer Michael Pollan – a guru of a movement that brings together love of ‘real food’ with anti-corporatism and horror over the ethics and politics of cheap and industrial food production. The ‘Eat food … ’ slogan appears in his ‘eater’s manifesto’, In Defence of Food, and has been described in the New York Times as ‘the seven most important words in the good food movement’.[97]

Today, that movement is based on solid research and unimpeachable good sense about the damage done by intensive farming, especially in meat. Its sentiments have been nurtured over a century. An ethically motivated vegetarianism was first expounded by early socialist thinkers, like the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the first proponent of animal rights Henry Stephens Salt. Shaw was perhaps the first writer of a long line – most recently joined by the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer – to conflate animal welfare, social politics, moral principles and an ethical environmentalism. ‘While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts [AQ: own emphasis? If so, pls include info in parenthesis or footnote], how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?’ Shaw asked.

Pollan and his supporters’ views have become the orthodox in modern food politics, because their nostalgic vision of a previously sustainable food system chimes with the dominant ethos of rolling back industrial agriculture as espoused by the organics movement, and the poverty campaigners who see the answer to global food security lying in small farmers and low-tech, along with opposition to corporate agribusiness.

Yet there is a core problem: ‘slow food’ won’t feed the world.

This view faces other criticism also. Professor Louise Fresco, the eminent Dutch intellectual, a former head of food innovation research and an adviser to the UN on the future of food, told me: ‘It’s simplistic to say “natural is good”, to reject globalisation and hark back to a mythical past when food was still “true and honest”.’[98]

In a critical essay on Pollan in 2011, Fresco wrote: ‘Our collective food story is not a tale of decline, but remarkable improvements. We are much healthier, not sicker. We are eating much better than our great-grandmothers. We are infinitely better at controlling the risks of food production. The proof lies in our increased life expectancies and the doubling of world population in the last 50 years. Of course, we still make mistakes, but we are learning.’[99]

Fresco has little time for the luddites of the ‘good food’ movement who want the world to reject bio-tech as any part of the solution to feeding the humans of the future. She says the case for a moral duty to accept bio-tech foods is emerging, and with it the companion duty to regulate such foods in a way that ensures their complete safety. ‘Don’t you dare bar us from this technology’ is what Fresco hears from the African agronomists and scientists, when talking of bans on genetic modification. As she points out, we haven’t really let yet the African farmers have access to fossil fuel fertiliser. [AQ: is this a quote?]

She is echoed by Professor Calestous Juma, a Kenyan-born specialist in sustainable development at Harvard University. In June 2013, he accused the UN and European environmentalist groups of bullying African nations to reject GM crops, despite 17 years in which the catastrophists’ gloomy predictions about them had proved empty. He said: ‘Opposition to new technologies may cast a dark shadow over the prospects of feeding the world.’[100]

[Chapter heading] 5: The Resources Crunch

[Extract] Nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world …  Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land.[101]

[Sub-heading] A Steak Supper – The True Cost

My 14-year-old son and I go out every now and then for a proper steak-and-chips supper. It started as a way to persuade him away from McDonald’s – and became our boys’ night out. But soon after starting
to write this book and discussing it with him, we decided to cost the ritual steak – the whole cost, not just the restaurant’s charge.
It was pretty shocking.

Our two steaks had been brought to us by using 60 morning showers’ worth of water. Enough grain to make 20 large loaves of bread. The energy to drive our car 35 miles. And the unpleasant outputs – just the faeces and carbon dioxide – entailed in the rearing of our 500g of steak weighed as much as my eight-year-old daughter. (These calculations are all based on 500g of beef, grown in the UK and fed on a normal mix of forage and imported feed.)


[Box starts]
[Box heading] Going in (i
ncluding feed and transport costs)

Water – 6,800 litres[102] (85 bathtubs or 3 hours in the shower; four times as much as for pork or chicken).

Energy – 15kWh13 [AQ: delete 13?] (7 hours’ energy use, average British household).

Feed – 13.75kg (dry grain and grasses;[103] five times as much feed as for 500g pork, seven times as much as for two breasts of chicken).

Land – Impossible to calculate. But feeding and rearing the world’s 1.65bn cattle takes up 60% of the world’s available land,[104] though their products provide only 2% of our calories. In 2000, the cattle raised to feed humans weighed – according to the great statistician of the biosphere Professor Vaclav Smil[105] – one-and-a-half times what we weigh. And 16 times as much as all the wild animals put together.

Money – Even at the Edinburgh bistro’s prices, the meat was cheap by any historical analysis. An ordinary 500g of beefsteak now costs, in real terms, a third of what it did 40 years ago. xxx[AR27]  [AQ: pls confirm figure]

[Box heading] Coming out

14.35kg in growing feed and raising cattle. That is four times the cost of 500g of pork and eight times that of poultry. Retail and transport of our steaks cost another 2.25kg of CO2.

Methane – about 200g of the former for our 500g of beef. That is significant because it is 25 times as damaging, gram for gram, in global warming as CO2.[106]

8 On a 1 gallon fuel gives 33.7kWh/ 1kWh gives 100 seconds top speed, small car 9 Little difference between grain and grass fed, surprisingly, says Smil. [AQ: where should this info go? More text to be supplied?]

Cowpats – about 12kg, causing nitrogen pollution and other problems. If you map the US by ammonia concentration, areas of higher ammonia levels can be seen covering hundreds of square kilometres downwind of the feedlot pig and beef farms of the Corn Belt, centred on Iowa.[107]

[Box ends]

[Sub-head] Soya with Feathers on it
In March 2013, the world’s biggest ever traffic jam appeared off the coast of Brazil. Two hundred and twelve of the largest freight ships – some of them a third of a kilometre long – were waiting to load soya beans and soya meal, after the country’s greatest harvest ever. On land, the queue of lorries coming in from the Amazonian Mato Grosso to deliver soya to the port of Santos stretched back 15 miles. When the ships finally loaded – and the delay caused hiccups in the world soya price – most of them were headed to the other side of the world. Their destination was China, where they would deliver their protein-rich cargo to feed pigs, fish and chickens.[108]

The traffic jam off the Brazil coast marked the biggest single transfer of grains to livestock in the history of the planet. By June, 56m tonnes had shipped to China. China’s soya imports in 2012 were 63m tonnes, more than half of all world soya trade. This was on top of a Chinese harvest that, in 2011, was the largest any country in the world has ever known.[109] [AQ: other countries seem to have produced more in info supplied in footnote url below?] But soon it won’t be enough. The US Department of Agriculture forecasted that by 2022 China will import more soya than what America or Brazil (the world’s largest producers) currently grow, 102m tonnes.[110] And the Chinese government is doing huge deals with other land-rich countries to ensure long-term supply of other grains – like an agreement with Ukraine to supply 3m tonnes of maize per annum.[111]

Less than 20 years ago, China was self-sufficient in soya. But that was before the country began to get rich, and the familiar mechanism of rising affluence and higher meat consumption (see final chapter) kicked in. The growing meat habit of the rich[112] in part explains why approximately a third and a half of the world’s crops are now fed to farm animals and fish[113] – and why that proportion can only grow as more people become rich. Unless, of course, global economic growth should happen to go into long-term reverse.

[Box] People v AnimalsCarnivores do not realise the extent to which modern Western agriculture is subservient to animals.
Vaclav Smil[114]The rise in industrial animal rearing has put farm animals directly in competition with people for food. And people are losing out. For every 6kg of plant protein such as cereals fed to livestock, only 1kg of protein on average is given back in the form of meat or other livestock products. In terms of food value, for every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and milk; a 70% loss.
Philip Lymbery, CIWF[115]

Soya is a child of the cheap meat era. It’s now the world’s sixth largest crop,[116] a chart position it’s reached from nowhere 40 years ago. Ninety seven per cent of the crop now goes to animal and fish feed.[117] Without processing, soya is poisonous; although the plant was domesticated in China some 3,000 years ago, it was only used for human consumption, and only in east Asia. But immediately after the second world war, animal nutritionists realised that fortifying grass or grain feed with extra protein vastly improved productivity in animal farming.[118] (This would lead to the nasty practice of feeding waste animal protein to other, vegetarian animals; a fatal mistake, because horrifying brain diseases started to leap species, as the BSE scandal revealed.)

Back in the 1950s, soya was the answer. Its high protein content means one kilo delivers 16 times as much energy as a leafy vegetable like cabbage. American farmers, encouraged by government subsidy, piled in. Now soya is the leading crop in the US – where in recent years much of the crop becomes bio-diesel – and parts of Latin America. China, where soya originated, is stuck, unable to increase production much because of constraints on land. If it were to end imports and produce all the soya it now uses, the country would have to lose a third of its grain production. Which it could not, of course, do – the political consequences would be catastrophic.

‘Soya with feathers on it,’ is how one Brazilian campaigner describes the modern, intensively farmed chicken.[119] Without the cheap, easily transported protein and fats that soya provides, poultry, pork and beef could not be as cheap. The vast rise in animal farming we’ve seen in modern times could never have happened. Soya has allowed many developed countries, including Britain, to export their land needs – these are known as the ‘ghost hectares’ of food production.[120]

There have been many disadvantages. Growing soya requires more pesticides than most crop plants. The use of GM soya is now so ubiquitous among major producers that, in spring 2013, most British supermarkets said they could no longer promise that the animals whose products they sell were fed on non-GM grains.

