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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

The food "waste" that no-one is talking about...

When you think of food waste - you are probably thinking of the food that you (or someone else) throw out. It could be leftovers at home or a restaurant or un-sold food from shops or events - or even waste from food production. But here, we are talking about the food fed to livestock...

crowded cows grazing in a dusty field

Ok - so it may not be what you would traditionally call "waste".

Just to caveat and avoid upsetting some, I'm referring primarily to "industrial" animal agriculture here - so the farms with massive quantities of animals in a relatively small space. You don't generally see these - apart from in undercover documentaries or journalism but they do exist all over the world - even here in the UK. Chances are, your supermarket meat is from one of these farms!

Studies suggest that the vast majority of meat and poultry (globally c.95%+) is mass-produced in this way.

Farms with fewer animals spread out over a larger space will need less feed generally as the animals feed off the land - although even then they will often have supplementary food. For example, over winter when indoors during periods of bad weather or just to speed up growth to get to slaughter weight. But either way, they are causing less of a problem in this particular issue versus industrial scale farms.

Why is feeding animals food significant though?

Well, obviously animals need food and when there are lots of animals in a small enclosed space (indoor or outdoor) - they can't find enough food or water for themselves (or because there just isn't any) so they need to be fed. They are often fed 'waste' (or food not fit for human consumption) from human activities however there is simply not enough of this. The result is that food is specifically grown for animal feed and it may surprise you to learn just how much.

Almost as much land is used to grow crops for animals as it is for humans.

Around 43% of all land used to grow food is actually used to grow animal feed. This is over and above the land used to actually keep the animals - which is nearly 3 times as much land as is used to grow food (for humans and animals combined). That's a lot of land...!

Our world in data chart showing global land use for agriculture

In fact, and perhaps unsurprisingly, agriculture as a sector is the biggest single use of land globally. Only 29% of the earths surface is land at all - and of that a decent chunk is made up of glaciers and barren land (deserts, slat flats, rocks etc). Of the remaining "habitable" land, over half of it is used for agriculture.

The last three sections on the chart below are where it really gets interesting though. Of that land used for agriculture - 77% of it is used for meat and dairy production, despite only accounting for 18% of our calories and 37% of our protein intake.

Our world in data chart showing global land use for food production

You may be thinking - that's OK because all of that is then turned into calories that we eat via the meat and dairy produced from the animals. This is where we have the "waste" referred to at the start. Animals obviously consume calories to live, and take a long time to grow to the required weight before slaughter so actually over 90% of the calories fed to them in feed are effectively "lost".

If there was ever a compelling argument to reduce our meat and dairy consumption - surely this is it?

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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