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The Ecological Hoofprint

At one extreme is the USA kg of meat per person per year , Australia kg , Argentina kg , Canada 99 kg and western Europe 86 kg. Those numbers are only part of the picture: there are vast differences in consumption levels within each country. But this is not just about consumption statistics. He tells the history of livestock production, arguing that the key driver in the twentieth century was chronic grain surpluses produced by US farmers. The international food system that developed around these imperatives also produced rising flows of cheap grain imports for poor countries.

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This helped to sustain rapid population growth — but simultaneously ruined their farmers and wrecked food self-sufficiency. And today, the clashes continue: the World Trade Organisation talks on trade rules were teetering on the brin k this summer because India was insisting that food subsidies and stockpiles be exempted. Protein in meat and dairy products also has vastly greater costs than in plant-based foods in terms of water and energy see Eating Oil.

Weis is at his most trenchant on question 3 , about whether the industrial food system is a logical continuation of previous relations between people and nature. And the more land used for grain and oilseed monocultures — much of which goes to feed livestock, not humans directly — the greater the ecological burden of industrial fertilisers, pesticides and other persisted toxins. Industrial livestock is a disproportionate burden on water on freshwater resources, and accounts for almost one fifth of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Weis describes the vicious circle into which industrial agriculture has entered by repeatedly applying external inputs — fertilisers, pesticides, technological fixes to hike crop yields — in a vain attempt to escape its problems.

What is factory farming? - Us and the planet

Weis favors a reduction in meat consumption as a social and ecological imperative, not a moral one. Is the current average across most of the global south well under 30 kg a better, and fairer, target? For those seeking a socialist view of industrial agriculture — as opposed to Malthusian ones — this short, readable and thoroughly researched book is a great place to start. Review reposted, with permission, from People and Nature.