It’s hard now to see how the world can wean itself off soya, without a major loss of livestock production and the subsequent rise in prices. That dependency is seen in stark terms by some environmentalists, like Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute:[121] ‘It is the worldwide growth in demand for meat, milk, and eggs that is driving [deforestation in Brazil]. Put simply, saving the Amazon rainforest now depends on curbing the growth in demand for soybeans by stabilizing population worldwide as soon as possible. And for the world’s affluent population, it means moving down the food chain, eating less meat and thus lessening the growth in demand for soybeans.’ Unless, of course, genetic modification comes up with an alternative crop, or an alternative digestive system in the farm animals eating soya.

Most of the cleared south and central American forest is in fact being used for livestock pasture. Brazil is as a result one of the top three exporters of beef.[122] But the soya demand is driving new threats to the forest – not least the massive road-building schemes promised to get export soya to the ports quicker, and ease those traffic jams at Santos.

[Sub-head] The Shape of the Meat Shift

The 20th-century changes in our diet also demanded a change in the diets of our animals, which in turn radically altered the way we use the vegetable resources of the planet. In 1900, it is said, 10% of the world’s grain went to feed animals, mainly those we used for transport and labour. That proportion is now approaching 50%[123] (and, in some years, 60% of the grain that the US produces is used as fodder). CIWF campaigns on the statistic that the edible cereals fed to animals could feed 3 billion humans. An authoritative study says that in the rich world 70% of grain crops are fed to animals. Biofuels – one of the food campaigners’ biggest bone of contention in 2012 – use perhaps 10% of grain crops (a similar proportion of our crops used to be fed to horses that were used for transport and energy before the car arrived).
More to the point, the grain-soya mixes are not efficient – modern beef feed is 65-85% grain,[124] but one study of grain-fed beef has concluded that as little as 2.5% of the energy got from grain in the beef feedlots in North America is converted into food for human consumption. Generally, less than 5% of the protein in soya converts to protein in animal products we can eat.    Grass is even less efficient, and grazing pasture for animals takes up more than half the world’s agricultural land.[125] But at least a cow eating grass is using a resource that cannot feed humans. And both grass and grain convert much more efficiently into dairy products than they do into meat. The same study estimates that the most efficient dairy cows convert between 55% and 67% of their gross feed energy into milk food energy.

[Box starts] Producing 1kg of beef requires 15 times as much land as producing 1kg of cereals, and 70 times as much land as 1kg of vegetables.[1]
World Wildlife Fund [AQ: pls supply footnote info; this will also need to be renumbered] [Box ends]

‘China’s need to feed its ever-growing population of meat animals is reshaping the world,’ say Brown and other environmentalists. There is some hyperbole there – after all, much of the landscape of developed Europe, North America and north Asia was itself shaped by agriculture, even the parts we like to think of as natural. The south island of New Zealand was a forest millions of years old, until Maori immigrants cleared the bulk of it with fire 800 years ago[126] (Scottish sheep farmers subsequently obliterated most of the rest).

It was not China, but the old industrialised nations that came up with the idea of feeding human-edible grain to animals. As recently as the early 1990s, only 33% of pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption. The rest was crop trimmings and discarded food. Also, a major part of China’s growing protein demand is satisfied by fish farming – which does consume crops as feed, but at a lower ‘conversion rate’ than any animal meat. (The Chinese already consume 31.9kg of fish per head – five times as much as Americans and twice the global average.) Much Asian fish farming is highly efficient in land use, often done among the rice in paddy fields during the wet season.

[Figure] [AQ: pls include source]

[Sub-head] The Clearances

The huge destruction of the Amazon and other forests for livestock has been as big as all of the agricultural clearances of previous human history put together.[127] The effect on climate of cutting out part of the ‘planet’s lung’ is not yet fully assessed. But the loss of the Amazon forest is the biggest thing – both visually and in terms of the scale of the destruction – we’ve yet done for our protein habit (apart, perhaps, from the destruction of the North Atlantic cod populations). A quarter of the rainforest has gone, all of which will have contributed to warming the planet. Up to a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and forest degradation.[128]

Brown writes that unless human demand for soya is curbed, Brazil may not meet its targets to stop deforestation. It has promised an 80% drop in forest clearing by 2020, to contribute to lowering global carbon levels. ‘But, if soybean consumption continues to climb, the economic pressures to clear more land could make this difficult.’ So the call is pretty clear: stop feeding animals on soya-grain mix, and help Brazil save us from global warming.

The Great Fart

Clearing forest emits a lot of carbon, but the gases that farm animals produce are a much bigger deal. The charge list against meat on environmental grounds is a long one – according to the UN Environment Programme’s key audit paper, ‘Priority Products’, the farming and consumption of animals and fish causes more environmental damage than all the production and use of fossil fuels and plastics put together.[129] [130]

The strain on the planet is immense. Seventy per cent of water use goes to agriculture. On the basis that nearly half of all grain crops are fed to animals, it’s fair to say that livestock accounts for half the planet’s water use. Water is the most constrained of all the resources we use for food, with production areas from China to the Middle East at the point of running out.[131] There are numerous other environmental problems. They include the pollution from excreted chemicals, the destruction of bio-diversity and ecosystems for feed, and, as we’ve seen, the inefficient use of agricultural land. Ten per cent of the wild fish we catch becomes fertiliser,[132] and the same amount is again turned into animal feed.

Imagine, if you will, 40 party balloons rising into the air, each filled with farts. That’s the quantity of methane[133] that an efficient milking cow produces every day. In a year, it will produce half of its own weight – 125kg – of methane.[134] [135] Among the damaging by-products of animals, the gas beats all the others: it is 25 times as damaging as CO2 and it will cause 15-17% of the global warming over the next 50 years.[136] It is claimed that cattle produce 4-5% of the greenhouse gases currently entering the atmosphere: more than all cars.

[Sub-head] Blind Leaders

[N: I think some of the info here, especially regarding CIWF, can be deleted as also discussed earlier in the Pig with no Squeal section – or perhaps info can be merged together in one section]
The animal rights organisation CIWF likes to position itself as the mainstream, mild-mannered end of the animal rights movement. It lobbies politicians, and campaigns on hunger with middle-of-the-road charities like Oxfam. CIWF is ‘agnostic’ on GM[137] and sees a future for livestock farming: some of its staff eat meat.

But CEO Philip Lymbery sees a wilful blindness afflicting not just consumers but also food policy campaigners and politicians as to the true impact on resources of the meat habit. ‘The number of people in the food debate who don’t know the statistics is shocking. Even NGOs I’d think were more left wing than CIWF, are losing sight of another way to feed 9 billion people. The simple reality that the current food system produces enough for 10 to 12 billion people is not widely recognised. Nor is the fact that industrially-reared animals eat three billion peoples’ cereal, plus a whole pile of soya and 30% of the world’s fish.’

It is generally agreed that animal agriculture – if you include the whole process from growing the feed through to the disposal of the waste after the consumer has eaten the meat – is a major cause of climate change.[138] (Although Simon Fairlie, in his painstaking examination of the data in Meat: A Benign Extravagance, insists that meat production is in fact responsible for only 10% of emissions.)[139] [D: Pls delete Refs 141 + 142 and ensure numbering picks up correctly] But, despite CIWF and other campaigners’ vehemence, many people in the food policy debate are now inclined to discount the resources issue, largely in the hope that technology will solve the problems. The same holds true in debates about climate change.

[Sub-head] Fossil Fuel and Peak Oil

Fossil fuels have subsidised cheap meat for over a century, but in recent years fears over the price of oil have made that system look less sustainable. Fossil fuel is key to every stage of modern food production, and the more industrialised the system is, the more it uses. In livestock, fossil fuel use starts with the fertilisers needed to grow cheap feed. Mechanised care systems, dairies, processing, transport and packaging use a whole lot more. All agriculture uses energy, but it is hard to get useful statistics on the amount that livestock and fish production takes.[140] [D: This should now be Ref 141] Often quoted is the statement that a family of four in the rich world accounts for 930 gallons of fossil fuel a year with its food supply. Two hundred and sixty five gallons of that goes towards putting meat on their table.[141] [D: This should now be Ref 142, etc.]

Thus, there has been excitement about the new, more sustainable ways to provide for the needs that farming has developed during the era of cheap energy – from alternative sources of fertiliser through to solar power taking the salt out of seawater to irrigate vast tracts of new and old agricultural land. And this brings us to what is wryly known among climate campaigners as the ‘peak oil cancellation’. Until recently it was a given that the world would soon develop new, clean energy resources because ‘peak oil’[142] would suddenly make investment in that technology attractive. Or even crucial. But, with shale oil and ‘fracking’, the day we run out of fuel in the ground[TD28]  has been put back indefinitely, to the huge disappointment of many campaigning on climate change and sustainable agriculture.

On the commodities markets, the prices of energy and agricultural products shadow each other because of a co-dependence in production and distribution. So, higher energy prices promised both good and bad things to those who worry about feeding the world: they might obviously cause hunger,[143] but would also force food to be produced in a more sustainable way. Because the rich, as we’ve seen, eat far more meat, and industrial meat production is highly energy dependent, peak oil was going to mean the world would start eating less meat. But not any more.

