You Don't Have to Quit Eating Meat to Save the World by 2050


In news that will surprise, well, almost everyone, researchers from Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say that it's possible to feed the world sustainably by 2050, when the planet's population is expected to balloon to more than 9 billion people. Perhaps most surprising of all, we can all still eat meat three times a week in good conscience. And according to the researchers, we can do all this and abandon the environmentally damaging intensive farming practices of Big Agriculture. Of course, there are number of "buts" in this scenario.

The biggest caveat of the Potsdam study is that world meat consumption has to decrease considerably. Sixty billion animals are raised for consumption every year—a figure that will double by 2050—and these animals drastically cut down on the land available for crop growth. That's not to say that everyone needs to give up meat altogether. On average, the researchers estimate that the proportion of animal protein in diets will have to decrease to 30%, compared to the global average of 38%. That relatively small decrease could free up millions of acres of cropland and pasture, cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the pressure on factory farms to keep animals in close confinement. All for a few less trips to McDonald's every week.

The Potsdam report also recommends that we ditch pesticide-heavy farming methods and focus on organic agriculture, which could cut down on soil erosion and increase biodiversity. So while quality organic fruits and vegetables are currently relegated to expensive farmer's markets, even the world's poor could have access to organic produce if so-called "mainstream" agricultural research is redirected towards sustainability.

But is any of this likely to happen? If corporations like Monsanto and Cargill have their way, probably not. Agribusiness will have to be both ethical and profitable if the world's supply of food is to be secured.

[Via Grist]


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  • Rodney North

    Organic farming is not less productive (as measured over the long term) than chemical or industrial farming. See

    Also, the reason organic is (for now) more expensive than industrial farm products is because:
    1) it is not subsidized by the gov't, and receives much less support from the USDA.
    2) it is in high demand relative to the available supply;
    3) it "internalizes" (or factors in) expenses that chemical-dependant farming "externalizes" upon the rest of society. For example, chemical farming often doesn't take responsibility for the waste it generates and instead dumps it (literally or figuratively) upon the rest of us. This artificially offloads what should be their cost upon society. For instance the run-off from chemical/industrial farms and Confided Animal Feed Operations (C.A.F.O.s or feedlots) is contributing to the dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. Cheap for those farms, expensive for fishermen and society.

    By the way, organic farming also creates MORE jobs than chemical farming as it often replaces the functions of pesticides and herbicides with manual laborer.

  • Michael Kull

    Systems-thinking teaches us that many of our goals are interconnected. By reducing the consumption of red meat, we create less incentive for cutting down trees to make way for pastures, thereby improving the O2/Co2 exchange we all rely upon to breathe, which in turn keeps us healthier both in terms of less saturated fat as well as better air, water, and land quality.

  • Ryan Curtis

    I think it's funny that the only "solution" that is suggested is the most heavily taxing on land use. Organic is more expensive because they produce less on more land and it's a niche market. We say the American dream is to be successful and grow, but when farmers get big, we call them the devil. Why? Have you ever met one? I have and they are good business men that are creating jobs and creating a lot of food. And get this, most of them actually like their animals.
    Good job on the article, jump on the bandwagon. Maybe the next article should be about the scientists that refute Al Gore's claims. An attempt to be unbiased would be good.

  • Greg Steggerda

    The average American overconsumes meat worse than we overconsume fossil fuels. I like a good steak as well as the next guy, but do we really need to eat a pound of it at a sitting? Or that 2/3-pound burger? I wonder what the benefits to our overloaded health care system would be if we could all control ourselves and eat no more than 8 ounces of meat a day?