State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Water/commodity series (4)Corn feed consumption: China, US, and India

Among various uses of corn, the three major uses—food, animal feed, and biofuel production—compete in demand. Here we analyzed the percentage of corn for animal feed compared to total domestic consumption of corn (including feed, food, seed, and industrial uses) in US, China, and India. We calculated Feed% = (Feed Domestic Consumption)/(Domestic Consumption).

As is shown in the motion chart and the time series chart in this link (instruction for motion chart of feed consumption%: select all three countries and click play button), since 1960, while feed percentage has decreased in US, it has increased in China and India. The decrease in US may be most attributed to biofuel (corn ethanol). US has been top-ranked producer of corn ethanol: for 2007-2008, US produced 9000 millions of gallons of ethanol, followed by Brazil (6472) and EU (733). China produced only 501 and India 66 millions of gallons for the same period. The top-ranked countries such as US and Brazil need to have strategies based on a thorough assessment of the opportunities and costs of biofuel. The social and environmental costs can be

  • upward pressure on food prices,
  • intensified competition for land and water,
  • and possibly deforestation.

The increase of feed percentage in China and India, on the other hand, may be reflecting their economic development because meat consumption generally increases as income increases (especially so in the earlier stage of economic development). Overall, in more countries, feed percentage is increasing.

Due to increased incomes, population growth, and rising per capita global consumption of meat, meat production is projected to double by 2020. In order to meet this demand, industrialized animal production systems are proliferating and grain production for feed is expanding. These trends will have major consequences on the global environment including water. Meat requires five to ten times more water than wheat. A meat and vegetable diet, which most people move to when economically possible, requires more water than crops such as wheat and maize. In terms of virtual water (the amount of water that is embedded in food or other products needed for its production), on average, it takes 1,790 litres of water to grow 1kg of wheat compared with 9,680 litres of water for 1kg of beef. And meat-eaters consume the equivalent of about 5,000 litres of water a day compared to the 1,000-2,000 litres used by people on vegetarian diets.

How should we deal with more pressure on water resource, caused by increasing meat?

(work by Timothy Gildner and Ju Young Lee)

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