Feeding a Hungry Planet?

This morning I read this in an industrial ag publication:

Overall per-capita meat consumption (pork and poultry) was up 5% in the U.S., the biggest increase since the 1970’s. The big driver in 2015 was the 7.3% increase in pork production….The production of meat in the U.S. is expected to grow 2.5% this year (2016) with similar increases in 2017 and 2018. Odds don’t favor foreign markets absorbing our production increases. Instead, the industry will be looking for further consumption growth in the U.S. By the end of the expansion cycle in 2018, however, producer profits may be harder to capture as retail prices will have to be lowered to spur consumers to eat more meat and poultry.

Let’s translate that. Despite already having the highest per-capita meat consumption on earth, Americans just bumped their meat eating up another 5% and are set to increase it yet another 5% over the next two years. Despite the nearly universal consensus that Americans need to reduce their meat consumption (for lots of reasons, not the least of which are the adverse health consequences of meat-rich diets), the industry expects that after a 3-year ten percent increase in consumption, they will have to lower prices to “spur consumers” to eat even MORE meat.

And here’s the biggest and most important take-away of all: even as the industry says this out of one side of its metaphorical mouth, out of the other side it continues to repeat the mantra of industrial agriculture: “Our high-intensity animal confinement facilities, our assembly-line slaughter houses, our taxpayer-subsidized GMO pigfeed corn, our massive ‘lagoons’ of liquefied pig shit–all are necessary because we have to (wait for it) feed a hungry planet.”

Shaking my head.

cafopigs.jpg

cafo-pigs

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35 comments on “Feeding a Hungry Planet?

  1. thesnowwoman says:

    I find that disturbing. Those poor pigs what a filthy horrible life. And people have no problem putting that in their bodies, or they are completely ignorant as to where there food comes from. I think it is mostly the latter.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      The vast majority of us are separated from our food sources these days. We have no idea how the food is raised or even where it comes from home. That is what makes possible some of the worst abuses. Change happens when people become informed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, it just continues to amaze me how marketing spins things in favor of the big Ag producers. If it weren’t for being subsidized, the cost of even the confined meat production would be cost prohibitive for the average person. It is true that there is a disconnect from how meat is produced and the average shopper. Most of those that grow up in the city and urban sprawl in this country don’t really care about where the meat comes from. The entire industry (pork, beef, poultry), is cruel for the sake of lower meat prices.

    When I think of the expansion of the meat industry, my thoughts go toward roasts, pork chops, etc. prepared at home but in reality the population is gravitating toward fast food and restaurants. I, personally, can’t claim to be a totally store bought meat free person but it is way down from a few years ago. I do admire those, like yourself, that can eat meat from the land you own, produce from the gardens you grow, and fish from the pond that you have. It’s the best way to live in these times of supposedly cheap food, What is does to our health is a whole other subject.

    Have a great day just living the dream on White Flint Farm.

    Nebraska Dave
    Urban Farmer
    dbentz24@gmail.com

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Thanks Dave. This is just another example of how subsidized Big Ag works against us. Very few people realize that many of our food problems are caused by the fact that we significantly overproduce food. Big Ag wants us to believe that there is a shortage of food and that they’re keeping the world alive by increasing yields at any cost. That way they try to make what they’re doing sound noble, as they crush out small family farming in this country and around the world.

      Like

  3. How on earth can that not be considered TORTURE—to keep an animal like that.
    And shame on all that continue to support this way of eating. People need to take a good hard look at what is going on with their food—and stop buying in to this.
    It’s not as hard as one thinks to change—but therein lies the problem—MOST are too ignorant or lazy (lazy being a large part of it!)
    PLEASE continue to keep spreading this as far as you can. People need to wake up to the reality of our pathetic society!
    (oh dear,, I am an angry citizen……………………..)

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Informing people is the best way to end these practices. I’m hopeful that the tide is going to turn. It seems that more and more people want to know where the food on their plate came from and how it was raised. That gives me hope for the future.

      Like

  4. Ed says:

    As someone who grew up on a farm that raised hogs, I must say that the majority of (small time) pig growers do not raise pigs in conditions shown above. Pigs raised in crowded cramped conditions put on weight much slower than those with the freedom to roam and put on muscle mass. Also having also grown pigs free range, pigs grown in “confinement” buildings grow much healthier and in more comfort than those outside. They are in climate controlled areas so don’t suffer during the hot and cold times, are readily visible so if health problems should occur they can be treated efficiently and humanely, live in much cleaner environments that they do outside in the pig (and shit) wallers, and get unlimited food and water easily. However, I do know that not all farmers are as humane with animals as the next and there are bound to be those that give the rest of the pig farmers a black eye in society’s eyes.