Which goes to make an important point. While the resource requirement of livestock and fish farming is enormous and – in terms of its crude calorific value – inefficient, the figures shift easily, and with technological innovation they usually improve a little in financial terms. So the most useful driver, perhaps the only one, is economic. The Chinese are farming maggots to feed their animals and fish because the soya they import is likely to get more expensive. The Scottish salmon farmers stopped feeding mackerel to their salmon and started giving them vegetable and fish off-cuts chiefly because the price of salmon collapsed. And the first GM salmon, the AquaBounty – made from splicing a Pacific salmon gene into an Atlantic salmon’s DNA – was developed because it halves the time and the cost of getting the fish to market weight. The price of meat and of the resources that go into making it are the key to addressing over-consumption.

[Chapter heading] 6: What’s Going to Happen?[TD29]

Note to Nick This chapter now breaks into three sections –

  1. the threats of future meat consumption
  2. technical fixes
  3. political fixes

Afterword – politicians at work

[Extract] 21,000 animals – a lifetime’s consumption for the average Australian, American or Argentinian.
Jonathan Safran Foer[144]


[Sub-head] Hungry Tigers

Cheap meat was an invention of the west, of the first powers to industrialise agriculture. But meat eating has now peaked in Europe and the US: the meat eaters of the future are in the nations yet to develop fully. So when we worry about the future strains on the planet caused by livestock, it is principally to Asia and Africa that we must look. The maths of predicting this future is full of questionable assumptions, economic and demographic[TD31] .

Clearly, that demand has already started to grow. In this chapter I look at the implications of another meat feast, and then at some of the solutions (social, political and personal) that are on the table to make the 21st century’s meal better than the one we ate.

In May 2013 it was announced that Smithfield, the iconic American meat-packing business, was being sold to China. The company had risen, through takeovers, to become the world’s biggest pig farmer. Now it had been taken over, in a deal that offered shareholders 33% on the market price. The buyer, Shuanghui, is China’s biggest meat packer. The $4.7bn deal will be, if US regulators OK it, the biggest sale ever of an American business to China. Together the two firms will slaughter more than 30 million pigs a year.[145]

The deal means that for the first time the majority of world meat production is out of the control of the old rich nations. East Asia has been producing more chickens than any other region of the world for at least 10 years,[146] and the global trade is dominated by a Thai company[TD32] . Beef – and to an extent pork – is near-monopolised by another global company that comes from the south: Brazil’s JBS. Brazil is now the world’s leading exporter of beef and chicken.[147] In aquaculture, which now produces 40% of the world’s fish protein,[148] 60% of the production is from China and most of the rest from south-east Asia.

The Shuanghui deal was a shock to America, where the national pastoral myth still has a sentimental hold. In recent years two other major, traditional meat firms have been swallowed by JBS. Questions were asked in Congress about the wisdom of selling off the US pig trade, and a lot of rude things were said about Chinese hygiene (though in fact the Chinese have recently been rejecting imported American processed foods on health grounds,[149] particularly over chemical additives).

It’s true though that Chinese customers who have been horrified by recent scandals, like the 16,000 pig corpses found dumped in 2013 in a major river,[150] view US pork as healthier. But the key point to emerge from the deal is that the Chinese, who have eaten more pork per head than the Americans for at least a decade, now pay a lot more too: $2 a kilo extra. Shuanghui bought Smithfield, which employs 46,000 people in Mexico, the US and Europe, because the Chinese, despite having half a billion pigs, half the world’s population, are running short of them. Because of the Chinese, pork has now become the most eaten meat in the world.

How much meat – and fish – can the Chinese eat?[151] The country already consumes just over twice as much meat as the US, having overtaken the Americans in 1990. If China continues to develop as it has, and many economists are convinced it can,[152] by 2020 everyone there ‘will have escaped poverty’, as the Economist put it in a June 2013 article. If these new rich Chinese eat the same amount of meat per head as the average person in a developed country does – 80kg per person per year – then in just seven years’ time the 1.4bn Chinese will want 112m tonnes of animal meat, more than a third of total world production today. Another study predicts China eating 90kg of meat by 2030,[153] [154] more than the British do now.

And of course there are many other developing economies: the UNFAO predicts meat calorie demand doubling across south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. For this reason, it’s become a given that to meet the 2050 population increase of 28% (to 9 billion), world food production must increase by 40–60%. (Though Friends of the Earth and others say the shift must come from the rich world, which has both the duty and the capacity to reduce its demands.)

There are consolations. Asian cultures tend to eat very little beef, thank goodness. The preference for pork or chicken is far more economic in resources and environmental impact than beef is – by a factor of five or more. UNFAO analysis says that pork and poultry use less than a sixth of the land needed to raise beef.[155] The consumption of farmed fish – which is easier on resources – across Asia is already high and increasing. The most mature rich Asian country, Japan, eats 10kg less meat per head than China does now (making up for the gap with fish and other marine products).

[Sub-head] Another Meat Feast



Perhaps, though, as Asia and Africa rise, there are the beginnings of a meat decline in the Western world. Meat and fish eating appears to peak at about 125kg per head per year – there is no evidence that making it even cheaper will persuade humans to eat any more. In many of the richest countries, including the US,[157] consumption has stabilised or started a downward trend. Worldwide beef – the least efficient of all meat systems – has been toppled from first place in the carnivore’s tonnage charts in 1960 to third now, behind pork and chicken, largely because of the rise of Asian carnivorousness and worries about the effects of animal fats on health in the industrialised west. Americans eat 25% less beef now than they did in 1980.

The age of hyper-cheap meat in the old rich world is probably over due to the ever-rising prices of inputs. In July 2013, Philip Clarke, the chief executive of Tesco, declared an end to the era of cheap food, asserting that ‘food prices and the proportion of income spent on food may well be going up’. [TD33] The time of Europe ‘farming by proxy’, as the writer Wendell Berry puts it, will also decline – resource costs, competition and the pressures of climate change will not let us continue using other countries’ agriculture (in space, two-and-a half Europes, according to Friends of the Earth).

But by 2020 the developing world will be seeing an explosion in carnivorousness – it will have gone from consuming a third of the world’s meat products to two-thirds in only 20 years.[158] And as Professor Smil points out, even if by 2030 rich nations were eating 25% less meat, a mere 10% rise in consumption from the poor and developing nations would mean a massive rise in demand.[159]

If all of the 9 billion people of the 2050 world were to eat the average 2013-rich-world citizen’s 80kg of meat, we would have to nearly triple current meat production to 720m tonnes. (The UNFAO is currently forecasting 450m tonnes as the meat need for 2050, a 50% rise on today.)[160] For that, we would need over 100bn animals a year. Or Margaret Atwood’s ChickieNobs. Or another planet to keep the animals on. Clearly something must be done …

[Sub-head] Eating Meat is Stupid: Can Society Change?

Some campaigners, like the agricultural writer Colin Tudge, think that the link between increased wealth and increased meat consumption can (and must) be broken. Anthropology no longer believes there’s an inherited carnivorous yearning, born of physiological demands – rather, the meat habit is all about sex, power and money[TD34] .

[Extract] ‘Carnivores … offer gifts of meat to their potential mates to show their prowess; as courting eagles do, for instance … The hunter who brings home a side of venison thereby demonstrates his strength, courage and resourcefulness. He deserves to go far. The breadwinner who progresses from shop-floor to management demonstrates his status with a new house and a bigger car – and by inviting his friends to a barbecue … In short meat consumption increases with wealth not because people have an over-weening [AQ: sic or weaning?] desire and need for it, but for social reasons.[161]

Certainly, male behaviour round the barbecue needs some explaining. And if meat eating is driven by culture, then that culture can be changed. But less sure is Tudge’s hopeful conclusion that it is already vulgar ‘in fashionable circles’ to serve large amounts of meat – and that, since status is also gained by showing intelligence, not feeding meat to your guests will itself become a declaration of status. It is 10 years since Tudge wrote the book and there is as yet no broad social belief that eating meat is stupid.

So while meat consumption does seem to be declining, it is much more likely to be the work of price increases and food scandals. Just as important an influence has been the growing awareness of the unpalatable links between red and processed meat and our health. In May 2013, the New York Times writer Mark Bittman successfully launched a diet he called, only slightly in jest, ‘Vegan Before Six PM’. Six years ago, after dire warnings from his doctor, he’d begun this regime and quickly got his heart and blood test results back to normal. More to the point, the regime, despite permitting him to eat cheeseburger every evening, if he wished, had left him thinner than he had been before he became a food writer, 25 years earlier. Bittman has long been a critic of the American diet and industrialised food in the mould of Michael Pollan. He had a secondary, political agenda too, he admitted to me.[162] His book is aimed at the popular diet market, but it does an impressive job pushing the message about resource depletion and the greenhouse gas effects of meat production.[163]

But concerted efforts to enforce and accelerate change have been less successful. In June 2013 an all-party UK parliamentary committee issued its own call for British people to eat less meat, to save money and secure Britain’s food supply of Britain and the world’s food security. It got little attention, most of it mocking – the first comment on the Guardian’s online report said: ‘Why is it the upper middle classes are so keen to tell the working classes what to do?’[164]

I think that it is not possible for major dietary change to be brought about by education, or any state-sponsored idea other than forcing or deliberately allowing prices to rise. Nowhere in the rich world has any government made an impression on rising rates of diet-related diabetes and obesity (which are, as explained in chapter 3, a meat-related issue). Decades of governmental spending on teaching and publicising healthy diets in Scotland have resulted in a population that remains the unhealthiest in western Europe. Later in this chapter I’ll look at the ideas for politically directed change in the cheap meat system. First, though, a quick tour of some of the high-tech, ‘magic bullet’ solutions.

