Returning to the UK last year after two years of living in Nepal, I wrote that one of the things that had the greatest impact upon me during my time there was the relationship between people and the land. In the west that relationship appears somewhat tenuous with food increasingly being seen as just another consumer good. In a food system increasingly driven by the logic of the market, there is an increasing belief that food has to be cheap, regardless of its intrinsic value.
“The system has broken the bond between the people who produce food and the people who eat it, leading to a decreased sense of mutual responsibility; the dwindling of a vital store of knowledge; and the impossibility for consumers to access information”. [Source: Slow Europe]
The fact that a Dutch scientist has been paid to develop a burger from stem cells extracted from cow muscle tissue which are cultured with growth-promoting chemicals to help them develop and multiply suggests yet another break in the bond between those who produce food, and those who eat it…
The dilemma is best summed up by John Vidal. “The two visions of feeding the world could not have been more different. The laboratory burger served up in London by scientists proposes patented, heavily processed food that has been developed at a phenomenal cost in hi-tech laboratories and is shipped to the world’s poorest people to keep them alive. The other proposes that agriculture reconnects itself with small farmers and once again becomes a way for countries to develop and to offer better lives for their populations”.
What appears clear is that over the next 40 or so years the demand for livestock products will continue to grow, and it will become increasingly challenging to meet that demand. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 9.15 billion people to feed, 1.3 times as many as in 2010. Much of the new population will be urban, and based on estimates published in 2006, the expanded population is expected to consume almost twice as much animal protein as today. This, in turn, would drive up the prices of livestock products and threaten food access by the poor.
[Source:- FAO, "World Livestock 2011: Livestock in food security"]
But before we start to create new ‘solutions’ perhaps we should take a look at the waste that exists in food systems. Natural resources are not always converted efficiently into meat, milk or eggs, and a great deal of the food currently produced does not reach the plate. Improving efficiency and minimizing waste could go a long way towards meeting increased demand.…or you could become vegetarian ;-)