    Pig producers are also caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to production. If they were to raise every pig outside with virtually unlimited space compared to inside productions, costs raise dramatically and they must raise fewer animals due to it being less efficient which also raises prices. There is also the question of the land taken out of production to raise these animals outside and how it effects the economics. All this creates a product that the majority of people would complain is too expensive to buy. Demand for cheap pork has consolidated the markets so that only large corporations can eek out a living raising pork (and the reason we got out of the hog industry) and they are probably less likely to raise pork humanely as we have seen in numerous videos.

    I do agree that people need to reduce meat consumption (and I have considerably) but I don’t think the issue is as black and white as laid out above. I wish it were. Like most things, it is incredibly complex. My solution has been to just stop eating pork (I get some bacon when tomatoes and lettuce are in season but that is just about it) and let those less informed continue on the way things are going. Eventually all the complexities will push the pork industry past a point where it will all collapse and something new will takes its place. What comes to mind is the retail industry where small retailers selling a few necessary items were replaced by retailers that sold lots of items, which were replaced by malls that sold even more items, which were replaced by huge box stores that carry almost everything, which are now dying due to the internet which does have everything which will be replaced by something yet to be determined. I doubt we will ever go back to the days of the small store selling just a few necessary household items. It is just part of being human. We change and adapt, good or bad.

    Anyway, great post that stimulated my thinking cells this morning.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and perspective. We’re in agreement on a lot of points, especially on the sustainability of the current system, although I do not agree that pigs raised in confinement are healthier than those raised on pasture.

      If I had it to do over again I’d post this without the pictures and with my commentary toned down. I think the pictures took the focus off my primary point–which is that while industrial ag justifies their practices by saying that they are necessary in order to keep an every growing world population from starving, the reality is that we’re overproducing commodity grains (which is why the price is lower than the cost of production), and in order to sell all the pigs we’re raising in the US the industry will have to “spur consumers” to eat more of it, even though we’re already eating too much. It’s the exact scenario Michael Pollan described in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Once everyone has enough to eat, the only way the food industry can continue to grow profits is by persuading people to eat MORE than enough. It’s a pet peeve of mine because when we speak on the subject of sustainable agriculture invariably we get questions based on the false premise that our kind of agriculture can’t feed the world. And I see that claim in just about every industrial ag magazine I read.

      It’s hard for me to blame the farmers. If I recall correctly the industry average profit per hog is about $40. We raised 7 last year. That would have given us a grand total of less than $300 profit for the year. But if we raised 10,000 in CAFOs, that’s a much different story. So farmers trapped in the industrial model are forced to “get big or get out.” Most people have to get out, leaving fewer (but ever larger) producers every year.

      Like

      • Scott says:

        I enjoy your commentary. I got a good chuckle out of “Let’s translate that.”
        I imagined you in person lowering the magazine you just read us the quote from, and with a raised eyebrow, pausing and saying sarcastically, “Let’s translate that.” šŸ˜‰

        Like

      • Ed says:

        Yes, “healthier” is definitely a matter of interpretation depending on the side of the coin. I have seen hogs raised outside get a larger variety of problems like broken limbs from slipping, infected bites from other pigs, heat strokes, starving from being timid eaters, etc. that typically don’t happen when raised in controlled environments. All these problems generally result in death loss which I count against being healthier. Those inside are more susceptible to infectious diseases that spread easily which if left untreated. However modern practice of treating all hogs with medicine (arguably a very bad practice) controls death loss and results in “healthier” hogs. (Here is where I’m guessing your definition of healthier comes in because who wants to eat pork pumped full of chemicals.) I also consider the health to include birthing survival rates. It is widely established that the survival rate for hogs raised indoors is much much higher. I’ve had to carry off many young pigs that froze, drowned, were trampled or outright killed by other hogs because we missed their due dates and didn’t get them into the farrowing building. One could say that the ones that survived are healthier but the price was already paid by limiting their weakest numbers.

        If I was raising pigs for personal consumption (i.e. in limited numbers where I can attend to them easily) I would raise them outside every time. However, if the numbers are increased, I think inside is “healthier” (limiting medications to only those in need and not entire herds) in my interpretation from experience but I fully understand if you or others may have a different interpretation.

        Like you said, I think we are in general agreement on everything else. I also wish to say thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion on a subject that means a lot to me.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Joanna says:

      Ed I’m with you all the way. I read a lot of literature on this sort of topic, because I am doing research in rural development and it makes me angry to see so much binary thinking. I now live in Latvia (just north of the Lithuania where Bee below comes from below) and here the fields are not suitable for arable but great for outdoor reared dairy and beef. Unfortunately the number of wild boar around makes outdoor pastured pork hard to do, but barn raised was common until we had African Swine Fever come in a couple of years ago, but these were often fed off the dairy residues. The rearing of animals here, keeps the open field systems from being overtaken by trees and as such is rich in the kinds of birds suited to this habitat. If you take the meat completely out of the question, these would revert to forest and lower biodiversity. It might mop up our carbon outputs, but it won’t help the wildlife necessarily. A far more complicated system than people think at times.

