Today’s global food situation is unsustainable for two reasons. Firstly, the distribution of food is unequal and secondly, manufacturing methods for food – and for meat in particular – are not sustainable. Beef is a matter of high concern due to the strong link between beef production and climate change. At the same time, the number of people who have to share the earth’s limited resources is growing rapidly.
The global population is estimated to reach around nine billion by 2050, compared with less than seven billion today. Ensuring that everyone can access and enjoy food that is flavorsome, healthy and sustainable brings major challenges. If we continue to produce and consume food at the same rate as today, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that the world’s food production will have to increase by 60%.
We also know that the global sustainability challenges presented by today’s production methods are gigantic in the form of soil erosion and loss of nutrients from topsoil, climate change, poor animal welfare, poor working conditions, low biodiversity, toxic chemicals, 800 million undernourished and one billion overnourished people, depleted oceans and limited access to phosphorus, which is essential to plant growth. One way of dealing with this dilemma is to turn it around, to place ourselves in the future and ask: What would it look like if we were producing enough good food for 9 billion people but the production methods remained within the boundaries of the planet? This is our starting point for the “Future Beef” project. Few people eat a lot of meat.
Over the past 50 years, the global beef production has quadrupled and dairy production has doubled. There is a clear link between higher income and higher meat consumption. In Sweden, we eat more beef today than ever – 25 kg per person per year – but beef production in Sweden is also falling. At present, about half of the beef in Sweden is imported mainly from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Brazil and Uruguay.
In Sweden, the beef and dairy industries are highly integrated – some 65% of beef comes from cows that are removed from dairy herds, or from calves that are taken from dairy cows. The remaining 35% comprises beef cattle, which are raised for meat production. Sustainable beef production goes hand in hand with sustainable dairy production.
In the sustainable society of tomorrow, we will probably be eating beef, but to a lesser degree. The main reason why beef cattle will remain is because, unlike humans, they can eat grass. By grazing on land that is unsuitable for direct food crop production, beef cattle indirectly contribute to our food production. Some other benefits are that grazing beef cattle promote biodiversity and keep the landscape open. The results of the “Future Beef” project also show that the production of good-tasting beef in the future, using methods that remain within the boundaries of the planetat, is fully viable.
Future Beef is a project that gathers players from all stages of the farm-to-fork supply chain to identify strengths and weaknesses in regard to sustainability in the value chain of Swedish beef. By formulating suggestions for purchasing criteria, we want to contribute to the creation of future beef – higher quality and better tasting meat that is more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.