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Vidal reports: "Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages."

A bull grazes on dry wheat husks in Logan, Kansas, one of the regions hit by the record drought that is expected to drive up food prices. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
A bull grazes on dry wheat husks in Logan, Kansas, one of the regions hit by the record drought that is expected to drive up food prices. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)


Food Shortages Could Force World Into Vegetarianism

By John Vidal, Guardian UK

27 August 12

 

Water scarcity's effect on food production means radical steps will be needed to feed population expected to reach 9bn by 2050.

eading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world's leading water scientists.

"There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations," the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

"There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a ... reliable system of food trade."

Dire warnings of water scarcity limiting food production come as Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly 50% on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. More than 18 million people are already facing serious food shortages across the Sahel.

Oxfam has forecast that the price spike will have a devastating impact in developing countries that rely heavily on food imports, including parts of Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries.

Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly 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. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

"Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase," they said. "With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land."

The report is being released at the start of the annual world water conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where 2,500 politicians, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and researchers from 120 countries meet to address global water supply problems.

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. "The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand - which is expected to rise 60% over the coming 30 years - and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it," said the report.

Overeating, undernourishment and waste are all on the rise and increased food production may face future constraints from water scarcity.

"We will need a new recipe to feed the world in the future," said the report's editor, Anders Jägerskog.

A separate report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said the best way for countries to protect millions of farmers from food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was to help them invest in small pumps and simple technology, rather than to develop expensive, large-scale irrigation projects.

"We've witnessed again and again what happens to the world's poor - the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity - when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system," said Dr Colin Chartres, the director general.

"Farmers across the developing world are increasingly relying on and benefiting from small-scale, locally-relevant water solutions. [These] techniques could increase yields up to 300% and add tens of billions of US dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia."


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+40 # Katbarb 2012-08-27 14:53
Great article, but I take issue with their timeline. I think we'll be seeing panic in 5 years. I say this because fracking (which is going on in epidemic, exponential proportions as I type) uses 5 to 20 million gallons of water per "frack". This water is mixed with toxic chemicals to better push the gas out of the ground. That's only one assault on worldwide water tables, which are falling anyway.

People better get a grip.
 
 
+15 # cabotool 2012-08-28 01:20
I totally agree with this. Some of my intelligent friends say the crisis will happen by summer 2013. For my part, I have 58 acres of agricultural land. I am doing my best to produce food for the local population. The only land I will use for meat production is the rough river bottom land that can't be farmed for grain and vegetables. Life is very enjoyable to me and it is so full of challenges. I think that there would be a lot less meat eaten if the consumer had to participate in the killing of the animals instead of delegating the work to others and the only thing they see of the process is the meat seller in white clothes and blood is never seen! My own meat consumption has been very low for the last 56 years and as of June 2012 I have become 100% vegetarian.

How many people know that the production of meat includes giving the cattle hormones to stop them from ovulating? Do you want your children eating meat that is from animals that were given these anti ovulating drugs?

On the subject of the future, I think that we will reach a tipping point within 5 years and if we don't change, the world will slip into an irreversible decline and within 20 years the population of the earth will be a few million survivors!
 
 
+10 # RLF 2012-08-28 05:04
Worse things could happen. We are a cancer of the earth...uncontr olable, unstoppable, insensible.
 
 
+10 # David R 2012-08-28 07:04
Well said... just as there would be lesser use of exotic wood & tropical wood if consumers had to participate in the deforestation of the planet, as well as less consumption of products issued from deforestation. Deforestation is caused by clearing for cattle pasture, colonization and subsequent subsistence agriculture, infrastructure improvements, commercial agriculture, logging (illegally harvested timber), etc.
The only solution is to have awareness campaigns in order to sensitize the uncontrollable, unstoppable, insensible cancer of the earth.
Trees are not only the largest living beings on earth but also the ones that live the longest.
They're not only our children's heritage  like we claim, but the earth's heritage including all the living beings. They are the patriarchs of this earth & should be respected as such. Imagine a city without trees... 
 
 
+4 # Adoregon 2012-08-28 11:06
Yet more good reasons to stop the exploitation and killing (murder?) of other mammals, fowl and fish. Do they not have a "right to life,"too?

Be healthier. Stop eating dead flesh.

Share the planet with other species.
End the dominance paradigm.
Reproduce consciously or perhaps not at all.
 