      So I agree, let’s reduce the subsidies to big ag and let’s have more pastured reared meat in places which benefit from it and more vegetables and arable instead of raising grain for the animals. Around here they have hay in winter, cut from the fields around the area and grass in summer and that’s a much better system to my mind

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Laurie Graves says:

    Yes, yes! I am happy to report that at the little house in the big woods, we don’t eat either pork or beef.

    Like

  6. BeeHappee says:

    American meat consumption never “hit” me until my dad came to visit, and I took him out to get a Gyros. Now this is a Lithuanian man, and Lithuanians, like Germans, in the cold European climate, eat tons of meat, mostly pork, by sausages, hams, bucketfulls of lard, pork dumplings, etc. My dad sat there, staring at that gyros, puzzled how to start climbing that Kilimanjaro. He dug in, and shortly announced that for such amount of meat, he would need at least 3 or 4 times the bread, and this would make 4 meals for him. Good thing, I did not take him to one of those Brazilian steakhouses. šŸ™‚
    I like seeing pastured cows out west, everywhere, they are in national forests, in subdivisions, crossing the road. Pastured pork harder to come by. We try to stretch our meat by making soups and stir fries and such because it is so expensive.
    Here is the question I have – do Americans really consume more meat, or just more meat gets wasted in the food chain somehow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • NebraskaDave says:

      BeeHappee, good question. I look at those meat cases and wonder the same thing. How much of the meat must gets tossed at the end of the day?

      Nebraska Dave
      Urban Farmer
      dbentz24@gmail.com

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      One year we had an intern from Saudi Arabia. She said that when her father came to the US to visit, she took him to a grocery store. When he saw a chicken in the meat department he said, “What is this thing? A turkey?” He refused to eat it. I took a Malaysian client to lunch in the States once and he was astonished at the portion size. The next time we went he insisted that we order one meal and split it.

      There are lots of problems and I could type for hours about it. We do waste a lot of food in the U.S. (40% is the estimate most commonly used). With animals the waste is particularly offensive, since they’re giving their lives to us. Americans now rarely buy whole chickens. All we want are boneless, skinless breasts. So much of the bird is wasted (or shipped overseas).

      By the way, according to Wikipedia Lithuanians eat 72 lbs of meat per person per year. In the U.S. it’s over 120 pounds.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BeeHappee says:

        Thanks for the stats, Bill, interesting. I would still tend to believe there is much bigger waste percentage in the 120 American pounds than in the 72 Lithuanian pounds. And you are right about the organ meat, etc. We get a fish, all gets eaten, as a kid I was excited to find fish eyeballs in my fish soup. šŸ™‚ By the way, had you seen Canadian series of Wild Chef (available in Netflix now). We enjoy this French Canadian chef cooking, he shows the whole process, from hunting, or raising, harvesting, to cooking up all the ingredients – making head cheese, fried moose testicles, and lobster liver.

        Like

      • Bill says:

        “Nose to tail” is the hot thing among chefs these days. Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate may have spurred that. Of course it’s how the world always ate meat and fish until recently. The old saying about hogs is that you use “everything but the squeal.”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. MansWhirld says:

    Interesting. We eat very little pork and may buy 3 or 4 packs of bacon a year, which may change now that it is reported that “Bacon Reserves” are at a 50 year low. Who’s eating all the pork? Oh now just wait a minute…it’s all gone to Washington DC!!

    Like

  8. Melonie K. says:

    All the horrifying photos that come out of the big ag concerns make me even more grateful for the small, humane ranchers and farmers out there. What a hard row to hoe while combating things like that and presumably being judged by those who don’t know the difference, either the people who say the small farmers’ items are too expensive or who lump them in with the CAFOs and assume they don’t know and love each and every animal like they actually do.

    Oddly enough I was doing some research about guinea pigs as small livestock right before I clicked into my feed. I found the information about the environmental benefits and feed turnover rather interesting. For your reading pleasure (it’s an older article, but might still be of interest if anyone is looking at things like rabbits and such):
    http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/03/12/174105739/from-pets-to-plates-why-more-people-are-eating-guinea-pigs

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’m glad you get it Melonie. I think more and more people are looking behind the curtain and that gives me hope. I’ve just come in from tending a sick goat (actually, she’s just growing feeble from old age) and from burying a horse, who sadly died of old age today. We do know and love the animals on our farm, in a way that wouldn’t be possible if we were raising tens of thousands of them. It definitely causes a change in perspective.

      Thanks for sharing the link. I’ve heard about raising guinea pigs for food but I don’t know anyone who’s actually doing it. We have friends who are raising rabbits. There is a lot to be said for that.