[Sub-head] Beyond Meat – Bio-Tech and Other Futurist Fixes[AR35]  [TD36] 

One possibility likely to appear on our plates in the near future is a convincing substitute meat, if only because of the enthusiasm of a single rich man: Bill Gates. Deeply interested in the future of food, his Gates Foundation has spent perhaps a third of a billion dollars in recent years on developing agriculture in Africa. He is a major investor in controversial GM firm Monsanto[TD37] .[165] [AQ: perhaps include some brief info here to explain villain comment] In a fascinating slideshow posted in 2013 on his The Gates Notes blog,[166] Gates plugs two US companies that use plant materials as the basis for pseudo-meat (as manufacturers have done since Quorn and nut cutlets), without convincing many people. But improved texture, the crucial problem, has led Gates to give Beyond Meat’s ‘chicken-free strips’ the ultimate endorsement: ‘I couldn’t tell the difference.’

Despite Gates’ interest in ‘meatalike’, there’s more energy behind GM and ‘in-vitro’ or cultured meat grown from stem cells, and it is coming from a range of powerful interests. The agriculture theorist Simon Fairlie talks darkly in his book Meat: A Benign Extravagance (2010) about a ‘convergence of interests between factory farming, veganism and genetic engineeering’. It’s certainly true that big money is interested, if shy. In 2008 the high-profile animal rights group Peta offered a $1m prize to the first scientist to come up with commercially viable lab-grown chicken meat. [TD38] It’s not as improbable an idea as it might sound…

Meat Without Animals

In 1931 Winston Churchill predicted it. ‘We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,’ he wrote in a magazine essay, ‘50 Years Hence’.

It took a little longer.

In August 2013, at a packed media event in London, the food writer Josh Schonwald had what he called a ‘Neil Armstrong’ moment. He was the first human to take a bite of a burger made from laboratory-grown animal cells. The mouthful was the culmination of four years’ work by the Dutch scientist Mark Post, at a cost of a third of a million dollars – put up by one of the founders of Google.

Schonwald confessed later that he’d been worried that he would gag in front of the cameras. But in fact the burger and its ‘very neutral’ flavour was, he said, ‘somewhere between not bad, OK and decent’. For Dr Post, though, the moment was a triumph – the ‘proof of concept’ he’d promised his backer and a first step towards his goal of a ‘sustainable meat’. He told me that he now expected investment to arrive.

There were many critics. Most foodie folk sneered. For a start, it was pointed out that the burger had been coloured and flavoured with saffron, beetroot, egg and caramel, because Dr Post’s process at the moment only produces muscle cells, not the proteins in blood or fat. It was fried in butter and breadcrumbs. More troubling was the fact that the ‘meat’ was made by growing the cells – of the sort that develop scar tissue – in an unattractive-sounding bath of cow foetal serum and antibiotics: not a process that would satisfy any vegan or devotee of organics.

But the complaints seemed mean – and shortsighted. ‘A bit like moaning that the Wright brothers’ plane won’t fly you across the Atlantic,’ said one commentator. The burger was after all, a prototype. In full production the meat, Post says, would be grown in a bio-reactor, using sunlight for energy and cyanobacteria as the protein source. That technology is already available. And independent research says that the bio-reactor system for muscle-cell growing

on a large scale could use (compared with conventional European meat production) ‘7-45% lower energy and up to 96% less water. Greenhouse gas emissions would be 78-96%. The land needed would be 1% of what’s currently devoted to meat livestock. It would free livestock’s grip on resources – if the public could accept it.

Post and his burger may prove to be another silly season story. But the notion won’t go away – there are half-a-dozen laboratories and research groups working on similar ideas. And the notion of a meat grown from animal cells but without using animals is, as Winston Churchill saw, very attractive. It addresses all the key concerns around industrial and hyper-cheap meat, from health to animal welfare and resource use. It carries none of the moral concerns of meat from genetically-modified animals. In vitro meat will almost certainly never become a convincing subsititute for prime steak. But is it less attractive than the “pink slimes” and other mechanically-recovered  products used in cheap meat? Research in Holland has already found that while consumers  initially reject the idea of in-vitro meat, when you explain that it would involve no killing, a significant proportion change their minds.

As some commentators pointed out, in-vitro meat is a far less offensive option than Margaret Atwood’s vision of many-limbed, brainless chickens. But, while even Mark Post agrees that production of a marketable bio-reactor grown meat is 20 years away, genetically modified animals and fish are pretty much ready to go – they just await the shoppers.

The first marketable application, because it is least controversial, will most likely be the selective breeding of animals using genetic markers (targeting defects found by DNA analysis). As with in-vitro meat, conservative consumers and nervous corporations are the key brake, in Europe at least, to gene splicing in animals. No one in their customer base – from the readers of the Daily Mail to the activists of the locavore and organics movements – will tolerate it.[168] The companies know that will change: a Nestlé executive said to me in 2011 that she was sure the public would eventually accept the new food technologies – ‘Almost every objection, from price to animals’ welfare, resource consumption, health and even waste,[169] has an answer in bio-tech.’

In the US, where GM meat faces a very tough regulatory regime, a GM salmon – the AquaBounty salmon (predictably dubbed the ‘Frankensalmon’) – has been produced by splicing the genes of Atlantic with Pacific salmon so that it will grow twice as fast, so taking half the time to reach marketable weight. In May 2013 it passed an initial safety assessment by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – although admittedly its US company had already spent 18 years (and $60 million) seeking regulatory approval.[170] And if it does make it to the dinner table, as seems increasingly likely, the battle won’t be over. The first crop approved by the FDA for human consumption, the Flavr Savr tomato which boasted longer shelf-life, got over the regulatory hurdles in three years … and then failed spectacularly in the shops.

Perhaps the answers lie outside of the laboratory. There are copious sources of protein on the planet that we haven’t yet harnessed, including algae, plankton and, most of all, insects. The possibilities of insectivory are a regular fount of silly newspaper stories in the West. They generally ignore the fact that 2 billion people do happily eat insects, though more often as a delicacy than as a staple. In Cambodia I once bought a garlic-fried tarantula from a roadside vendor. I asked her if she liked eating them: ‘Oh no, they’re much too expensive,’ she said.

But insects’ future is as a feed source.[171] Salmon farming in the Atlantic and Pacific is an industry frequently condemned for its uneconomic use of wild fish. It’s commonly repeated in criticism of the salmon aquaculture that it takes 3kg of an edible wild fish – sardines are used for the Chilean farms – to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. That is a feed conversion rate much worse than with vegetarian farmed fish like tilapia.

In Asia, large-scale maggot farms mentioned in the previous chapter are already in existence to provide fish meal for aquaculture. It is a promising development – and since fish already provide 20% of the protein intake of 3 billion people, many of them among the poorest groups, getting aquaculture right is a key part of sorting out the future.

[Sub-head] Can Politicians Solve the Meat Problem?

[AQ: is this part of sub-heading above?] Taxing Us to Eat Better


The reduction in smoking in most rich countries is often looked at as an example of how the state can intervene to address what is harmful. The time between identification of the problem and real reductions in use was long – 30 years – and was accompanied both by enormous spending on education and increases in taxation. It’s likely that the latter was the most effective measure – and similarly it is price pressures that will stop people eating so much meat, just as the fall in meat prices during the Industrial Revolution started the feast. Famine and wealth change eating habits: little else.

The major change demanded by Smil and all those who want to set out a better course is in how animals are fed. It’s an issue that must be addressed through changing the financial levers.

Oxfam America’s John Ambler has put up an interesting set of ideas that could help implement Smil’s prescription. In a refreshing essay with the optimistic title ‘How We Saved Agriculture, Fed the World and Ended Rural Poverty: Looking Back from 2050’,[172] he suggests that the use of grain as animal feed be curtailed by taxation, that most meat is grass-fed and the issue of a cheap protein supply for the poorer populations be dealt ‘through new crop-based amino acid combinations rather through grain-fed meat’.

[TD40] Taxes could tackle the grain issue, but imposing it on a global scale makes it a dauntingly complex task.[TD41]  Alternatively, China and other new rich countries’ demand for soya should raise the price enough to break our dependence on the soya if no policy shift will. [TD42]

[Sub-head] The[TD43]  Smil Recipe for Future Meat [AQ: moved heading]

Despite this, Professor Smil remains downbeat, at least insofar as the likelihood of meaningful economic action being taken. ‘There does not appear to be anything in the forseeable future that could fundamentally change today’s practices of growing livestock for meat,’ he wrote in 2013, ‘barring an unprecedented global economic depression[TD44] .’

Refreshingly, though, Smil has an answer to those of us who would like, every now and then, to eat some old-fashioned real meat. After delivering his ‘meat doesn’t work’ verdict, he adds an important proviso: ‘The notion that an ideal form of food production operating with a minimal environmental impact should exclude meat – nothing less exacting than the “vegetarian imperative”[173] on a global scale – makes no sense.’

