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Food vs Feed - Is Our Way of Farming Sustainable?

Updated: Nov 6, 2019

Sustainable agriculture is farming in sustainable ways, which means meeting society's food and textile present needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It can be based on an understanding of ecosystem services (ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems. Such ecosystems include, for example, agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems.) -

Credit of the United Soybean Board

In the world we live in today, the reality is a different one. Not all cropland is used for producing food directly for people; there will be 2 Billion more looking to bring food to the table by 2050. The key to sustainable agriculture is finding the right balance between the need for food production and the preservation of environmental ecosystems.

Traditional farming typically deteriorates the soil; the products contain substances used to protect plants against pests including herbicides to kill weeds, fungicides to get rid of diseases and insecticides to kill bugs. Animals get treated on a regular basis with chemical products to prevent diseases and in many cases growth hormones are administered to speed up meat-production for the market. Soils are becoming severely degraded due to a combination of intensive farming practices and the results of climate change. As the layer of fertile topsoil thins, it gets increasingly difficult to grow crops for food. Therefore sustainable agriculture is a MUST.

“Erosion, compaction, nutrient imbalance, pollution, acidification, water logging, loss of soil biodiversity and increasing salinity have been affecting soil across the globe, reducing its ability to support plant life and so grow crops. In addition; for example in the US more than half the grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans," David Pimentel, Professor of Ecology in Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences stated already in August 1997.

So what has changed over 20 years later? Not much...

Besides, it is startling how little animal welfare factors into these strategic and investment decisions. For more information visit

But that is a subject for another blog!

This is where your food is coming from: pig production sow stalls.

Cattle production for beef

The conversion of crops to meat is not particularly efficient - in the case of cattle, for example, approximately 25 kg of feed are needed to grow a kg of beef. In addition meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables; to produce 1 kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water whereas to produce 1 kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water.

So as global demand for meat rises, cropland ‘devoted’ to growing animal feed will have to increase proportionately.

Most certainly that will lead to an environmental disaster: intensive animal farming contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, also the leaching of nitrate and phosphate into water bodies causing eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to run-off from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life, eg. algae).

Soil erosion on millet farm in NSW/Australia

Organic farming - adding wildflowers with food for pollinators

Without altering agricultural practices and urgently finding ways to preserve soil and educating consumers about those problems {so they perhaps alter their attitude toward “food” as they know it}, the global food supply starts to look very uncertain - and that is not even taking into account the effects of climate change in the years to come, eg. droughts, wildfires, heatwaves, rising temperatures.

A Greenpeace statement sums it up!

Meat is an important part of heritage and identity. It’s a cultural staple in many communities across the globe. But with a rising global middle class, societies are becoming meat obsessed. Nowhere else is this more prevalent than rich nations whose appetite for beef, pork and processed chicken have reached a tipping point. The research is clear — a diet heavy in meat increases the risk of obesity, cancer and heart disease.
But it also makes the planet sick.
The livestock sector — raising cows, pigs and chickens — generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the cars, trucks and automobiles combined. Cattle ranchers have clear cut millions of square kilometers of forests for grazing pastures, decimating natural “carbon sinks.”
What You Can Do?
Commit to reducing your meat and dairy consumption by a few meals per week and tell five friends about your choice to find alternative proteins.
Make fresh fruits and vegetables a bigger part of your diet.
Buy sustainable or organic fresh produce whenever possible.

So what do you think - dear reader - isn’t it worth a thought changing the diet to keep our precious earth habitable for future generations?



Cornell University Chronicle, Aug 1997 (viewed 5.11.2019)

Greenpeace (viewed 5.11.2019)

Science on a Sphere - NOAA (viewed 5.11.2019)


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