Human Dietary Needs, Population Growth and Sustainable Agriculture
As far as global agriculture is concerned, the task of meeting the world’s protein demand has never been more complicated. On one hand, a waxing global population makes it increasingly imperative to raise more animals. Yet, in a world on the precipice of catastrophic climate change, increased animal husbandry – a major contributor of greenhouse gases – is far from desirable.
As the article pointed out, at present, the dominant approach to closing this impending protein deficiency gap is to change what humans eat. Sadly, of the options currently being put forward under this approach, none is ideal. On its part, vegetarianism might have gained a lot of traction in the Western world, but such a radical movement will struggle for converts elsewhere. In a country like Nigeria for example, there is an almost emotional attachment to meat that is deeply entrenched in many cultures. Any attempt to convince consumers’ to eschew their ravenous appetite for meat products will surely be met with stiff resistance. Encouraging a switch in preference from meat to fish and insects, though less extreme, is also likely to suffer from the same shortcoming. Besides, if increasing the consumption of fish and insects is the way to go, the questions of how to conserve fisheries to ensure sustainable harvest for future consumption and how to cultivate insects in large enough quantities to meet demand will need answering. As for creating artificial protein, contemporary food consumption patterns suggest that foods grown with unconventional methods tend to gather negative connotations. Often, there is a wariness with which consumers approach factitious foods. Even if technology succeeds in creating genetically modified beef and plant-based proteins that are identical to conventional meat in every aspect, consumers’ skepticism is unlikely to evanesce easily, if at all.
It is for these reasons that the article’s recommendation about changing the dietary composition of animals rather than humans seems appealing; at least prima facie. Substituting animal protein (such as fishmeal and fishbone) with less edible alternatives such as maggot, flies and bacteria in animal feeds frees up more animal protein for human consumption. More importantly, by enabling farmers to continue to raise animals without necessarily increasing demand side pressures on global supply of high-protein materials, it offers a solution that satisfies all – the vegetarians can continue their abstinence from meat and meat-lovers can continue to satisfy their carnivorous desires, provided the latter has no objections to maggot-fed and bacteria-fed meat.
The big task then lies in how quickly investors like Cargill and Calysta can perfect the technology for creating animal feed from unorthodox ingredients. Of special importance will be need to ensure that substitute ingredients do not compromise the nutrient contents of animal feed. At the very least, the new feed must offer the same feed conversion ratio (FCR) as the old one, although a higher FCR is more desirable.