Photo: AP Images
The drought currently plaguing America’s farms has sent corn crop yields tumbling and prices soaring to all-time highs. Much of this corn is used as feed for livestock.
So, as a result, the ripple effects of high corn prices are being felt across the world and in other food commodities like beef and chicken.
“The worst US drought in half a century is further evidence that we are in the midst of a global food crisis,” wrote Jeremy Grantham in a recent op-ed for The Financial Times. “In 2007-08, there were riots in more than 20 countries, as the cost of commodities surged.”
However, scientists around the world hope to address this problem with an ambitious product: lab-grown meat. And leading the charge is Dutch scientist Mark Post, who expects to cook the first lab-grown hamburger this fall. He also expects lab-grown meat to be commercially viable in 20 years.
The Food Crisis Is Real
Jeremy Grantham is an accomplished investor who has earned legendary status. He heads Boston-based investment management firm GMO. And he is one of the most well-informed and vocal alarmists of a future food crisis.
In fact he dedicated the bulk of his latest quarterly letter to the topic.
We are five years into a severe global food crisis that is very unlikely to go away. It will threaten poor countries with increased malnutrition and starvation and even collapse. Resource squabbles and waves of food-induced migration will threaten global stability and global growth. This threat is badly underestimated by almost everybody and all institutions with the possible exception of some military establishments.
It is difficult to forecast exactly how much food will be needed in the long-run. However, most analysts seem to agree that the demand for food will double before the turn of the century.
“The general assumption is that we need to increase food production by 60 per cent to 100 per cent by 2050 to feed at least a modest sufficiency of calories to all 9 billion+ people plus to deliver much more meat to the rapidly increasing middle classes of the developing world,” writes Grantham.
The World Health organisation estimates that the demand for meat will double in the next 40 years.
Photo: Peter Garnhum on flickr
One of the key drivers of this demand will continue to be China, whose rapidly growing middle classes is increasingly consuming meat.And Grantham warns that this could be a threat to national security:
China, more concerned with future resource security than others, will find it particularly tempting to throw its increasing economic and military weight around. This risk also seems to be ignored or underestimated by national governments, although the military arms of several, including the U.S., seem to be exceptions.
Risks of a Food Crisis
“The UN has estimated that the world will be able to increase food production by 60 per cent over the next four decades,” writes Grantham.
But he is highly sceptical that we’ll be able to meet those targets.
Grantham notes that grain productivity has been falling since 1970. Also, mined fertilizers like potash and phosphate are being depleted.
This, combined with the rising cost of energy, means food prices are likely to surge.
And food scarcity and soaring prices is a recipe for social unrest.
Photo: AP Images
Tackling the Problem“To balance the books, a series of serious (but still doable) steps must occur,” notes Grantham somewhat optimistically.
We summarize his steps:
- The world must consume less meat, poor countries should reduce grain and soy imports, and rich countries should tackle obesity.
- Reduce waste. At least one-third of food globally from “field to mouth” is wasted.
- Food-producing countries should invest “irrigation, farm education, and research.”
Preventing obesity and reducing waste are things children are taught in grade school. Hopefully, those lessons will gain traction in coming years.
The third step Grantham addresses is something more uncertain.
Fortunately, scientists like Maastricht University Mark Post are making strides in developing sources of protein that will feed more people using a fraction of the resources.
The Added Bonus Of Lab-Grown Meat
In addition to being able to meet the future demand for meat, lab-grown meat will be far less of a strain on the environment.
Food researcher Hanna Tuomisto, as reported by Reuters’ Kate Kelland, lab-grown meat would produce up to 95 per cent less greenhouse gas and use about 98 per cent less land than traditional livestock production.
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