Cows are meant to eat something that is not edible to humans - grass. They are not meant to be our competitors in the food chain, they are mean to be our partners. As I have pointed out in my TEDx talk, a grass-based diet for cows is not only sustainable, it is necessary for organic agriculture. Yet feeding grains, soy or corn to cows is an ecological nightmare. Cows are terribly inefficient in converting these crops to milk or meat. Growing corn, soy or grains to feed cows takes 4 to 10 times the amount of land resources to feed one person than it would take if humans would eat the soy, corn or grain directly.
Why does this matter you might wonder? Lets take Switzerland as an example: Organic soy being fed to animals in Switzerland is almost exclusively imported from China of all places. China is itself a net importer of soy, so they end up buying their shortage in soy from Brazil. And Brazil is the world champion in deforestation, destroying primeval rainforest - the lungs of our planet, for the sake of clearing the land for grazing and growing soy for export. Feeding grains, corn and soy to feed animals is so terribly inefficient that Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that reducing meat consumption in the US by just 10% would free enough grain to feed 60 million people. And this is not just some abstract number - wealthy countries like Switzerland import vast amounts of grains to feed their livestock and ultimately their appetite for meat. As an example, Simon Fairlie points out in his book, the starving nations of sub-Saharan Africa were exporting feed for the west's animals in the 1980s while its own people were starving. It is difficult to imagine anything more obscene.
And yet, I am not even calling on anyone to stop eating meat. As I have pointed out in my previous post, we would only have to cut meat consumption by half (in Switzerland) and we would be able to feed all cows on grass and and pigs and chickens on waste food. Not a single grain being imported or grown purely for the purpose of saturating our hunger for meat. B
But while feeding grains to animals is bad, feeding it to cows is simply insane. Cows are so horribly inefficient in digesting grains that it takes 10kg of grain to produce 1kg of meat. If only we were to feed those grains to pigs or chickens instead, we would be producing at least 3 times as much meat. To make that more clear, feeding 1000kg of grain to a cow will produce a mere 100kg of beef. Pigs and chickens instead would produce 300kg of meat. While I am glad to say that in Switzerland cows do still mostly eat grass - some 80% of their diet - I do wonder, if for heavens sake we already decide to pump vast amounts of soy, corn and grains (that could be eaten by us humans) down the throats of animals, why do we pump it down the throats of cows, who are least efficient in digesting it?