Meat

Less Cropland and More Meat Eating in U.S.

New study: The Shrinking Footprint of American Meat

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MeatYamixDreamstime
Yamix/Dreamstime

Meat consumption in the U.S. has grown substantially since 1969, but the amount of land devoted to growing the crops to feed cows, pigs, and chickens has dropped by nearly a third. In 1969, the average American consumed about 82, 54, and 47 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry respectively for a total of 183 pounds of meat annually. By 2016, per capita consumption of meat had risen to 213 pounds, consisting 55, 50, and 108 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry respectively. Collectively Americans ate about 15 million tons of meat in 1969 and 24 million tons in 2014. Despite the per capita increase in meat consumption along with the growth of population from 202 million to 324 million, farmers are using less cropland to grow feed for meat animals, according to Rockefeller University analysts Jesse Ausubel and Iddo Wernick in their new article, "The Shrinking Footprint of American Meat."

Ausubel and Wernick calculate that these shifts in consumption and improvements in agricultural efficiency has actually reduced the area of cropland devoted to producing animal feed since 1969 by around 9 million acres. That's an area equivalent in size to the state of Maryland. Between 1969 and 2010, they report:

Population and GDP per capita grew at annual rates averaging about positive 1% and 1.7% respectively over this period. In contrast, the same interval saw negative annual changes in the amount of meat Americans ate per dollar, the amount of grain needed to produce a unit of meat, and the amount of land needed to grow that grain. On average, between 1969 and 2010, the amount of US cropland used to grow meat fell almost 0.8% per year.

MeatDecoupling
Ausubel/Wernick

The shift in taste away from red meat toward poultry helped. By one estimate, it takes about 2.5 pounds of grain to grow one pound of chicken; 3.5 pounds for a pound of pork; and 6 pounds of feed to produce a pound of beef. Increased agricultural efficiency played a significant role too. For example, corn yields in 1969 averaged 86 bushels per acre; last year corn yields per acre averaged 171 bushels.

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  1. Gee, I wonder if this has anything to do with those pig cages that don’t even allow the pigs to turn around.

    1. Wait was that meat eating or meat beating?

  2. On average, between 1969 and 2010, the amount of US cropland used to grow meat fell almost 0.8% per year.

    Yeah, but that spike that occurred in 1988? That’s when bacon-magic was born. 🙂

    1. I question that data. Why is there 2x one year and half the other? overlap? waste? stockpile of silage?

  3. The shift in taste away from red meat toward poultry helped. By one estimate, it takes about 2.5 pounds of grain to grow one pound of chicken; 3.5 pounds for a pound of pork; and 6 pounds of feed to produce a pound of beef.

    Seems to me that this answers whatever question was supposed to be introduced here. People stopped eating giant cows and started eating little chicken.

    1. “People stopped eating giant cows and started eating little chicken.”

      That’s probably part of it. I suspect it also is about the progress in agricultural techniques over the period in question. Cows once ate grass in expansive pastures. Now they eat doped chicken feed in feed lots.

    2. I think it has been more a shift in cost than shift in taste that has motivated the shift from beef to chicken .

  4. OMG IT MUST BE THOSE SCARY GMOs!!!

    1. GMO’s murdered and dismembered my family, and used their blood and guts as compost.

      How dare you make light of my tragedy!

  5. the shift from cows to chickens does not explain the drop and unrecovery of meat eaten since 2007.

    how do you know someone is vegan? just wait, they’ll tell you.

    1. It’s not vegan, its cost. Meat is expensive and peeps are eating more carbs. and getting fatter and fatter.

      1. Yeah, I think economic stagnation and increased prices explains that one.

        1. they should add average meat prices too. I do think the green eat health has made an effect on it though.

          I know buffalo has gone up :/ It is my favorite burger meat. It is now 12 bucks a pound from 10 :/

  6. “Increased agricultural efficiency played a significant role too”

    Increased efficiency, is that what you call it? Rather than letting cows eat grass as God and their four stomachs intended, they now subsist on chicken feed, liberally laced with growth hormones and antibiotics.

    1. That is certainly an increase in efficiency. “Efficient” is not the same thing as “healthful” or “humane.”

      1. “Efficient” is not the same thing as “healthful” or “humane.”

        This might be news to a certain science editor. Anyways, he’s faithfully regurgitated yet another press release without having to strain his head muscles too much.

        1. mtrueman|3.2.17 @ 1:40PM|#
          “Efficient” is not the same thing as “healthful” or “humane.””

          Ned Ludd, is that you?
          You do know that bubonic plague is “natural”, right?

          1. Is mad cow disease “natural?”

    2. We need fast growing GMO grass that has that stuff built right in.

      1. We need a Star Trek replicator to create the meat in a pre-chewed format and then a transporter to beam it directly into people’s stomachs.