      Like

      • Scott says:

        Sorry to hear he died, Bill. He seemed like a gentle, patient soul, what with the goats climbing on him and the tolerance of the weather in pictures you’ve shown.

        Like

      • Bill says:

        He died suddenly while out in the pasture. Not a bad way to go I suppose. He was one of the first animals on our farm and we were sorry to lose him. We buried him in the pasture next to an old friend who had gone before him.

        Like

  9. avwalters says:

    I’m beginning to think that street theater, engaging and informative–and if at all possible, funny–may be necessary to get some basic concepts through Americans’ thick skulls. Too often we are preaching to the choir. I think I’ll start with Bee costumes and pamphlets for this summer’s tourist season.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I’ve kind of come around to thinking that while time will change us, posts like mine won’t. I’d resolved to stop putting up these kind of posts, but I guess I temporarily forgot that resolution.

      I like your idea though. Would it work? Probably not, but it would amuse those of us in the choir.

      Are you familiar with the Chick Fil-A ad campaign? People in (dairy) cow costumes carrying imitation hand-painted signs that read “Eat more chikken.” They must think that’s helping sales.

      Liked by 1 person

      • avwalters says:

        Unfortunately (?), as a non-tv person, I’m oblivious to any one campaign. I’m appalled at how ignorant Americans are about our (corporate driven) Ag policies. Doubly so when you see the nominees for the Cabinet. I have recently read a series of articles chronicling and critiquing the rights movements of the 60s, 70s and 80s. There is a real problem of protest fatigue, both on the parts of the protesters and on the populace. To avoid backlash, I think we need to be creative, educational and funny. “Hell no, we won’t go,” is traditional and has it’s merits, but doesn’t change minds. We need to do better. I’m going to start with the bees. (Who doesn’t like honeybees?)

        Like

      • Bill says:

        The ChickFilA thing is not a TV ad. They have real-life human beings put on cow costumes and stand on the side of the road waving “Eat Mor Chikken” signs. The son of a friend of mine had that job for a while–his first job. I guess if you start your working life dressed as a cow pushing fast food chicken, you have nowhere to go but up.

        As for your guerrilla theatre idea–I say go for it! I’m on your side.

        Like

      • avwalters says:

        But don’t stop. This cable network has many channels–only some of which are choir.

        Like

  10. Dearest Bill,
    For sure the two of us are not adding much to the meat consumption. We eat a lot of fish, some boneless chicken (other parts of the chicken are being processed in e.g. cat food!) and also vegetarian meals. Our health was excellent so that proves that adhering to a healthy and fresh diet with plenty of fruits and veggies pays off. I’m born and raised in The Netherlands where we were taught that a piece of meat per day, the size of the palm of your hand, also thickness, is sufficient! Well, we are still amazed at what most Americans already eat for breakfast.
    Having lived and worked all over the world, it is also heartbreaking to see HOW MUCH Americans load onto their plate and than trash! A shame as so many in this world have not even that much for an entire week… And yes, those animals that gave their lives for the meat got killed partly in vain…
    Aside from the bad health issues that the meat consumption etc. causes.
    Let’s hope that people will wise up!
    Hugs,
    Mariette

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Our observation (consistent with what you say here) is that while Europeans love meat, they’re sensible about portion sizes. When we were in France we struggled to find vegetarian meals, but the meals were reasonably sized. I think on average Europeans eat about half as much meat as Americans.

      There are a myriad of reasons why we need to reduce meat consumption in this country, but it’s an uphill battle with the deck stacked against us.

      I do think we’ll wise up eventually, so I remain hopeful notwithstanding stats like the ones I posted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • avwalters says:

        In college, a good friend of mine did a year of exchange education in Holland. He was set up with a host family and a crash course in Dutch. At his first sit-down dinner with his host family, they passed him a plate with a generous portion of roast beef. He put it on his plate and continued with his choppy conversation. It wasn’t until well into the meal that he realized that he’d helped himself to the meat part of the meal that was supposed to feed the entire family! In his defense, the portion was not so outrageous for a North American–just to the eyes of his Dutch hosts, who never said a word about his faux pas. He was mortified.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. As a small scale meat seller and scratch cook, I find it quite disturbing to look for a new recipe on the internet and see recipes that utilizes chicken thighs, or pulled pork or bacon in everything. The illusion of endless abundance is prevalent, bacon every day, etc. Doing our small part, we eat the bacon that one pig produces, it is a treat. Pork shoulder roast is the same thing, one pig, several roasts, per year. Americans need to get back to the idea of some foods being treats not an every day ingredient.

    Sigh, keep telling it like it is Bill.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      That’s what we do as well. Used to be the norm of course. When you raise an animal from birth, and kill it with your own hands, you truly understand the cost of meat. I can’t imagine throwing away or wasting meat when you’re that intimately connected to the source of it.

      Like

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