Not too long ago the team here at Groobarbs were discussing the differences in farming vegetables and livestock farming. Now we're no experts in livestock farming, we're exclusively vegetables at Groobarbs, but David the farmer has recently added to his family with four pedigree Jacob Ewe sheep, which brings up the question of the differences in farming animals vs veg...
What does the data say?
Land use may be the most obvious difference between the two, it doesn't take an expert to tell you that animal agriculture requires more land than vegetable farming to produce the same amount of food in calorie terms. Did you know it takes 100x more land to produce a kilocalorie of beef or lamb versus plant based alternatives?
Land use of foods per 1000 calories. Land use is measured in meters squared (m²) required to produce 1000 calories of a given food product. Source: Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Additional calculations by Our World in Data.
If the world were to go meat and dairy free, there would be a 75% reduction in global farmland use, equivalent to the size of the US, China, the EU and Australia combined - and we could still manage to feed the global population! Think about the positive ecological impact this could have...
However, it's not the case of being able to grow all crops where we currently farm animals. Land type is vital in veg growing and livestock can be reared on land where it's not possible to grow crops, such as on steep slopes. In the UK, approximately 65% of farmland is best suited to growing grass for livestock rather than for alternative crops. So it's an unlikely picture that veg farming will overtake livestock farming in the UK, but it's food for thought.
Livestock farming is coming under a lot of pressure recently due to it's environmental impacts, and it's important to look at both sides of the argument. There are plenty of factors to weigh up when comparing veg farming vs animal farming, and there's no universal answer, but what we do know is that veg farming is much less energy intensive and requires less land... Go the veg!