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Farm Babe – Land use: Are Most Crops Just Used to Feed Livestock?

It takes a lot of food to feed livestock. There is also a lot of land for crops around the world. Animal rights activists sometimes try to convince you that one of the reasons we shouldn’t raise livestock for meat is because it’s inefficient and that most land that’s producing crops is used to feed livestock. They will also claim that this land could be used to produce a lot more food to feed people instead of animals. So, would it be better to use land and resources to produce things to feed people instead of feeding livestock?

We need to look at whether most crops are used to feed livestock and what type of land is used. So, first off, are most crops used to feed livestock? No! Only 13 percent of global animal feed consists of grain crops. In the United States, this number drops to 7 percent.

86% of global livestock feed intake consists of feed that is not edible to humans. This includes byproducts like distillers’ grainsdistillers’, soybean meal, citrus pulp, almond hulls, and much more. Forty percent of ingredients used in animal feeds are direct byproducts of other industries. If we look solely at beef cattle in the United States, just 7 percent of their lifetime feed intake is grain that would otherwise be edible to humans.

For every 0.6 kg of human-edible protein that cattle consume, they produce 1 kg of human-edible protein in the form of beef. This is convincing evidence that cattle are highly efficient at converting things we can’t eat into something we can.

There are two types of land: arable land and marginal land. Arable land can grow crops, while marginal land is unsuitable for growing anything. Thirty-three percent of agricultural land is arable, which means there is a lot of land unsuitable for growing crops. One of the best uses for this land (since it can’t be used to grow human-edible food) is to allow livestock to graze. Livestock are excellent at converting byproducts and inedible products into something we can eat.

It’s claimed that it sacrifices 12 pounds to 20 pounds of feed (human edible and inedible) to produce one pound of beef. This myth also isn’t true. It doesn’t take 5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef. The 2.5 pounds of grain cattle consume couldn’t be shiftecouldn’t human diet.

For example, let’s compare the nutrition from common crops with the nutrition from beef. For one pound of steak and one pound of soybeans, steak has more than twice the amount of protein than soybeans. A serving of steak also has 84% of the recommended vitamin B12 intake and 57% of the recommended zinc intake. Soybeans don’t contain any vitamin B12 or zinc.

Livestock also provide critical essential nutrients. Food from animal sources contributes 18% of global calorie consumption and 25% of global protein consumption. Animal proteins also provide essential micronutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin B-12, riboflavin, calcium, iron and zinc, all of which can be difficult to obtain from plant-source foods alone.

We all know that animal proteins are a great source of protein, but not all proteins are created equal. Only animal proteins provide all of the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that a person needs for optimal health. People who consume animal proteins have been shown to have a higher net protein balance and greater protein synthesis than those who consume an equal amount of plant-based proteins.

One last thing to consider is how livestock benefits the land. Using practices like rotational grazing, livestock can help sequester carbon and improve soil health. Livestock also promotes biodiversity and the abundance of plants. Animals like goats and sheep can be used to “clean up” brush and overgrown areas, which is essential in fire prevention.

While some of the diet fed to livestock could be converted to products to feed humans, we’d miss out on essential nutrients. Livestock are also efficient at converting land that can’t be used to grow anything edible to humans into protein that we can eat. Using a small amount of land that could be used to produce food for people is a small price to pay for all of the nutritional and environmental benefits that we get from livestock.

Let’s not forget we get more than just food from animal agriculture; we use thousands of products daily! From lotions and soaps to textiles and leather, renewable energy, life-saving pharmaceuticals and more… animal agriculture has a beautiful sustainability story to share that helps divert waste and non-arable land into products we use every day.





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