Livestock decrease overall crop availability, putting upward pressure on global food staples.How Meat Increases Food PricesSupply LimitsMeat As Food WasteReduced Food Supply = Higher PricesApple Example
How Meat Increases Food Prices
Crop supply, whether abundant or deficient, affects food prices and availability.
Agricultural supply-and-demand is a complicated process with many political and socioeconomic variables, but the basic supply-and-demand concept is instructive.
When crop supplies are low relative to demand (as when demand for meat increases and there are more animals consuming more calories than they produce), it puts upward pressure on global food prices.
Conversely, when crop supplies are high relative to demand (as when demand for meat falls and more crops are available for direct human consumption), it puts downward pressure on food prices.
The degree to which hunger is related to purchase power and income (as in urban areas), lower food prices are an obvious benefit that increases food access and decreases hunger. The impact in farming communities is more complicated as the benefits of increased purchase power may be offset by lower income.
If markets are perfectly elastic and increased demand for crops for livestock feed is easily met by increasing supply, the impact of demand (and crop competition) are not as great.
Optimists may point to the ability to ‘just’ grow more food, but consider that there are multiple and intensifying pressures on the food system.
Food security is at grave risk given increasing population, pollution, climate change, and natural disasters combined with decreasing arable land, potable water, and energy.
Plant-based diets conserve natural resources and mitigate climate change with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduced deforestation.
Meat as Food Waste
Another way to consider the issue is through the lens of food waste. If food supply was unlimited and conserving resources didn’t matter, then food waste wouldn’t matter.
The degree to which it’s meaningful to not waste food because food supply matters, it’s meaningful to not waste crops by inefficiently cycling them through livestock because it impacts global crop supply to a far greater degree.
Reduced Food Supply = Higher Prices
As the supply of food tightens, decreasing supply relative to demand… prices increase and fewer people can afford the basic food staples needed for survival.
When food is exported from a poor region… their local supply of food decreases, which can lead to higher food prices and more deaths from hunger and hunger-related causes.
On a global scale, when staple foods (grains, soy, corn, etc) are used as animal feed to produce resource-heavy animal-based foods, the global food supply is lower relative to demand and food prices are higher than many can afford.
Here’s an easy illustration of how supply and demand impacts the price of something familiar: purchasing apples.
If 20 people want to buy an apple and have $1 to spend, and there are 20 apples on sale for $1 each, then it works out perfectly – supply and demand are in balance.
But if the apple farmer only has 10 apples to sell to 20 people, then he can raise the price to $1.50. He can still sell all his apples to those willing/able to pay the higher price, but some people are left out and potentially left hungry.
To make this example more analogous, consider that the apple farmer is also a pig farmer and feeds most of his apples to his pigs. Because the pigs increase demand for the apples, thereby decreasing available supply, pig farming raises the prices of apples (or other crops) that could feed more people directly and at less cost. Those who can not afford to pay the higher prices, are left without food so that other (wealthier) people can eat meat later.
On the other hand, if the farmer stopped rearing pigs, then he would have more apples to sell to people.
The farmer could then have 100 apples to feed 20 people. The prices could go down to 50-cents* so that more people could afford apples and individuals could afford to buy more than one.
This example could be for wheat, soy, legumes, and all kinds of food beyond typical feed crops.
In short, all else being equal, feeding people directly allows for a greater supply of food at lower costs.
*Note: this example is for illustrative purposes only. It may not seem like a good business decision as stated here, but the actual income and expenses would be different. For example, crops for direct human consumption are less costly to produce since they are not as labor-intensive and don’t require massive amounts of animal feed, slaughter processes, animal waste clean-up, etc.