The American system of farming grain-fed livestock consumes resources far out of proportion to the yield, accelerates soil erosion, affects world food supply and will be changing in the future.
"If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million." David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, reported at the July 24-26 meeting of the Canadian Society of Animal Science in Montreal.
The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population.
With only grass-fed livestock, individual Americans would still get more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of meat and dairy protein according to Pimentel's report, "Livestock Production: Energy Inputs and the Environment."
Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein.
Chicken meat production consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output; beef cattle production requires an energy input to protein output ratio of 54:1. Lamb meat production is nearly as inefficient at 50:1, according to the ecologist's analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Other ratios range from 13:1 for turkey meat and 14:1 for milk protein to 17:1 for pork and 26:1 for eggs.
Animal agriculture is a leading consumer of water resources in the United States. Grain-fed beef production takes 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food. Raising broiler chickens takes 3,500 liters of water to make a kilogram of meat. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters for kilogram of food produced; rice, 1,912; wheat, 900; and potatoes, 500 liters. Water shortages already are severe in the Western and Southern United States and the situation is quickly becoming worse because of a rapidly growing U.S. population that requires more water for all of its needs, especially agriculture.
Livestock are directly or indirectly responsible for much of the soil erosion in the United States, the ecologist determined. On lands where feed grain is produced, soil loss averages 13 tons per hectare per year. Pasture lands are eroding at a slower pace, at an average of 6 tons per hectare per year. But erosion may exceed 100 tons on severely overgrazed pastures, and 54 percent of U.S. pasture land is being overgrazed. More than 302 million hectares of land are devoted to producing feed for the U.S. livestock population -- about 272 million hectares in pasture and about 30 million hectares for cultivated feed grains.
"More than half the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans," Pimentel said. "Although grain production is increasing in total, the per capita supply has been decreasing for more than a decade. Clearly, there is reason for concern in the future."
The capitalist food industry spends more than $10 billion a year trying to convince people to continue eating unhealthily. Between 2014 and 2016, Kraft Heinz's net income fell by an astounding 24 percent. In response, they have launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in response to "prolonged negative perceptions" about the health risk associated with its products. A recent study found that 80 percent of parents questioned were concerned about the health of their children. Kraft wants parents to know that striving for perfection is overrated. Kraft tripled its advertising expenditures (between 2014 and 2016), spending upwards of $700 million in some years.
Between 2009 and 2012, fast-food advertising expenditures in the US as a whole increased by 8 percent, reaching an eye-watering $4.6 billion in 2012.
That year, McDonalds alone spent more on advertising than all fruit and vegetable producers did, combined.
But fast food only accounts for about a third of net advertising. The total advertising bill in 2002 was a staggering $12.7 billion -- most of which promoted fast food, processed snacks, and soft drinks. This level of spending made possible an exposure rate of 10 food ads per hour of TV watched in 2002. By 2009, that figure had increased to 12.7 per hour.
Cheese is the number one source of saturated fat in the Standard American Diet (SAD), and Americans are already eating more thantwice the daily recommended amount. Egg, the key ingredient in mayonnaise, is the most concentrated source of cholesterol in the SAD, and as of 2015, 71 million Americans had high cholesterol. Lifestyle advertising has encouraged the proliferation of lifestyle diseases.
Advertising is a bulwark against such crises of over-accumulation. It keeps demand for overproduced commodities high enough to keep the food system solvent, quarter to quarter. Capitalism and the requirement for the food industry to make and accumulate profits is the main culprit in why our diets are neither healthy for ourselves or for the environment.
Socialists do not promote a meatless diet. We do not advocate veganism or vegetarianism. However, we do argue for a sustainable system of food production and rational planning for farming. This would involve less meat-eating than at present in Western societies and a switch in the sorts of meat we eat.