The United Nations expects the human population of planet earth to reach 9.7 billion– billion with a “B”- people by the year 2050.
That’s a lot of people.
Over the years, especially the last ten or so, it seems that we have become more and more aware of the fact that we cannot currently supply uniform, sufficient nutrition to the current human population. This is a problem, as that means that every day, people all over the world are dying of malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiency, and starvation (I recently learned that malnutrition and starvation are, in fact, very different phenomenons). It becomes an even larger problem when we consider that we need to substantially ramp up the production of nutritious food by about 50% over the next 33 years to meet the expected demand.
I believe that beef and other animal-sourced foods (ASF) can play an integral and essential part of providing adequate nutrition to our booming population. Recently, at the International Livestock Congress in Houston, Texas, I was able to hear from several leading researchers, representing the World Bank, FAO, and other global entities. They vocally encouraged the mix of students and researchers at the congress to pursue new research to improve the production of ASF to help increase the nutrition available around the world. Their reasons may have been preaching to the choir in that setting, but I thought I would reiterate them here:
- Animal source foods are nutrient dense. Per unit, plant sourced foods cannot compare with the amount of sheer nutrition (protein, fats, minerals and vitamins) supplied by ASF. In many instances, calories are not insufficient in an area- starchy crops supply enough sheer energy for many people around the world. However, those calories are rather empty.
- Animal sourced foods can be produced in areas where crops do not grow. I know I am a beef guy, and I am partial to the efficiency of ruminants (large and small) to convert the most meager of rations to usable products. However, even I must admit that in certain areas of the world, there is simply not enough vegetation of any quality, or water to support the existence of ruminant animals (think: Deserts of North Africa). However, chickens and other fowl are more impervious to a lack of vegetation and make excellent use of small insects, seeds and other inedibles to produce eggs and meat of very high quality. They can be inexpensive and easy to care for as well.
- Animal sourced foods can be an effective means of water distribution. Stick with me here: We all have heard that animals are too water expensive, per unit of production, for many dry areas around the world. However, theory states that if we can increase production in other, more water-rich regions, we can “ship” water to other parts of the world in the form of ASF. Thus, the balance of water between dry and wet areas can be averaged.
Animals can serve as a vital part of supplying necessary nutrients to a growing population, and it’s up to me and my generation of farmers, ranchers, and researchers to figure out the best way to get it done.