Global Hunger and The Broken Global Food System
In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have reached 821 million. That’s around one in every nine people in the world regularly not getting enough food to eat. And the hunger problem doesn’t just affect the developing world. In the UK, more than 8 million people are living in food poverty1 and it’s estimated that in England, 870,000 children may be going to bed hungry each night2.
Meanwhile, roughly 60 billion land animals and over a trillion marine animals are killed for food every year.3 Many of these land animals spend their entire lives indoors and many suffer terrible cruelty before being slaughtered well before the end of their natural lives.
Our broken food systems means that one-third of the world’s grain is fed to farmed animals4 when the land, water and other resources used to grow this animal feed could be used to grow crops for direct human consumption.
This is what happens when our food system is controlled by global corporations who try to answer the question “how can we make the most money?” rather than the right question “how can we feed a growing population a healthy diet with the least impact on the environment?”.
Impact of Animal Agriculture on Climate Change
Recent estimates are that animal agriculture causes between 6% and 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions5. The lower estimate of 6% considers only direct emissions from animals and manure6. The higher estimate of 18% includes full Life Cycle Analysis of the energy used and the effect of land use change (for example, former pastures become woodlands if left to progress naturally).7
The animal agricultural industry has attempted to reduce its emissions, but a recent review of 139 publications estimated that even by improving the quality of the animal’s food, supplementing fatty acid into their diet, providing them with better grazing and improving manure management, the emissions from animal agriculture could only be reduced by a maximum of 30%.8 There’s obviously a much simpler, kinder and more compassionate way of reducing animal agriculture emissions and that is to eat a vegan diet. The more people who move to a vegan diet, the greater our chances of avoiding serious and irreversible climate change. Of course, being vegan is about much more than just what we eat, but because animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to animal cruelty and wastes the Earth’s natural resources, it’s a good place to start.
1 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, 2018. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018. Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition [online]. Rome, FAO.
2 Pasha-Robinson, L., 2018. 500,000 children go to school on an empty stomach daily. The Independent [online], 28 November 2017. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/helpahungrychild/food-poverty-future-help-a-hungry-child-waste-stop-felix-project-food-insecurity-a8074366.html [Accessed 21 March 2019]
3 The Vegan Society, 2015. Compassion for animals [online]. Birmingham: The Vegan Society. Available from: https://www.vegansociety.com/sites/default/files/CompassionForAnimals.pdf [Accessed 21 March 2019]
4 Rifkin, J., 2007. Feed the World. Bristol: Viva! Available from: https://www.viva.org.uk/feed-world [Accessed 21 March 2019]
5 Caro, D., 2019. Greenhouse Gas and Livestock Emissions and Climate Change. Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainability [online], 1, 228-232.
6Calculation of 2016 emissions by Julian Wilkinson using Gütschow, J., Jeffery, L. and Gieseke, R., 2019. The PRIMAP-hist national historical emissions time series v2.0 (1850-2016) [online]. Potsdam: GFZ Data Services. Available from: https://doi.org/10.5880/PIK.2019.001 [Accessed 25 January 2019].
7 Leip, A., Weiss, F., Wassenaar, T., Perez, I., Fellmann, T., Loudjani, P., … and Biala, K., 2010. Evaluation of the livestock sector’s contribution to the EU greenhouse gas emissions (GGELS) – final report. Brussels: European Commission, Joint Research Centre.
8Nayak, D., Saetnan, E., Cheng, K., Wang, W., Koslowski, F., Cheng, Y-F., … and Smith, P., 2015. Management opportunities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from Chinese agriculture. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment [online], 209, 108-124.