There is, he says, too much out there – from food waste to grasses – that animals are better at digesting than us, and it is wise to use them to do it on our behalf. The trick is to ration the amount of meat we produce – and then make better use of what we have. His estimate is that a global output of 140m tonnes a year (carcass weight) would guarantee minimum intakes compatible with good health. But he is not going to cut that deep – instead his plan is to provide us with 190m tonnes (two-thirds of current supply), or 15–30kg (edible weight)[174] of meat a year – which covers what’s currently eaten by the majority of people in France and the average person in Japan. This, in his view, is an acceptably sustainable basis.

Crucially, it would use none of the 750m tonnes of grain and 200m tonnes of other feed crops currently needed for animal consumption (and capable of feeding 4.75bn humans).[175] Instead, Smil proposes that:

  • Because most grassland is already degraded, reduce pasture-based meat production in low-income countries by 25%.[176] No more conversion of forest to grassland. Reduce such production by 10% in affluent countries. Global meat production from grazing will be 40m tonnes of cow and small ruminant meat a year.
  • Feeding crop residues, like cereal straw, to animals is encouraged. Ten per cent or more of the world’s arable land is planted with alfalfa, clover and vetch (in rotation with grain crops) to become silage or hay. These two crops produce 40m tonnes of ruminant meat.
  • Converting food and crop processing residues and soya oil into feed cake. [AQ: Add: “This can produce”?] 70m tonnes chicken meat and 40m tonnes pork.[177]

That gives us 190m tonnes of meat a year. And what’s more, Smil notes that his calculation errs ‘on a conservative side’. He says, optimistically, that minor adjustment of his figures and better use of meat carcasses could bring us within reach of the 2010 [AQ: year correct?] global production figure of 290m tonnes. And all, he says, without converting any more forest or arable land to pasture, without any grain crops needing to be used as fodder, and without any additional fertiliser and pesticide. It would of course result in an enormous excess of grain.

How likely is this apparently simple but revolutionary idea? There are some gaps in Smil’s recipe. It’s not clear how he factors in fish, which, as we’ve seen, are providing at least 2 billion[TD45]  with 20% of their protein. Fish also consume grain and wild fish when farmed. Smil’s analysis is of what’s happening or could happen today; it doesn’t consider what’s widely believed to be an inherently unstable system, with key inputs to meat production like fossil fuel and feed at unrealistic low prices. Similarly, there’s no regard to the agreed key pressures of the coming years, climate change and an increasingly wealthy, larger global population.

Neither does Smil go into the associated costs[TD46] , which would be substantial. Meat pasturing is labour intensive – 1.4 billion jobs are associated with livestock, worldwide.[178] When we reduce the labour requirement by cutting the amount of meat we produce, these jobs are not easily going to transfer to arable farming, especially if the grain price collapsed, as it must when 40% needed by animals is withdrawn, What’s more, many pastoralist cultures use animals as a banking and food storage system, too (this is one of the reasons Oxfam does not want to address the issue.)[179] If meat production is cut by a third and pasture-livestock rearing by 25% in low-income countries as Smil suggests, we are likely to see a threat to the poorest people.

Still, at least Smil had a go. And there are some possible upshots.

The drop in the use of chemical fertiliser and the demand for feed crops would of course lower massively the oil price, and so food prices would follow. Also, industrial farming in the West employs very few people – that’s one of its definitions. In 1950 one American farmworker supplied every 15.5 consumers – now the ratio is 1:140. In America, where almost all farming is intensive, only 2% of the workforce is in agriculture, although output has never stopped increasing during this century. US farming employed 20% workforce in 1930 and 70% or more 60 years earlier. A return to less intensive farming may create jobs across the rich world after all.

[Subp-head] The Opening Agenda of the New World Food Board

Let’s for a moment assume the utopian: the existence of a democratic, accountable supranational body – the very one Boyd Orr wanted the UN to set up in 1946. The World Food Organisation now guides food production, trade and distribution, through equally accountable commodity boards, cooperating with the food ministries of every nation. It has a mandate that allows it to integrate policy across a multitude of sectors, including transport, human and animal health, the environment, agriculture and aquaculture, and financial systems.

For its marquee principle it has used words from the work of Professor Tim Lang, the originator of such principles as ‘food miles’: ‘The WFO is ordered to enable the delivery of a rational and sustainable food supply that links human and ecological health with citizen’s rights in a just and equitable manner.’[180] [AQ: if this is a paraphrase, no need to quote]

And these might be the elements of its strategy on meat, fish and animal products in the first year – borrowing from everything covered so far:

1. Phase out mass[TD47]  and industrialised beef production. Continue dairy production, but only eat excess male calves and superannuated cows. Locally source all dairy feed, and reduce greenhouse gas production by using plants and crop residues rather than grains.[181]

2. Increase the amount of protein available from fish farming, which already provides about 40% of all fish and 6% of total global protein needs. Promote farming of vegetarian fish and tax that which uses human-edible protein or wild fish as feed. (Look at the Asian model, where fish farming uses rice paddy during the rainy season.)[182]

3. Limit or stop wild fish capture until the stocks have recovered and stabilised.

4. Continue but cut back on livestock that eats waste, and grasses and plants that humans cannot eat. But encourage livestock farming on poor land, to provide fertiliser for plant production and reclamation of degraded land. But it should not encroach on land needed for growing crops or hinder a new policy of restoring biodiversity.

5. Carefully and sensitively employ bio-technology, including GM, which agencies independent of corporate interests will closely regulate. Provide investment to develop animal feed crops that grow on marginal land, and breed livestock that will digest alternative, less important crops and food processing waste.

6. Encourage a new attitude to waste, whereby food products that waste little raw material are encouraged [AQ: promoted? (repetition)], and the villains targeted. Restart the feeding of safe food waste to pigs, goats and chickens.[183]

This is all Never Never Land, of course. If anything, the world is less inclined now to work together to solve systemic problems than it was in the mellow last years of the 20th century, though the needs are greater. There is no agency to implement these ideas – nor any prospect of one.

Why not? Hannah Stoddart, head of economic justice policy at Oxfam, which was a key player in the ‘Enough Food IF’ campaign targeted at the G8 in 2013, said no one among the campaigning NGOs would be calling for a new supranational body to address food security, let alone the impossible strains on the world and its resources of our overindulgence in cheap meat. ‘We’ve been so badly burnt by inter-governmental processes – we’ve put a huge amount of energy in and see things stall, the examples being trade and climate change. You mustn’t put all your eggs in one basket – you have to look for the powerful, like the G20, and the G8, and seek incremental change.’[184]

When we talked in June 2013, Stoddart was busy with the final stages of the IF hunger campaigners’ request to the GH summit in Northern Ireland that it addresses land grabs. This is the issue of giant allotment making in the poorer parts of the world, a policy aggressively pursued by land-poor countries in the Gulf and elsewhere, and of course by agribusiness corporations everywhere. Much of this land would be used to produce meat or meat feed for the rich. (I asked Stoddart why the meat issue in land grabbing was not being used in the campaign – ‘too complicated,’ she said.)[185]

The IF campaign is setting its sights much lower than you might think. It’s not looking for a ban on land grabs – but hoping for a pledge to set up a Land Transparency Initiative, so farmers and concerned citizens could see what was going on. They hoped the G8 members would also promise voluntary codes of conduct for companies investing in land abroad. The model Stoddart has is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) – a Tony Blair creation to stop mining companies ripping off (and bribing) the poor nations they work in. (Although Human Rights Watch has called the EITI a ‘dismal failure’.)[186]

So that’s it. Not even the idealists most engaged in fighting hunger have any hope of an over-arching world initiative to approach future food security, let alone the injustices and inefficiencies of industrial meat. Have they given up on the UN and global democratic governance, just because they were let down at Copenhagen on climate change? ‘Well, we’ll continue talking to the UN Committee on Food Security, which is a voluntary code on food practices. But, no, we’re not expecting new international bodies to take up the issue,’ says Stoddart.

[Sub-head] Solving World Hunger: In the Engine Room

Meanwhile, the business of ending hunger continues. In June 2013 I watched – as a reporter for the Observer newspaper – the world’s greatest and richest come together to address future food security. The venue was significant, a marker of the British government’s determination to get business to work on the problem: the headquarters of the multinational tea-to-soap manufacturer Unilever in London. The event was universally known as the ‘hunger summit’ – perhaps the seventh since 2008 when food prices went scarily volatile – but its official title was ‘Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science’.[187]

Though there were a dozen or more ministers and presidents from the developing world, it was a corporate-friendly event – Unilever’s CEO [AQ: pls include name] and Bill Gates (whose foundation – in addition to funding substitute chicken – has spent at least a billion dollars in the last four years on agricultural development) spoke. On the panels were a fair representation of the global food and drink corporates that hunger and nutrition campaigners see as the bad guys [TD48] along with representatives of industrial agriculture corporations in Nigeria, Ghana and India.

