A few years back, the Secretary of the International Farm Management Association (IFMA) announced that if the world’s population consumed food in the same manner as the citizens of the U.S., we would need 6 planet earths to keep up with demand. Now we know that the traditional diet of hamburgers, steaks and all-you-can-eat buffets across America’s heartland is slowly being diversified by a growing number of eating options, many far greener, i.e. Salad Works.  But as the planet’s population explodes (expected to grow by 29 percent from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion over the next 30 years) and the rising middle class of India, China and other Asian countries begins to eat more protein-rich diets, are we heading towards a critical tipping point in world food production?

“Cattle,” Amanda Salm© 2007

According to a recent article in the Economist, there are more than 20 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep on the planet today. They consume a third of the world’s crops and a huge amount of water. It takes ten times the amount of water to produce a kilo of beef than a kilo of wheat.

For many of us involved in the water and wastewater industry, we are keenly aware of the water scarcity issues that Texas, California, and much of the world has experienced over the last few years.

Genetically modifying crops to require less water and utilizing data-intensive farming techniques to monitor water and fertilizer use is helping to improve agricultural yields of feed crops like soy beans. Water reuse methods for converting wastewater back to indirect or direct potable water to irrigate in water scarce areas are also catching on.

But it’s hard to see how simply solving meat production shortages is going to solve our issues. At some stage, demand is going to have to lessen. In our diet-conscious world, encouraging consumers to order a steak salad rather than a 20 oz prime rib with a garnish of salad on the side is only going to be effective if the price of protein rises to a level where it is no longer so affordable.