From the Guardian, a review of a book called Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie. In it, Fairlie argues that meat production isn’t actually that inefficient when done properly and veganism as an ethical response leaves something to be desired.
But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we’ve been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.
If pigs are fed on residues and waste, and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands — food for which humans don’t compete — meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it’s a significant net gain.