David Cameron kicked off with a few words including the plea ‘We can’t do this without business’. He is undoubtedly right – the G8, the WTO, the G20 have resoundingly failed to sort out the problems exposed by the world food price spikes of 2008 and 2010. They have not, it is agreed, even come up with a plan to address them.[188] When, in 2009, the eight nations answered Obama’s call to help the world’s poorest farmers in order to address global food security, the leaders pledged $22bn. But they delivered only a fraction of it.[189]

So the G8’s latest food security programme, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, has been deeply involved with business since it was set up in 2012[190] through a partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF). Among the 29 companies ‘providing strategic leadership’ to the WEF’s New Vision for Agriculture are those who have attracted some of the loudest criticism of all in the history of industrialised food – Cargill, Bunge, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Syngenta, DuPont, Walmart and Monsanto. Some of the NGOs have called the New Alliance no more than a government-sponsored ‘investment platform’, smoothing the way for old friends to make profits from the last remaining under-productive farmland: a ‘new wave of colonialism’, according to War on Want.[191]

I wasn’t surprised by the guest list on that summer Saturday, except to wonder where the businessmen were from China or Brazil.

By lunchtime, with many speeches made, the annual deaths of 3.1m malnourished children resoundingly deplored, we got to the pre-agreed deals. I stood in the atrium of the Unilever building beside the dark-suited chief executives of Save the Children and of the poverty campaign ‘One’, as Justine Greening read out her speech. The UK would give $1bn of new money to child nutrition, saving, perhaps, 1.7m lives by 2020. The two NGO bosses, old colleagues from the Drop the Debt campaign, nodded and smiled – ‘It’s good. Top end of what we hoped,’ one said as they strode off to join the ‘Enough Food IF’ campaigners partying in Hyde Park to make hunger history, as the banners put it.

It did seem a good day for hungry children. Greening announced that the corporate donors had pledged a further $2.7bn. But my old acquaintance Professor Tim Lang, a former adviser to No 10 Downing Street on sustainability, snorted in disgust about politicians and dying children. Later, he emailed me a paragraph to include in my Observer story:[192]

[Extract] David Cameron is on safe ground expressing concern about starving babies, because no-one could possibly object to addressing that scandal. Five years ago attention was on obesity. Now that’s being normalized, and the ‘new’ attention is on hunger. The unpalatable truth is that 0.9bn hungry, 2bn malnourished and 1.4 overweight and obese co-exist! Hypermarkets are afloat with food yet food is a major factor in climate change and water stress which threaten the future. What I want to see is political leaders accepting their task is to recalibrate the food system entirely. We have to re-civilise food capitalism[TD49] .

Up at Hyde Park the hunger campaigners were roasting in the sun, while Myleene Klass tried to get a buzz going. There were speeches by Bill Gates and Archbishop Rowan Williams and a number of African politicians. There was a lot of talk about the obscenity of hunger in a wasteful world, but none about meat. I was hungry, so I bought a pork sausage in a baguette from one of the franchised stalls. I only had £4.50 on me, and there was nothing substantial to be found any cheaper. I’d been cutting back on meat while writing this book; the sausage was a bit over-cooked. But it tasted delicious.

Epilogue: Recipe from a moral man

Jonathan Safran Foer’s passionate book Eating Animals goes much further and with more curiosity into the ethics of meat eating than any of the standard animal-rights and welfare texts. He has become a vegetarian, though that is not put up as the solution to the horrors of industrial farming and the moral dilemmas that he outlines. (He points out that ‘there isn’t enough non-factory chicken produced in America to feed the population of Staten Island, and not enough non-factory pork to feed New York’.)

Foer avoids prescriptions: it’s not that sort of a book, for which the reader is grateful. But here are some answers born of his thoughts, and filtered through my own discoveries in the course of writing this book.

[Box starts]
[Box heading] The Rules – Inspired by JSF

● Any ethical meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian fare.

● ‘The factory farm is inhuman.’ Eat nothing that is produced by intensive or industrial farming.

● Accept that this way of treating animals, and the planet, is wrong and that there is no defence.

● Meat is not just another thing to consume. The act of eating it makes us responsible for everything that has been done to bring the meat to us.

● You can make a difference by changing your own habits. In fact, what you do in your own home is profoundly important, because it will help others change theirs.

● You have a duty to proselytise.

[Box ends]


[2] For example, in 1971 a dozen eggs cost 23p; at the average hourly wage of £0.70 it would take 20 or so minutes to earn enough to buy them. Forty years later in 2011, with the average hourly wage at £13.91 for men, a dozen eggs cost £1: it took less than four minutes to earn the pound (eggs increased in price by about 30% the following year). Seen in terms of the proportion of household income needed to buy it, a 1971 chicken would cost £47 in 2011.

[3] Chiefly in the sense of the farmgate price and the money paid to processors.

[4] Dairy and pork farmer examples in fuller version. [AQ: more info needed here?]

[6] ‘UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-Free Diet’; http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/02/un-report-meat-free-diet.

[7]Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials’, a report of the Working Group on the environmental impacts of products and materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management.

[9] Whole quote: ‘Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.’

[10] The maths of unrest prediction, using food price indices, via the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); http://www.technologyreview.com/view/425019/the-cause-of-riots-and-the-price-of-food/.

[11] For example, Eric Holt Giminez’s tract in the magazine Food Ethics; http://www.foodethicscouncil.org/system/files/FoodEthics5%282%29web.pdf.

[12] Interview with me, May 2013.

[13] But chimpanzees eat only a little animal protein when they find it, and always eat leaves at the same time – ‘meat and two veg’, as Colin Tudge says (So Shall We Reap. Penguin (2004), p. 143).

[14] Diamond, J. Guns, Germs and Steel.

[15] Keep footnote? Like the Inuit tribes of Canada and Greenland, 90% of whose energy intake is from meat, who may eat 2-4.5kg a day. But there is dispute over whether theirs is a genetic adaptation; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/3/665.long.

[16] Outram, A. ‘Hunter-Gatherers and the First Farmers’. In: Freedman, P. (ed). Food: The History of Taste. Thames and Hudson, p. 44.

[16] For example, Tuckman, A. ‘Labour, Skills and Training’. In: Levitt, R., et al. (eds). The Reorganised National Health Service. 6th ed. (Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes, 1999), pp. 135­155. [AQ: 2 x Ref 16; pls advise]

[17] Ibid, p. 46.

[18] Pollan, p. 61. [AQ: more info?]

[19] Consider the Fork, Particular Books (2012).

[20] Largely undeserved … See my article ‘If MSG Was so Bad for You, Why Doesn’t Everyone in Asia Have a Headache?’, Observer Food Monthly.

[21] Cooked (2013)

[22] [AQ: pls add info]

[23] ‘Free Glutamine as a Major Precursor of Brown Products and Fluorophores in Maillard Reaction Systems’; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17006601.

[26] ‘Did Cooking Give Humans an Evolutionary Edge?’ NPR, August 2009; http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112334465.

[27] Michael Pollan mentions this in Cooked.

[28] INSERT? Freedman – pork feast at British Neolithic ritual sites; p. 60. [AQ: incomplete info]

[29] Translation by Johnston, Ian; http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/copyright.htm. [AQ: delete url?]

[30] Simpson, SJ, and Raubenheimer, D. ‘Obesity: The Protein Leverage Hypothesis’.

Obesity Reviews (2005).

[31] keep footnote? There is some interesting new evidence that red meat may indeed improve our brains [AQ: our brain power?] – Heys et al. (2010) showed a link between daily meat eating and cognition in a study of 20,000 Chinese over 50 years old. This could have a bearing on dementia. Smil.[AQ: ref info incomplete; pls supply full info]

[32] Keep footnote ? And did the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in this fish-heavy diet help develop the brains in a small nation that, in the 18th and 19th centuries had an international reputation for ingenuity? If so, that time is over – most of the fish are gone and Scots now eat less omega-3 than the rest of Europe.

[33] ‘Poultry as a Tool in Human Development’, UNFAO, p. 4; http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/al676e/al676e00.pdf.

[34] Kramer, J. ‘A Fork of One’s Own: A History of Culinary Revolution’. Book review, The New Yorker magazine, March 2013.

[37] [AQ: pls add info]

[38] Chart source – interactive chart of world meat consumption (passive version also available) – up-to-date based on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) 2013 – Current Worldwide Annual Meat Consumption Per Capita, Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent (viewed 31 March 2013);  http://faostat.fao.org/site/610/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=610#ancor. [D: pls remove grey shading from Ref 38] [AQ: 2 x Ref 38; pls advise]

[38]UNFAO table of meat consumption by country – 2007 source [AQ: 2009 on map below]– discretionary payment [AQ: ?] – http://chartsbin.com/view/1. [AQ: link doesn’t work]

[39] Less populous but similar in meat consumption are: Argentina, Luxembourg and Australia.

[40] [AQ: pls add info]

[41] UNFAO 2013, Current Worldwide Annual Meat Consumption Per Capita, Livestock and Fish Primary Equivalent (viewed 31 March 2013); http://faostat.fao.org/site/610/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=610#ancor. [D: pls remove grey shading from Ref 41]

[42] Long and interesting essay on meat consumption now and in the future, worldwide; http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4252e/y4252e05c.htm#Note24.

[43] It’s all about conversion rates. Cattle in feedlots eat about 7kg of grain for each kilogram of weight gain. For pigs, the feeding ratio is 3 to 1, and for chickens 2 to 1. For carnivorous farmed fish the ratio is about 3 to 1. http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2012/update102.

[44] KEEP THIS NOTE Feed types and feeding systems differ, of course. But, taking the basic energy content of feed and of meat, chickens convert feed to edible chicken meat at an efficiency rate of 15%; pigs 9.2%; and beef cows 3.6% (Smil/USDA). Thus, the wheat you need to get one supper’s worth of chicken would provide 6.6 pasta suppers, in energy terms. The exchange is not efficient in energy any more than it is in hard cash.

