Animal Feed vs. Human Food: Challenges and Opportunities in Sustaining Animal Production Towards 2050

by Olalekan Abdulsalami on 06 Jul 2019 • 0 comments
4 min read

The graph below shows the rate of meat consumption going from 1980 to an estimated rate in 2050. It is obvious that by 2050, we will need more meat, more pork and more chicken. But, we face a difficult challenge because as our population increases, we have proportionally less arable land per person meaning that to produce meat, pork, chicken, etc. as food for man and feed for animals, we will have to compete for the available arable land. 

In November 2011, the global human population passed a significant milestone, reaching seven billion people. By the year 2050, the Population Division of the United Nations (2011) predicts that the planet will support more than nine billion people and the population will exceed 10 billion by the year 2100. Thus, the demand for food, fuel, and fiber will increase by 60%. It is only logical, that we have the capacity to feed all 9 billion by 2050. 

Considering the rate of human population growth, it is believed that competition will arise between feed and food. Feed which just means food for animals that is, food grown or developed only for livestock and poultry. Modern feeds are produced to provide highly nutritional diets that both maintain the health of the animals and increase the quality of end products such as meat, milk, or eggs. so if we need to feed everyone, we also need to improve efficiency and productivity in animal agriculture towards 2050 because true competition results not between animals and humans but among the human populations.

More people on the planet, mean more bodies to clothe and more fuel to produce. We need more fuel to transport additional goods, services, and lifestyle choices. With the growth in population also comes more affluence. More affluence equals higher incomes. Higher incomes grow consumer demand for animal source foods such as milk, meat, and eggs. As these same countries become more affluent, their current cereal grain-based diet will gradually transform to a more concentrated protein diet.

Over the years,  we’ve seen animal rights, environmental, and health advocates begin the fight against animal agriculture. A typical example can be seen in the northern part of Nigeria, where the government is trying to establish cattle settlements in all the states but this is widely opposed by the citizens. There is a suggestion that we should take all the land used in raising animals to grow fruits, cereals, and grains instead, so as to be able to combat world hunger and also, a  belief that we focus on feeding these animals when 1 out of 4 children in developing countries is chronically hungry. 

There is also a caption that “On any patch of land, if you can grow grass, then you can grow corn”. This is simply untrue. We have certain areas of the world ideally suited for growing corn, grapes, mangoes and we have other vast areas of pasture land where the best use for that land is to raise animals because we simply can’t raise human food on it. 

Consumers need to highlight the fact that cereal grain plants yield straw after the seed is removed. Maize used to produce ethanol or corn syrup has a stalk that gets turned into silage. Even citrus crops that are squeezed for juice yield pulp which is fed to livestock. Soy, peas, and beans are harvested for human consumption and the vines have a secondary use as animal feed. But there is a misconception that the feed cost of 226 grams of beef steak will fill 45-50 bowls with cooked cereal grains. So the idea is, we take all the animal feed and feed it to people instead, on the assumption that we will be happy to eat corn every day (which will be an interesting diet at the least).

The question is: could we feed people what we feed animals? Are all feeds the same? The simple answer is No, because not only are they not all the same, some of these feeds are human edible and some are not. Humans can’t eat grasses, but we can eat about 80% of cereals and pulses. It is a misnomer to assume we can take all the feeds that we feed animals and just feed it to people instead; we are not ruminant animals and our systems cannot digest and absorb the feeds that we feed these animals in the same way that they can.

The animal agricultural industry is a huge advantage for us. We can simply turn forages, pastures, grasses and all the by-products feed into safe, affordable and nutritious milk, meat and egg to feed our growing population. That is a sustainable food system.

Animal agriculture doesn’t simply provide meat, milk, and eggs. For small scale farmers to large dairy operators in Africa, these farmers and ranchers every day also get income, security, fertilizers and other benefits.

Finally, In a world where the global population is continually increasing, the argument that producing feed for livestock conflicts with feeding hungry people is likely to continue for some years. It is clear that the use of by-product feeds in combination with management strategies that improve efficiency will mitigate the environmental and economic impact of animal agriculture. The challenge thus remains to foster social acceptability and understanding of the industry’s contributions, thus advancing the industry to fulfilling the three pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental and social).


Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). 2013. Animal Feed vs. Human Food: Challenges and Opportunities in Sustaining Animal Agriculture Toward 2050. Issue Paper 53. CAST, Ames, Iowa.

Capper, J.L. 2013. Should we reject animal source foods to save the planet? A review of the sustainability of global livestock production. South African Journal of Animal Science 43:233-246

World Agriculture towards 2030/2050: 2012 Revision. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Rome, Italy.

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