email a friend iconprinter friendly iconSpecial Report
Page [ 5 ] of 13

That's good news for the average pork-loving Chinese—who still eats only about 40 percent as much meat as consumers in the U.S. But it's worrisome for the world's grain supplies. It's no coincidence that as countries like China and India prosper and their people move up the food ladder, demand for grain has increased. For as tasty as that sweet-and-sour pork may be, eating meat is an incredibly inefficient way to feed oneself. It takes up to five times more grain to get the equivalent amount of calories from eating pork as from simply eating grain itself—ten times if we're talking about grain-fattened U.S. beef. As more grain has been diverted to livestock and to the production of biofuels for cars, annual worldwide consumption of grain has risen from 815 million metric tons in 1960 to 2.16 billion in 2008. Since 2005, the mad rush to biofuels alone has pushed grain-consumption growth from about 20 million tons annually to 50 million tons, according to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute.

Even China, the second largest corn-growing nation on the planet, can't grow enough grain to feed all its pigs. Most of the shortfall is made up with imported soybeans from the U.S. or Brazil, one of the few countries with the potential to expand its cropland—often by plowing up rain forest. Increasing demand for food, feed, and bio­fuels has been a major driver of deforestation in the tropics. Between 1980 and 2000 more than half of new cropland acreage in the tropics was carved out of intact rain forests; Brazil alone increased its soybean acreage in Amazonia 10 percent a year from 1990 to 2005.

Some of those Brazilian soybeans may end up in the troughs of Guangzhou Lizhi Farms, the largest CAFO in Guangdong Province. Tucked into a green valley just off a four-lane highway that's still being built, some 60 white hog houses are scattered around large ponds, part of the waste-treatment system for 100,000 hogs. The city of Guangzhou is also building a brand-new meatpacking plant that will slaughter 5,000 head a day. By the time China has 1.5 billion people, sometime in the next 20 years, some experts predict they'll need another 200 million hogs just to keep up. And that's just China. World meat consumption is expected to double by 2050. That means we're going to need a whole lot more grain.

This isn't the first time the world has stood at the brink of a food crisis—it's only the most recent iteration. At 83, Gurcharan Singh Kalkat has lived long enough to remember one of the worst famines of the 20th century. In 1943 as many as four million people died in the "Malthusian correction" known as the Bengal Famine. For the following two decades, India had to import millions of tons of grain to feed its people.

Page [ 5 ] of 13
- ADVERTISEMENT -