        Now THAT is efficient!

        1. Having the transporter built into the replicator is even more efficient.

          “Replicator, make me not hungry.”

    3. I wonder if there was any issue with cattle roaming on the fruited plane, grazing like crazy, that some government apparatchik had an issue with.

    4. People are preventing cows from eating grass? How is that accomplished?

      1. “People are preventing cows from eating grass? ”

        Who said anything about people? It’s farmers who are doing the preventing.

      2. Burninating the countryside?

      3. They are locked in stalls and fed corn

    5. “Rather than letting cows eat grass as God and their four stomachs intended, they now subsist on chicken feed, liberally laced with growth hormones and antibiotics.”

      And gummie worms that fell on the factory floor.

    6. i lived on a cattle farm. cows grazing is horrible. They run the ground and reduce the actual grass growth from causing stress.

      Most cows are fed round/square bails and silage.

      1. ” cows grazing is horrible. ”

        Cows over grazing is even worse.

    7. Cows eat grass. They roam around and eat whatever’s in front of them.

      They’re ‘finished’ on grain or other specialty foods to get particular flavors or good marbling.

      The only difference between expensive ‘grass-fed’ beef and regular beef is that regular beef goes through an additional step. Grass fed beef is just brought in and slaughtered. regular beef is brought in, fed treat food(because that’s what grain (barley, wheat, corn) is to a cow, and then slaughtered.

      1. My idea of regular beef is to pamper the cow with a daily bottle of ale followed by a massage. You can keep your ‘specialty foods’ for yourself.

  7. You know who else’s meat imprint is shrinking?

    1. Nancy Pelosi’s just before a collagen injection?

      1. Mine when I see Nancy Pelosi?

  8. Beef cattle are being fed corn and other high carb grains rather than the low calorie ‘normal’ feed or free grazing.

    Corn is much higher calorie per acre than normal food for ruminants. Hence the reduction in acreage

    The milk tastes like corn, and the fats in the meat are higher in inflammatory oils.
    Grassfed milk tastes completely different and the meat is healthier.

    but you pay a fortunate for it.

    1. FWIW….the extra cost is worth it. We switched to grass-fed steaks a couple years ago and the taste difference is well worth the price increase.
      But don’t buy the “grass fed” or “organic” steaks at your local grocery store. They are typically old and on the edge of shelf life because of the lower turn-over at the stores. Destroys the taste.
      Find an old-school butcher. They are still around if you look at bit….well worth it.

      1. Ugh, foodies.

        1. so sue me.

          A perfectly grilled steak, a well crafted dark beer, and a fine woman on my lap is the height of human joy.

          1. A misogynistic foodie even.

          2. I tried that and i ended up with a perfectly grilled beer, a well crafted dark woman, and a steak on my lap.

          3. This, you don’t have to be a fussy foodie to appreciate a good steak.

            And what’s “mysognistic” about enjoying a fine woman on your lap?

            mi?sog?y?ny
            m??s?j?n?/Submit
            noun
            dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
            “she felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny”

            I don’t have an ounce of “dislike or contempt” for women. Prejudice doesn’t fall into it either. I certainly don’t expect a fine woman to sit in my lap– in fact, I kind of expect the opposite. But a boy can dream, can’t he?

            Is there sexism in the idea? *shrug* maybe. But whatever sexism you could apply to it has nothing to do with contempt or dislike. In fact, it’s chock full of the exact opposite.

            1. Geez, Paul. No need to get all defensive.

              1. Geez, Paul. No need to get all defensive.

                There’s always a need to be defensive. And really, who’s defensive? I’m not defensive. I’m perfectly indefensible!.

      2. Some people do seem to like cornfed beef better. But I’m with you. There is definitely a difference and I prefer grass fed. Especially with milk.

    2. Never heard that being true. I know our cattle was mostly grass fed. We butchered one once and it was great. It was the inbred one too lol. Black angus mmmmmm

    3. And always remember that the best, most tender, most delicious beef on the planet never, not once in it’s life, has a blade of grass pass it’s lips.

  9. None of this matters.

    We should all be eating free range, non-GMO bug meal. To save the planet.

    And worms. I almost forgot worms.

    1. “‘Course i eat worms! They’re like little free steaks, floatin’ in the earth!”

  10. Cool! This frees up more land for ethanol!

  11. Does Bailey really deserve all this (See what you started, you, you science writer!)? Not sure, but I laughed my skinny meat-fed backside at the irreverence of the assorted commentary, all the way down. I hope Mr. Dr. Science-Writer Ronald Bailey has a reasonable sense of humor. One good column deserves another.

  12. Is it possible that the US produces less meat nowadays, replacing that production with imports?

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