' LEADING water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages'
This issue, like any systemic issue has many facets. I for one can no longer condone ruminant animal production practices (i.e., mainly cattle) that create biological inefficiencies of the sort associated with feeding concentrates and other human edible food to animals. In San Francisco recently it was good to see many restaurants advertising on their menus that animal products were grass fed (which is what ruminants evolved to do - convert grass). Australia should abandon all feedlot operations that have come to be developed around the spurious notion that rumen biological efficieny is the driving factor in production system development. As The Age article notes:
'Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in a climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One-third of the world's arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals.'
Strict vegetarianism is probably not for everyone; an intermediate step could involve all, or some, of the following:
- reduce animal production that is dependent either directly or indirectly on irrigated production systems;
- reduce embodied-in-global-trade water exports in terms of crops used to feed animals - as is typical of much of European agriculture - this could return more water to enviromental flows and protect areas in Brasil and Argentina from over exploitation and biodiversity loss;
'I believe the best options for our health as well as our planet are red meats and dairy products from mainly grass and forage-led ruminat animals such as cows and sheep'.
Andrew Campbell in a series of articles points to the potential for systemic failure arising from Australia not continuing to invest in irrigation research for food production. I support fully his claims that:
'... the proposal that we simply shift our irrigated agriculture north “to where the water is” does not stand up to even a cursory analysis. Similarly, the suggestion we can cost-effectively pipe or pump or ship the water south “to where the people are” ignores basic physics and economics.'
However, I was not sure that he made the point strongly enough that water must be used for maximum biological as well as social efficiency - so no more irrigated dairy pastures or forage for feedlots and more opportunistic annual cropping please.