As a follow up to the previous essay I wrote on livestock I have some new statistics of note to mention that come from the book Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie, which I have finally been able to get a copy of. I feel like the title of the book is misleading because it doesn't seem to be endorsing meat or a meat diet at all. I think maybe the title was chosen to provoke. In the end Fairlie seems to say that we will have to dramatically reduce the animal products in our diet to make it more sustainable, but it does advocate keeping livestock as a part of a sustainable food system.
Of major note in the book are the estimates of land use required for production of different food products. There is a lot of information Simon Fairlie gives to support that a straight comparison of meat to vegetables or grain is not as simple as propaganda would lead us to believe. Taking into account that livestock can be grazed directly on pasture (that may not be suitable for grain or vegetable crops) instead of being fed grain or hay, the impact of meat production on human land use for food production in an ideal production system could be far less than the 10:1 ratio often given by vegetarians and vegans as the reason not to eat meat. Grain-fed beef is the least efficient meat in terms of land use, fitting the 10:1 ratio commonly stated as the ratio of land required for amount of food value offered for all meat. Taking into account the ability of pigs to live entirely off food waste and by-products (and the fact that they do in many parts of the world), the potential ratio for pork production is comparable or even lower than that for most vegetable and grain crops. Food waste cannot, in the same way, be fed directly to grain or vegetable crops to produce more food. Statistics are given in the book that estimate that were it legal in the UK to feed food waste to hogs, the waste would be able to supply pork amounting to one sixth of the country's entire meat consumption. Another interesting point is that meat is a more nutritious form of food, so the straight ratio of weight or volume of food cannot be compared directly, a fact most anti-meat advocates ignore. In other words, one must eat more grain and legumes to supply as much nutrients as offered by a comparable amount of meat (of course this varies depending on the meat and type of grain or legume).
|Heritage Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs foraging in an apple orchard|
Another enlightening statistic is the amount of land required for production of vegetable oils, which is about the same as that required for beef in terms of m2 per kilo produced. The amount of land required for butter production is half what is required for vegetable oil and lard is possibly even lower, since pork takes a third of the land to produce that beef does.
In analysis and comparison of different food systems the vegan organic permaculture system is the most efficient in terms of land use and sustainability, using nearly half the land of the livestock permaculture system. They both end up using an equal amount of arable land, but the livestock system uses additional marginal land that would not be suitable for crops. And whereas the vegan system uses a tractor and biofuel, the livestock system uses draft animals for farm power. These systems are more efficient than either organic vegan or an organic system with livestock (which is the least efficient), which are not integrated systems set up to recycle all waste and maximize sustainability. Though less efficient than other systems, the organic livestock system is still more sustainable than the chemical vegan or livestock systems. Conventional agriculture is able to feed about twice as many people on a comparable amount of land, but given that it isn't sustainable in the long term, it should not be considered a viable option. Fairlie refers to the Global Opponents of Organic Farming (GOOFs), who advocate the conventional route over the organic, claiming organic agriculture won't be able to feed the ever-growing human population because it uses too much land.