[46] China is by far the largest producer of farmed fish, at 36m tonnes a year of a world total of 59m. While capture production has remained around 90m tonnes since 2001, aquaculture production has continued to show strong growth, increasing at an average annual growth rate of 6.3% from 34.6m tonnes in 2001 to 59.9m tonnes in 2010; ftp://ftp.fao.org/FI/STAT/summary/YB_Overview.pdf.

[48] ‘Chapter 3: Foods and Components to Reduce’, p. 24; http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter3.pdf.

[49] Ellen Muehlhoff of the UNFAO says: ‘Contrary to popular belief, most proteins we take from animal foods are only slightly superior to those from plant food.’ It’s all about balance. And in fact most seeds and nuts containing protein have more of it, gram for gram, than any meat; http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0562e/t0562e05.htm.

[50] Good explanation on protein by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html.

[51] Life expectancy did start to rise, though that is because of improvements in medicine and income rather than fundamentally better food.

[53] Orr, John Boyd. Food and the People, p. 8.

[54] Ibid, p. 23.

[55] Vernon, James. Hunger: A Modern History. (HUP, 2007), p. 125.

[56] Orr, John Boyd. Food and the People, p. 14.

[57] The definition differs from country to country, but it concerns the amount of the colour-bearing protein myoglobin in muscle – up to 2% in beef, 0.1% in pork, 0.05% in chicken. Some cultures don’t consider veal or young lamb to be red meats, but the UK health authorities do.

[66] Keep this one. The science is not clear on the issue of salt-cured mean, like bacon. A fan of chorizo and air-dried jamons, I’m relieved to find that the Spanish, who eat more than twice as much pork as the British, have colorectal cancer rates no higher than ours.

[68] Useful overview of foods and cancer: http://www.drfuhrman.com/library/article24.aspx.

[71] Dodd, George. The Food of London. Quoted in Hungry City by Carolyn Steel; Chatto & Windus (2008).

[72] From a 1912 study, quoted by Vaclav Smil, Should We Eat Meat? (2013).

[73] Steel, Carolyn. The Hungry City.

[74] See Henry Williamson’s Salar the Salmon for an interesting anecdotal account.

[76] Wilson, Bee, and Murray, John. Swindled: The Dark History of the Food Cheats (2011).

[78] [pls make this no. 82 + close up space] [AQ: pls add info]

[78] Sub-Saharan Africa is hungrier than it was before these interventions, and now is a net importer of food, an issue widely blamed on the forced dismantling of state services to agriculture and food storage. And of course following the 2008 food price spikes, civil unrest spread to 30 countries and resulted in the fall of half a dozen governments, all unable to enter the market to stabilise prices. (Analysis from Oxfam and World Development Movement.)

[79] Food security – widely used in food policy and by food campaigners – was defined in 1996 at the World Food Summit as ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’.

[81] Cox, MW, and Alm, R. Myths of Rich and Poor (1999). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cost_of_chicken_in_time_worked.jpg [AQ: both part of same ref?]

[82] KEEP FOOTNOTE The pressures of animal product demand on world food supply in 2030: excellent interactive infographic.

[85] Research published 2012 – Investigating the Global Dispersal of Chickens in Prehistory Using Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Signatures Alice A. Storey and others, July 2012 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0039171

[86] Conflicting stats on this – “In the mid-1800s, the early Jersey cows weighed about 600 pounds, maybe 700, and produced around 28 quarts of milk a day. Around 1975 through the magic of selective breeding and computerized feeding schedules that kept the cows slightly below their normal caloric intake, the Holstein-Friesian weighed in at 1,750 pounds and was putting out over 76 quarts a day.” http://www.factory-farming.com/milk_factory.html

[87] Guns, Germs and Steel.

[89] Do the maths: 90 million cattle in the US; 10.1 million in the UK. If each of us ate 70g of beef a day (the UK government’s recommended amount of red meat) [AQ: pls complete]

[91] Quoted in Safran Foer. [AQ: more info? In Eating Animals?]

[92] Quoted in Fairlie. Neuroethics (2009), p. 229.

[95] Interview with me, 22 May 2013.

[96] There is some interesting work from academic philosophers on the implications of GM and animal farming – FOLLOW UP [AQ: pls complete]

[97] Mark Bittman in the New York Times.

[98] Conversation with me for the Observer, November 2012.

[99] Interview with AR, November 2012, and from her article ‘Michael Pollan’s Misguided Food Nostalgia’: http://zesterdaily.com/agriculture/michael-pollan-world-hunger/. [AQ: isn’t this quote just from her article?]

[100] The Independent, ‘Europe’s GM Stance Denies Africa the Right to Feed Itself’, 3 June 2013.

[101] Both statistics from the UNFAO, quoted here: http://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat.html.

[102] Statistic via Oxfam: http://blogs.oxfam.org/en/blogs/12-08-02-grow-method-fix-food-system-every-bite. Other sources would put it at 15,000 litres per kilogram.

[103] Smil, quoting Wilkinson, 2011 on feed for 1kg of bone-in UK beef, spring finished on grass. EU average though is 19.8kg feed for 1kg meat in beef.

[104] Statistics from UNFAO: ‘Nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world. Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land.’ [N: delete? No need to repeat chapter’s opening quote here]

[105] Smil is little known in the UK (though he advises Barack Obama and features on Foreign Policy’s list of top global thinkers). A guru to food futurologists in part because he is perhaps the only significant analyst of global food policy with a grounding in biological and agricultural science, and enormous expertise on energy. He is also rigorously sceptical: when Smil hits you with a statistic, you feel its weight.

[106] Keep note – The nitrous oxide cost from the fertiliser used to grow the bullock’s feed is also significant – like methane, it traps heat in the atmosphere much more effectively than CO2, but it is not possible to calculate it for this amount of meat. There’s more on nitrous oxide and methane later in this chapter. [AQ: delete this sentence? there doesn’t seem to be more info on nitrous oxide]

[107] Smil. ‘Meat and the Atmosphere’ section, Should We Eat Meat?

[108] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22188250. Proportion of soya used for human food in Asia is put at 8% or less, while effectively all soya produced in the US goes to animal feed. http://gentleworld.org/as-we-soy-so-shall-we-reap/ (not checked). [AQ:?] But other sources say 20% goes to human food, 10% to edible oil and the rest to animal feed. A 2006 UNFAO study [AQ: took a long time to open this link, maybe best to provide info without the link]] said that 97% of soya goes to animals.

[111] McMahon, Paul. Feeding Frenzy (2013).

[112] Professor Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, Canada, calculated that beef cattle raised on feedlots may convert as little as 2.5% of their gross feed energy into food for human consumption. Estimated conversion of protein was only a little more efficient, with less than 5% of the protein in feed being converted to edible animal protein (chickens 20%; pigs 10%). Smil, V. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000, p. x).[AQ: page info missing]

[113] There’s not one good source for this widely used figure – it may be as little as 35%; http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2011/highlights22.

[114] Preface, Should We Eat Meat?

[115] In CIWF paper ‘Food Sense, 2012.

[117] Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wassenaar, T., Castel, V., Rosales, M., and De Haan, C. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, UNFAO (Rome, 2006), p. 43.

[119] To Raj Patel.

[123] UN Environment Programme report.

[124] And for chicken 60% – UNFAO.

[127] According to the UNFAO, via Simon Fairlie’s Meat: A Benign Extravagance (2010): 3.7m acres a year for the 20 years leading to 2010. That’s 10 times the size of Greater London, every year.

[132] See p. 13: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2727e/i2727e01.pdf. The UNFAO says that all farmed fish are for human consumption. Fishmeal production peaked in 1994 at 30.2m tonnes (live weight equivalent), and has followed a fluctuating trend since then. In 2010, it dropped to 15.0m tonnes owing to reduced catches of anchoveta, representing a decrease of 12.9% compared with 2009, of 18.2% compared with 2008, and of 42.8% with respect to 2000. Waste from commercial fish species used for human consumption is increasingly used in feed markets, and a growing percentage of fishmeal is being obtained from trimmings and other residues from the preparation of fish fillets. About 36% of world fishmeal production was obtained from offal in 2010.

[133] Along with other gases, of course.

[AQ: info for ref 139 missing]

[137] AR conversation with Philip Lymbery.

[138] [D: Pls refer to my comments in the running text, thanks]

[140] Actually, Smil does offer some statistics, but the data is very loose with big ranges. [D: This should now be Ref 141; pls ensure renumbering is correct from this point onwards]

[142] edit and keep note? When peak production of crude oil comes, after which (because of costs and lack of remaining supply) the extraction goes into long-term decline and prices start to rise. It was originally thought to have happened in 2005. Now (in 2013) global oil production capacity is forecast by the International Energy Agency to grow over the next five years, significantly outpacing demand. Thus, the old fossil-fuel based economies have been given a further lease of life, all but guaranteeing that developed nations will fail to reach their carbon-reduction targets and global warming will accelerate past all the red-light levels.

[143] But figures for the impact of the 2008-10 price rises on the hungriest are now being revised downwards – see interesting article on why.

[144] Source? [AQ:?]

[147] McMahon, Paul. Feeding Frenzy (2013).