 
+3 # Firefox11 2012-08-28 19:08
I like your idea of having the consumer participate in the killing, not only with meat, but also with other forms of delegated violence, such as state executions and distant wars. If people did their own killing, they might wake up to what it means for the "victim".
 
 
+1 # Firefox11 2012-08-28 19:07
Quoting Katbarb:
Great article, but I take issue with their timeline. I think we'll be seeing panic in 5 years. I say this because fracking (which is going on in epidemic, exponential proportions as I type) uses 5 to 20 million gallons of water per "frack". This water is mixed with toxic chemicals to better push the gas out of the ground. That's only one assault on worldwide water tables, which are falling anyway.

People better get a grip.

Fracking is yet another short term fix for a long term problem. People in this country need to see the Oscar nominated documentary Gasland to better understand how their future is being mortgaged, yet again, by corporatocracy.
 
 
0 # fernly2 2012-09-05 14:52
NAWAPA recommended by JFK will provide water and energy for our nation so we can have a science driven, hence prosperous economy. Choosing to live abundantly will allow us to find the next platform for water and energy production for another 7 billion humans. The alternative to living abundantly is extinction and we will never choose that. We can increase our intake of sprouted legumes to improve our nutrition. Check it out. Gnashing on animal parts is pretty inefficient for nutrition. Roots, herbs and berries were OK for centuries but we can do better. You might want to be careful eating wild animals, deer, rabbits, etc as they may have been exposed to pesticides/herb icides.
 
 
0 # fernly2 2012-09-05 15:03
$66billion sales of munitions this year? This house of cards is going down. There are enough smart people around to provide answers. The explorations of the LaRouche basement projects are finding ways of meeting 21st century challenges. All very exciting.
 
 
+19 # Capn Canard 2012-08-27 17:29
as Katbarb mentioned above the industrial use of water is a big contributor to this coming crisis. I've some work from permaculturalis t planner who believe that with small scale farming we could greatly increase yeilds for small farmers and gardens. In other words if every house produced an additional 15% to 20% for it's own consumption you would drastically reduce the need for watering wasteful industrial farms. The fracking issue is another example of bad use of natural resources. If only people would realize that we could avoid this but money is the main reason we aren't likely to avoid it. And the money I'm talking about is not a direct cost but the cost of lost profit. i.e. if we banned fracking then costs of heating et al will increase put a great deal of pressure right down the line:coal, oil, nuclear, solar, wind and all of it would feel the pressure but you can bet that our Government will only respond to those with the most money, so solar, wind, and all other alternative sources will be defunded and fracking is gonna get even far more intense. Take a good look around people, this is what the end of America looks like...
 
 
+28 # ganymede 2012-08-27 22:05
Best news I've heard for a long time. Meat eating, especially the low grade chemically enriched meat we're eating does not promote good health, and is the cause of much disease. Also, as evolved beings we no longer have to kill to survive. I stopped eating meat nearly 40 years ago, and am a very healthy, functioning 75 year old. Some habits die hard, but it's better than dying.
 
 
+15 # cabotool 2012-08-28 01:28
Right on!

An interesting thought. If the Republicans applied the same logic to the eggs of chickens that they apply to the eggs of humans... would an egg be considered to be a chicken and thus not allowed to be eaten by vegetarians? Can you picture one of our "paid for by people (corporations)" standing up in congress and stating.... eggs are chickens? I think that with few exceptions that our senators and representatives should be spanked by their mothers and sent to bed without dinner!
 
 
+1 # Firefox11 2012-08-28 19:10
Quoting cabotool:
Right on!

An interesting thought. If the Republicans applied the same logic to the eggs of chickens that they apply to the eggs of humans... would an egg be considered to be a chicken and thus not allowed to be eaten by vegetarians? Can you picture one of our "paid for by people (corporations)" standing up in congress and stating.... eggs are chickens? I think that with few exceptions that our senators and representatives should be spanked by their mothers and sent to bed without dinner!

Love this analogy, makes so much sense; could you possibly find your way to the Repub Nat Convention in Tampa this weekend?
 
 
+19 # BlurryProductions 2012-08-27 22:30
While I have no beef (pardon the pun) with the conclusions of the article or anyone's comments, why do we continue to ignore the heart of the problem: there are too many people on this planet. The importance of population control seems fundamental, yet it frequently goes unmentioned.
 
