The world’s growing population will need increasingly more food, including meat, but it must be produced from fewer resources using intensification and technology.
MULTIPLYING the world’s population by its consumption of food does not equal a healthy planet — the multiplication result is not balanceable or sustainable, according to Dr. Jason Clay, senior vice president at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
“We need to use less to produce more … to restore the planet,” he said in remarks to the Cattle Industry Summer Conference last month in Denver, Colo.
He was one of three speakers who addressed beef production’s environmental footprint (Feedstuffs, Aug. 9).
Clay laid out a scenario in which the world’s increasing population forces more and more habitable land into agricultural/food production every year and said this “has to be changed, and we can do that by intensification.”
He noted that in 40 years, the world’s population will increase 33% — from almost 7 billion people today to more than 9 billion — incomes will triple and food consumption will double. Clay said 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, and “we need to address this” because the “impacts” people and food production/consumption have on the land and water “that are acceptable today with 6.8 billion people will not be acceptable with 9.1 billion people.”
“We will have to get better” at producing more food with fewer resources, he said.
Clay said agriculture’s footprint on the Earth must be “frozen” but emphasized that this doesn’t mean decreasing or “not expanding” production; rather, agriculture/food producers need to become increasingly more efficient.
Accordingly, he said producers must adopt advanced genetics, management practices and technology and emphasized that “we cannot abandon modern genetics and technology.”
Indeed, Clay said WWF, in the interest of the health of the planet, has backed off its previous anti-genetic modification position.
Since producing any product, including any food product, will have an impact on the planet, it’s critical that producers identify the metrics they will use to “measure” their progress toward becoming more efficient, he said.
For beef producers, several measurements could be pursued, Clay said, including cattle per acre, beef produced per acre, beef produced per unit of water, calories produced per acre or unit of water, feed in/meat out, carbon sequestered per acre or pound of beef produced, etc.
Probably, he said, a number of these measurements should be “optimized, but “until we reach a consensus, we won’t be able to focus on results, and results — what an acceptable impact is, what goals producers should try to achieve” — are the end game.
Results, he added, are best achieved through voluntary actions by producers and information sharing about what works best in producing more with fewer resources to give other producers something against which to benchmark.
“We can get the bottom to move up by sharing what the top has achieved,” Clay said, suggesting a process of continuous improvement.
Regulations achieve less as far as results go, he noted.
Clay said producers need to focus on more than one measurement but not on every measurement, so “we need a consensus on the key impacts” where improvements can be made. Furthermore, he said the measures taken and results achieved need to be based on science.
Clay announced that WWF and collaborators have scheduled a conference on sustainable beef production in November because the year “2050 is coming, and we’ve got to get going” on the road that will increase meat production while supporting the planet.