[148] http://www.fao.org/fishery/statistics/en. In 2010, the top 10 producers of farmed aquatic animals were: China (36.7m tonnes); India (4.6m tonnes); Vietnam (2.7m tonnes); Indonesia(2.3m tonnes); Bangladesh (1.3m tonnes); Thailand (1.4m tonnes); Norway (1.0m tonnes); Egypt (919,600 tonnes); Myanmar (850,700 tonnes); and the Philippines (744,700 tonnes). They contributed 87.6% of world production by quantity.

[151] Keep note: Usually in this book, where appropriate, ‘meat’ means flesh of animals and fish. However, global consumption figures for meat are for animals only (and may vary between carcass weight and retail weight).

[152] And others think it won’t – overheating economy, lack of land, political stresses are bound to halt China’s growth; http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21578643-world-has-astonishing-chance-take-billion-people-out-extreme-poverty-2030-not.

[153] Masuda and Goldsmith 2010, quoted by Smil.

[154] Some research suggests that Chinese meat consumption – excluding fish – will peak at 65kg per capita; http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4252e/y4252e05c.htm#Note24.

[157] Interestingly, the US eats very little fish per head – 6.8kg per annum, half the global average; http://www.seafoodsource.com/newsarticledetail.aspx?id=17803.

[158] IFPRI, quoted in Lang, Food Wars, p. 138.

[159] Smil. Should We Eat Meat? (2013). His calculation is of 1.3bn affluent people eating 25% less, while 7bn poor people eating 10% more.

[160] UNFAO quoted Smil.

[161] Tudge, Colin. So Shall We Reap. Penguin (2003). [AQ: 2004 in Ref 13]

[162] [AQ: pls add info]

[163] Interview with me, published in The Times, May 2013.

[169] The ‘Enviropig’ has already been a reality. Developed by a Dutch team at the University of Guelph, it is, quite simply, a pig with cleaner excreta. Pig slurry is a problematic by-product – its high phosphorous content contaminating land and water and eventually causing disastrous algal blooms in rivers and at sea. With a genetic tweak, scientists enabled the Enviropig to absorb more of the phosphorous in its diet. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view), a Canadian environmentalist campaign – ‘Stop the Frankenpig!’ – successfully brought the experiment to a premature end, although not before Enviropig semen had been put into frozen storage, should the world ever change its mind.

[173] Smil is referring to a school of thought and a book: http://internetreviewofbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/vegetarian-imperative.html.

[174] To convert from carcass weight (that’s the eviscerated, skinned body of the animal), which is what the UNFAO stats on per capita usage to ‘edible meat’ (ie, what you might buy in the shop), Smil told me he uses the following conversion rates: ‘Carcass weight to retail weight conversions are 0.7 for the Western chicken, more like 0.8 for Asian chicken (they eat it nearly all), 0.6 for pork, 0.67 [for] Asian pork.’ Beef cattle is usually taken at 0.62 – more detail on US averages here.

[175] On the crude calculation that 1 tonne of grain can provide the calories (though of course not all the nutrients) for five people for a year; http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/05/04/can-the-planet-support-10-billion-people/we-can-change-the-future.

[176] Currently, 26% of all agricultural land is used for pasture: http://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat.html.

[177] I am unclear about his intentions with soya – have emailed him. [AQ: keep this??]

[178] Dubious statistic found here: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/03/16/eco.food.miles/. Traditional farming – and most of the world is still traditionally farmed – will have livestock and arable. The International Labour Organisation says that ‘3 billion live in rural areas, half of humanity. Agriculture is a source of livelihoods for an estimated 86 percent of rural people, and provides jobs for 1.3 billion smallholders and landless workers.’ http://www.fao-ilo.org/ilo-dec-employ/en/.

[179] My interview with Hannah Stoddart, Oxfam’s head of Economic Justice, June 2013.

[180] My paraphrase from Lang, Tim, and Heasman, Michael. Food Wars (Earthscan, 2004), pp. 300-301.

[181] Now, the scientists are performing trials of new diets designed to improve the cows’ digestion and reduce global warming. By feeding cows clover and alfalfa instead of grain, ‘you can reduce methane emissions by 25 percent’. Read more at http://phys.org/news135003243.html#jCp.

[182] Saving land and also reducing fertiliser use (the fish fertilise the rice); and lowering methane production; http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2727e/i2727e01.pdf, p. 31.

[183] Not least because the ban in the EU since 2001 is losing $15bn a year, according to figures quoted by Smil, Should We Eat Meat?

[184] [AQ: pls add info]

[185] But Friends of the Earth are addressing this in their lobbying in Europe over the Common Agricultural Policy reform process.

[188] Insert on failure of Aquila plan? [AQ: ?]

[189] And of all the ideas around on how to solve the hunger problem, that seems the most likely to succeed. For other ideas, see [AQ: is that what you meant?]: http://www.hunger-undernutrition.org/blog/world-food-prize/ [AQ: too many articles here, pls supply title]

 [TD1]Elsewhere this is 59 billion – which is correct?

 [TD2]Recommend cut as both the cooking fat-free meat and the mouth-feel points are asides… having them one after the other felt like too much

 [TD3]Suggested cut as – although v. interesting – I think the text flows better without the aside

 [TD4]Change to avoid a repeated sentence

 [TD5]AQ: Should this be 18th-century, to match dates elsewhere?

 [TD6]Deleted as repeated elsewhere

 [TD7]Both deletions made as these stats appear again in Ch5


I think the line of argument could be slightly clearer in this section. We don’t need much meat / cite daily guidelines (and visualized as an X portion of meat) / what the consumption numbers actually are / the protein leverage effect from earlier chapter / other health consequences

ELOCATE (to health, Ch2)

 [TD9]These couple of early cuts are designed to make the argument slightly clearer, as per your note above. Protein leverage theory we come to later, so worth saving until then

 [TD10]Visualise – is this a handful etc?

 [TD11]Visualise – e.g. one salmon steak?

 [TD12]Have moved paragraph above so the order of the 3 final parts of this section – by subject – is protein, protein, fat, rather than protain, fat, protein.

 [TD13]Suggested the life expectancy point as a footnote at the end of the next paragraph


 [TD15]Feels more natural, coming after the list of problems, and colorectal cancer is properly introduced very shortly

 [AR16]check UK definition

 [AR17]I need to get back into these pars with an internet connection – edits have now confused the refs.

 [TD18]All the cuts in this chapter cover material that is either mentioned elsewhere – either the same stats, or the same sentiment.

 [TD19]This change is suggested as the opening is very similar in tone to the Daisy the cow one. Previously suggested cutting the latter, appreciate desire to keep (it does work well), but definitely think it’s better to avoid the echo one way or another.

 [TD20]These paragraphs have been removed as selective breeding is mentioned again at the end of the next sub-section. Have incorporated the most notable facts from here in that place.

 [TD21]Deleted as doesn’t tally with stats that put max. average meat consumption at 120kg?

 [TD22]Instructed by legal dept to incorporate Atwood into the text and quote little – I think this works well here

 [TD23]Have suggested the cut here as I feel “reduces us as moral beings” makes a very strong ending to the section. Enviropig is great though, and have suggested a relocation further on in the text.

 [TD24]Just checking – do you mean in spirit or actually? Assume the former… probably worth saying

 [TD25]Final part cut as it is repeated to a large degree in the GM food section of Ch6

 [TD26]I feel this final section needs a bit of streamlining to sharpen its point

 [AR27]Need to re-rersearch this figure

 [TD28]Change as fracking extracts gas, rather than oil

 [TD29]Cuts in this chapter to cut out repetition and keep the argument sharp throughout – have also recommended some re-ordering, esp in the future fixes section, which I think makes the narrative flow more smoothly. As we’re slightly tight on time, I’ve moved things around already and it’s all captured in the track changes. Please also check the GM section where I’ve added a bit of bridging text after the in vitro burger box (there’s a comment by it)

 [TD30]Deleted as repeated from earlier

 [TD31]Smil statistic moved a couple of pages on

 [TD32]What’s the company called?

 [TD33]Worth including? What do you think?

 [TD34]Removed Mobiot quote as it didn’t really seem to fit here

 [AR35]Check NYT piece and Post re Peta

 [TD36]I feel it works better to have meat substitutes first, then Mark Post

 [TD37]Boring, I know, but should adjust Monsanto description

 [TD38]Does this have any bearing on Mark Post?

 [TD39]Based on what you said over the phone – does it read accurately?

 [TD40]Are these changes ok? I didn’t fully follow the previous expression, as Smil cited soya, but Ambler deals only with grain?

 [TD41]Change suggested as the greenhouse gas reference felt a bit out of place…

 [TD42]Is there anything to be said about consumer taxation – a la cigarettes?

 [TD43]Strongly suggest moving the JSF box to the end – it makes an excellent closing point to the text

 [TD44]The intro text to Smil that was here has been moved to a footnote at the point that the reader first encounters him

 [TD45]Earlier stat is 3 billion

 [TD46]I feel addressing costs first and then advantages would be easier for the reader to follow

 [TD47]Point no1 here adjusted to fit style of the others. Similar changes made to 4, 5 and 6

 [TD48]Here and below, company names excised – legal advice is to avoid

 [TD49]Can these final words be cut? More powerful end to the quote if so

 [TD50]Have suggested removing the appendices – the family meal idea is executed really well in the steak dinner section in Ch5, and the food sense is covered well and fully elsewhere. I think the JSF section provides a very good close.

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