 
+19 # Ralph Averill 2012-08-28 02:45
The issue isn't water, or food, or energy. The problem is human population. Period. All the other issues are not problems, they are but symptoms of the one single problem we face.
We can deal with the problem on our terms with family planning, birth control, and free abortions on demand, or we can leave it to nature to control our numbers. We won't like nature's way.
 
 
+3 # Firefox11 2012-08-28 19:12
This is so the heart of the problem, too many people; the obvious solutions you have proposed, and yet, due to the influence of the Christo-Fascist s in the U.S., we are being told what to do by fundamentalists who think that Jesus will save us from our own stupidity.
 
 
+8 # Glen 2012-08-28 05:28
Hunting will become popular once again. If food shortages do come about there won't be a fish or animal left on the planet.

Poaching and theft is already a big problem in some states, right along with theft. The loss of jobs created a lot of almost desperation. I live in a rural area and the poaching and theft is noticeable, more than in and around cities. Folks are desperate even to the point of breakdowns.

The big picture is as Ralph Averill explains: there are far too many people.
 
 
+1 # shraeve 2012-08-28 20:49
That has already happened in the DR Congo. There are no mammals left in the DR Congo, at least nothing larger than a mouse. There may be a few birds, and there are some fish. Everything else has been eaten.
 
 
+1 # Glen 2012-08-29 17:31
Yes. And that is not the only area. Water is also going to be sucked up by any and all who can grab it. What a way to go.
 
 
+8 # brianf 2012-08-28 08:16
It's been pretty obvious to those who have studied some climate science that this would come. It doesn't take much thinking to realize that most of the predictions will result in less food.

We must reduce the population. Even if there were no global warming, overfishing, and environmental destruction, the population would get so big that hunger and starvation would eventually be rampant.

But even if we lowered the population by a few billion, global warming will still cause huge catastrophes if we don't fight it. Worldwide, carbon emissions per person is still rising quickly, and we have to cut emissions by huge amounts before atmospheric levels will begin to slowly fall.

Let's face it: we can't quickly reduce the population by billions without killing billions, and we aren't going to do that. It will take a long time once we agree to reduce population before it goes down significantly. We can't wait for that. We must fight global warming and try to reduce the population at the same time. At the same time, we must protect other species to prevent a mass extinction. Only all these efforts together will allow our lives to get better instead of immeasurably worse.
 
 
0 # shraeve 2012-08-28 20:51
We aren't going to kill billions? Wanna bet?
 
 
+11 # NAVYVET 2012-08-28 08:42
The biggest problem, of course, is galloping overpopulation, lack of fertile land & our egotism. Our species' exponential growth is the big culprit and NOTHING will save the planet until that's rolled back. Our bloated numbers are the cause of factory farming, pesticide pollution, mistreatment of livestock, and the Frankengene vegetables which we morally deplore.

Although there are sound ecological reasons, I'm not overly impressed with moral arguments for a vegan diet. We have no way to measure whether plants have sensitivity to pain, so from the moral viewpoint eating certain plants may be as cruel as meat eating. Furthermore, a mixed diet is healthier for omnivorous animals like us. We got big brained only after much of the plant life dried up and our ancestors were forced to scavenge, hunt & devour high protein meat. For 99% of homo sapiens prehistory & history, we've been omnivores. Good health for ourselves and the planet should mean eating a diet of fruits, greens, veggies & nuts, plus some high quality protein amino acids provided in lean meat--as long as these are locally produced, organic and treated with respect. Even 100% vegan won't help a bit if people keep having too many children, we keep allowing corporations to wreck the food chain, and our maltreated livestock are forced to bear too many eggs and offspring to feed a starving, expanding horde of genus homo.(Whoever named us "homo SAPIENS" must be writhing in his grave!)
 
 
0 # Firefox11 2012-08-28 19:14
All the posters here need to be in government; intelligent discussion is the core of democracy, yet it is in short supply.
 
 
+1 # shraeve 2012-08-28 21:00
We need to re-design our economy so it no longer depends on an ever-expanding population.

If we had poly-amorous marriages with a large number (around 20) of adults, then everyone would be satisfied with a marriage that produced maybe six biological children. Every adult would look at every child as "their" child. We have already seen the polygamous marriages of the FLDS produce happy, well-adjusted children who refer to many women as "mother". It would work at least as well if there were not only many mothers but also many fathers.
 

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