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Eat more red meat… or not?!

Each month we present a topic to you with a spatial dimension on which experts disagree. And if experts disagree, how can policy makers and decision-makers take the appropriate action? The problem is presented in the form of a thesis and an antithesis. Clearly there should be a synthesis to this thesis and antitheses, but how do we solve the problem? And what role can geospatial technology play in clarifying the issue and solving it?

Please send your reaction to [email protected] and we’ll place it in the next Europe Geospatial Digest issue.


Prem Bindraban, executive director of the Virtual Fertiliser Research Center (VFRC) states:

It is essential therefore to explore options as to how water can be used most efficiently for meat production as global meat demand is projected to increase from 280 million tonnes in 2008 to 465 million tonnes in 2050 (FAO, 2006). Overall, meat consumption is higher than strictly needed for a healthy diet in developed nations and by wealthy people in developing nations. Livestock, especially in developing countries, are reared mostly on grass, browse, and non-food biomass from maize, millet, rice and sorghum crops.

The contribution of grasslands to the African diets remains however important and provides an opportunity to improve food security through enhanced meat production of ruminants. For that grassland productivity ought to be increased whilst reducing the need to convert grasslands into arable land. A significant problem of grasslands is however the detrimental effects of poor grazing management on soils. Overgrazing and trampling cause depletion of soil nutrients, deterioration of infiltration capacity, loss of groundcover and erosion.

Enhancing grassland productivity should therefore emphasise the improvement of soil structure, soil organic matter and the soil nutrient balance. When correctly managed, pastures help to increase organic matter and humus in the soil, which improves soil water and nutritional conditions. Hence a downward spiral leading to degradation should be turned into an upward spiral of improving grassland status. Livestock production is however much criticised because of emission of greenhouse gases, placing its development in an unfavourable perspective.

The website www.explorebeef.org states it as follows:

The reality is that 85 percent of the nation’s [i.e. the US] grazing lands are not suitable for farming. It is important that we use land that is too rough, too high, too dry, too wet and largely inaccessible to graze livestock to produce food for the world’s population. Cattle eat forages that humans cannot consume and convert them into a nutrient-dense food.”


The initiative ‘The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity (TEEB)’ in the report Natural Capital at Risk, compiled by Trucost, states:

Cattle ranching and farming in South America has a natural capital cost of $354bn and a revenue of $17bn, which gives an impact ratio of about 19. This puts cattle ranching and farming in South America in 2nd place after coal power generation in Eastern Asia, but with highest impact ratio if you look at total environmental damage as a percentage of revenue. No high impact region-sectors generate sufficient profit to cover their environmental impacts. Therefore if unpriced natural capital costs are internalized, a large proportion would have to be passed on to consumers. This calculation of course takes into account that, in Brazil, 70% of deforestation is due to livestock production, but still the picture for cattle ranching and farming does not look good.

Please let us know your view!

Background info:

Bindraban, P. (2011). Choices, efficiency and resilience in land use. Green week, resource efficiency, Brussels. Presentation.


Trucost (2013). Natural capital at risk – the top 100 externalities of business. TEEB.