Poultry is often hailed as the answer to feeding the world, but is increasing production necessarily the best way to satisfy growing demand?
Each year, one-third of global food production for human consumption never finds its way onto plates and is lost or wasted. Around 1.4 billion hectares of land is used to produce food that is wasted, or to put it more graphically, an area greater than the size of China.
I would not dispute that the poultry industry may be the most efficient of the various livestock industries, but where feeding the world is concerned, upping production may not be the best answer, either in terms in of food supply or protecting the planet.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released figures and a jaw-dropping video demonstrating just how big a problem waste is. For example, of the 263 million tons of meat produced each year, 20 percent is lost or wasted. I have no idea of how many chickens that equates to, but the FAO points out it is the equivalent of 75 million cows.
And this is not only a rich-world problem, although the reasons for waste are different in the developed world than in the developing.
In developing countries, 40 percent of losses occur during harvest and processing, while in industrialized countries, 40 percent happens at the retail or consumer level.
The U.S., for example, spends US$218 billion producing, transporting and discarding food that is not eaten. Reducing this waste by just over 20 percent would yield US$100 billion in societal economic benefits, the FAO says.
Globally, food waste results in US$1 trillion in economic costs, US$900 billion in social costs, and US$700 billion in environmental costs.
Curbing environmental impacts
But leaving the need for more food to one side, it is worth remembering that the finger is often pointed at livestock where global warming is concerned. Poultry tends to be less pointed at than other species, but that does not guarantee it protected status.
Meat-rich diets may become increasingly frowned upon and viewed as unsustainable. The eating habits enjoyed by industrialized countries may not be possible on a global scale.
So, if we are all to enjoy a little bit of what we fancy, the key may be to persuade the rich world to eat less meat
Calls for meat to be taxed have become increasingly common over recent years. A U.K. team has recommended a 40 percent tax on beef and an 8.5 percent tax on chicken. But don’t think chicken would automatically get off lightly. Much depends on how animals are fed – on pasture or imported feedstuffs – and a Swedish consultant has recommended a 28 percent tax on beef and a 40 percent tax on chicken.
This may sound farfetched, but think about the methods that governments have already used to dissuade people from smoking, which includes taxation. On the whole, they have been pretty successful.
I, like many, do not agree with taxes on food, but I don’t object to taxing waste in an effort to curb it, and there is an argument that penalizing wasteful consumption and production could make the consumer more conscientious and producer more efficient.
Food for thought as global demand for meat rises, and resources are harder to come by.