"The American fast-food diet and the meat-eating habits of the wealthy around the world support a world food system that diverts food resources from the hungry."
~Dr. Waldo Bello, executive director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy

There are more than 840 million people in the world struggling for food and going hungry right now. The World Health Organisation calls malnutrition "the silent emergency", and says it is a factor in at least half the 10.4 million child deaths which occur every year.

The problem

There is more than enough food being produced to feed everyone in the world twice over. The problem is, our meat-based diet means that land, water, and other resources that could be used to grow food for human beings are being used to grow crops for farmed animals instead. According to a report by Compassion in World Farming, "Currently, one third of the world's cereal crop goes to feed the 60 billion farm animals reared every year to produce meat, eggs and dairy products - the majority of them on factory farms."

People in developing countries starve next to fields of food destined for export to more affluent countries, to be used to feed livestock. While millions die, one third of the world's grain production is fed to farmed animals in developed countries. In order to meet the huge demand for meat and dairy, billions of animals are kept in confinement on factory farms, in cramped, filthy conditions. Not allowed to feed outdoors naturally, they are fed grain, soya, oil seeds, and fish meal. The high quality land used to grow soy to feed animals could be used instead to grow crops for human consumption.

In 1984, when thousands of Ethiopians were dying weekly from famine, their rulers continued growing and shipping millions of dollars worth of livestock grains to the UK and other European nations. The growing consumption of meat, poultry and dairy products has created an explosion in livestock populations worldwide. In fact, livestock now outnumbers humans by almost three to one. In the last 40 years, the number of cattle has doubled and the fowl population has trebled.

The meat and dairy industry is also putting a huge strain on our water supply. It was stated during World Water Week that the growth in demand for meat and dairy products is unsustainable. Animals need much more water than grain to produce the same amount of food, and ending malnutrition and feeding even more mouths will take still more water.

"Starvation does not occur because of a world food shortage. If everyone ate a vegetarian diet, or better still, a vegan diet there would be enough food for everyone. The only sane way forward is to grow food for humans rather than to feed it to farmed animals." ~Jeremy Rifkin

The solution

When world leaders met at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization summit in Rome, they vowed to halve global hunger by 2015 and discussed strategies to boost agricultural production, which must be doubled by 2030 to meet rising demands. But no one proposed a convincing way to alleviate world hunger.

Dr. Walt Willett, professor of medicine at Harvard University and author of Eat, Drink and Weigh Less, offers this simple solution: "If we changed the way we ate, modifying what we eat, we could practically end the global food crisis, since eating more crops and much less red meat would free up resources to feed the world."

It would take just 40 million tons of food to eliminate the most extreme cases of world hunger. Yet a staggering 760 million tons of grain will be used to feed farmed animals this year (compared to 100 million tons used to produce fuel). The demand for meat is rising continually and has been especially dramatic in developing countries. "China's meat consumption is increasing rapidly with income growth and urbanization, and it has more than doubled in the past generation," says Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. As a result, land once used to provide grains for humans now provides feed for chickens and pigs.

It may seem fantastical to the average person that reducing their individual meat intake could have an impact on such a huge global problem as world famine but changing the way we eat really can make a difference. According to the aid group Vegfam, a ten-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, ten people growing corn and only two people producing cattle. Reducing meat production by just ten percent in the U.S. would free enough grain to feed 60 million people, estimates Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer. Sixty million people - that's the population of Great Britain, which, by the way, could support 250 million people on an all-vegetable diet.


  • It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh, making meat consumption a very inefficient use of grain.
  • About 20 percent of the world's population, or 1.4 billion people, could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone.
  • If everyone on Earth received 25 percent of his or her calories from animal products, only 3.2 billion people could be nourished.
  • Because the industrial world is exporting grain to developing countries and importing the meat that is produced with it, farmers who are trying to feed themselves are being driven off their land.
  • In the US, 64% of cropland produces feed for animals, while only 2% grows fruit and vegetables.
  • It takes about 300 gallons of water per day to produce food for a vegan, and more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a meat-eater.
  • You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year.
  • Food for a vegan can be produced on only 1/6 of an acre of land, while it takes 3 1/4 acres of land to produce food for a meat-eater.


Livestock farming uses up agricultural land, water and other resources that could far more efficiently be utilised for growing food for people to eat directly. Quite simply, the world needs to change its consumption patterns if it has any realistic hope of feeding itself and the most sustainable way of doing that is for people to adopt a vegan diet.


viva.org.uk/feed-the-world news.bbc.co.uk