World Hunger and Rising Demand for Meat-and Water


        By Dr. Michael W. Fox

With rising incomes in developing countries, consumer demand for more meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products is accelerating, as is the proliferation of factory farms or confined animal feeding operation (CAFOs).In their timely review article on the role of the veterinary profession in meeting present and future global food demands, Dr. Alan M. Kelly et al ( See Kelly AM et al. One health, food security and veterinary medicine. JAVMA 242: 739-743, 2013) highlight some disturbing facts and trends, notably: A US government-sponsored $3.5 billion global hunger and food security initiative—the USAID Feed the Future program— does not have one veterinarian in a permanent staff position; population trends mean 1 million additional infants every week for the next 40 years will need food; approximately 1 billion people currently suffer from chronic hunger and 17,000 rural and urban children die of hunger every day; one third of total world food production is lost or wasted during processing, marketing and consumption steps; a rising middle class is driving the Livestock Revolution and proliferation of intensive systems of production (CAFOs); where livestock are raised by the poor, there are 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths from zoonotic diseases transmitted from the animals.

Without more enlightened dietary choices for the rising middle class in developing countries, the proliferation of CAFOs and upsurge in consumption of animal produce and highly processed foods will mean a rising incidence of so-called Western diet-related diseases, and also of food-born illnesses and zoonotic diseases without costly oversight and correctives.

The emphasis, until recently, of employing veterinary science, vaccines and pharmaceuticals to primarily to boost livestock productivity in the developed world is now being adopted in developing countries with potentially catastrophic public health, animal health and welfare and environmental consequences. Such developments will mean economic triage for the poor, further marginalized by a rising middle class demanding more meat, eggs and dairy products and the natural resources needed to meet these market demands.


A looming worldwide water shortage may force us all to become vegetarians by 2050, according to a new study ( Jägerskog, A., Jønch Clausen, T. (eds.) 2012. Feeding a Thirsty World – Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future. Report Nr. 31. SIWI, Stockholm.). The world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages. Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to this report. “There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations,” this report by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) asserts. A meat-based diet consumes five to ten times more water than a largely vegetarian diet, and with one-third of the world’s arable cropland already used to grow feed for animals, the world simply doesn’t have enough resources to continue that trend for the two billion or so new mouths expected to be needing food by 2050.

In entering the complex global industrial food production system to endeavor to improve the health, productivity and welfare of farmed animals, the veterinary and allied professions are on the horns of ecologist Garrett Hardin’s altruistic dilemma. ( See Hardin G. The Limits of Altruism: An Ecologist’s View of Survival. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977).

The road to hell is paved with good intentions especially when the hidden costs or ‘externalities’ of intensified food animal production and their long-term consequences cause greater harm than good, especially to the rural poor, landless and disenfranchised indigenous people, and to environmental quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Be it misguided altruism, or pecuniary interests as some critics see it, that drives Bill Gates and his ‘philanthropic’ Foundation to promote and fund mass vaccination schemes and high-input genetically engineered (GMO) crops, the fact remains that where there is no vision, the people shall perish.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than 165 million children, a quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide, are stunted physically and immunologically and mentally impaired because of pre-and postnatal malnutrition. According to this 2013 UN report, 61.7 million, or 48% of all children in India are stunted. Ironically, India is now leads the U.S. and Argentina as the world’s leading exporter of beef (from buffalo).

It is indeed a tragedy that animals must suffer the consequences of our increasing numbers and appetites. But with a clearer and practical vision of one health, all involved could indeed help serve the greater good for generations to come if short-term profits are not the driving force, and those with the money make more enlightened dietary choices.

Additional References

Tegtmeier, EM and Duffy, ME 2004 External costs of agricultural production in the United States. International Journal of Agriculture Sustainability 2(1):2-20.

National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, Putting Meat on the Table; at

. CDC, Overweight and Obesity Data and Statistics; at

. FAO, More people than ever are victims of hunger (2009); at Press%20release%20june-en.pdf.