Secret report: America's diet puts the world on a 'potentially catastrophic' path
With that increasing abundance, however, comes a dangerous appetite for meat.The world's population is expected to soar to 9.6 billion by 2050, and food production will have to increase by 70% worldwide and by 100% in developing countries to keep up.
That's according to a recent post at Reveal by journalist Nathan Halverson, who quotes a variety of positions that Nestlé - the biggest food and beverage company on Earth - allegedly told representatives of the US Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, sometime before April 2009.
'Dangerously squeezed'Reveal's post is part of a larger investigation into increasing water scarcity, which many experts are becoming increasingly concerned about, as Tech Insider has reported.
Here's the full passage from the diplomatic cable on WikiLeaks:
The cable - sent to various US agencies and the Secretary of State (who was Hillary Clinton at the time) - extensively quotes Herbert Oberhaensli, who's currently Nestlé's part-time assistant to the company's chairman on economic matters, according to LinkedIn.Oberhaensli allegedly told US officials that the world would have run out of water at the beginning of the 21st century if everyone ate like Americans:
[Nestle]'s senior managers rarely miss an opportunity to point out the dangers of present water trends to public audiences at international gatherings, most recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Nestle starts by pointing out that a calorie of meat requires 10 times as much water to produce as a calorie of food crops. As the world's growing middle classes eat more meat, the earth's water resources will be dangerously squeezed.
Oberhaensli said that Nestle estimates that the current US diet provides about 3600 calories per day with substantial meat consumption. If the whole world were to move to this standard, global fresh water resources would be exhausted at a population level of 6 billion, which the world reached in the year 2000. There is not nearly enough fresh water available to provide this standard to a global population expected to exceed 9 billion by mid-century.
The cables goes on to highlight problematic regions in the US and abroad:
Nestle has studied water use in crop growing and concluded that the main reason crops are grown in many dry regions is subsidies and mis-pricing of water. Growing a calorie of food crops in a hot dry climate such as California requires much more water than elsewhere. Current water withdrawals in some areas of the world are already un-sustainable. The water table is dropping precipitously in the Western US and in northern India. In both areas, users are withdrawing more water than can be replenished and rising salinity is reducing the productivity of plants.
The cable summarizes Nestlé's alleged position with a worrisome timeline, stating that the company "thinks one-third of the world's population will be affected by fresh water scarcity by 2025, with the situation only becoming more dire thereafter and potentially catastrophic by 2050."Tech Insider contacted Nestlé for details on its current positions on water scarcity and meat consumption, but the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
How you can help save the planet
Whether or not Nestlé maintains these positions today, the world is indeed heavily stressed by water and meat consumption.
Drought conditions and dwindling access to fresh water are rippling across the US and the world. Climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high. Sea-level rise looks increasingly frightening. And food shortages are looming.But you need land and water to harvest food - and unfortunately, both of these resources are heavily stressed. (Again, food production has to increase 70% worldwide and by 100% in developing countries to keep up with population growth.)
All of these ideas are great. But by far, the most important thing you can do is shockingly simple: You can cut back on meat or, better yet, stop eating it altogether.Support for this advice seems to grow by the day.
A 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggests the meat industry soaks up more than 8% of water used by humans globally. And Vice reports that more than 1,800 gallons of water is behind every pound of meat.The livestock sector is suggested to be the largest source of water pollution across the globe. Animal waste, antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers, pesticides used on feed crops, bacteria, viruses, and sediments from eroded land wash into our waterways, sometimes leaching into drinking water supplies.And this is all not to mention the meat industry's impact on global warming. The livestock sector as a whole is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than the emissions of the entire global transportation sector.
Farm animal emissions of methane alone - a greenhouse gas that is capable of warming the planet tens, hundreds, or possibly thousands of times more efficiently than carbon dioxide - accounts for a whopping 37% of methane originating from human activities.
Livestock pastures and the crop fields used to feed them also take up a staggering 70% of farmland, according to FAO, and a whopping 30% of land surfaces across the entire globe.
As the population and demand for food grows, global production of meat is expected to double, from 229 million metric tons produced from the year 2000 to 465 million metric tons by the year 2050, according to FAO.
Studies have shown that adopting a vegetarian lifestyle can not only cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by more than two-thirds, but can also avert five to eight million deaths worldwide every year by 2050 (largely due to a projected decline in obesity).This isn't to say that everyone should give up meat. Animal products provide many essential vitamins, nutrients, and fats - especially for developing children and pregnant women.
But if you're otherwise healthy and can do without meat, even if it means just cutting your consumption down by half or three-quarters - not entirely - you can help make yourself and the planet healthier.